Be a trailblazer and explore the great outdoors of Vero Beach and Sebastian. There are a number of trails in this nature rich county to enjoy. For any trail excursion, remember to bring a hat, water and sunscreen. It’s not the beach, but it’s still Florida! Here are several to consider in a variety of native habitats:
The Lagoon Greenway offers an old Florida trail experience right in the heart of Vero Beach only a few miles from your hotel. Located on the busy Indian River Boulevard, the trailhead parking area was carefully carved out of an ancient coastal oak hammock. It provides a soothing transition from the bustle of Vero to the serene trails that lie just beyond the rustic trailhead kiosk. Start your easy journey through this conservation area along the mini-adventure trail just past the kiosk on the right. This narrow trail winds through the lush oak-palm forest giving you the feel of what is was like for the first settlers of this region. Watch for uneven trail surfaces (flip flops not recommended). This short side trail reconnects with the Main Trail at a small picnic area.
At the picnic area, the Main Trail continues to the right, meandering through a mature palm forest and over a wetland on a short boardwalk. You’ll pass a large habitat restoration area on the left then cross over a bridge to the Loop Trail. Continue straight across the trail onto a long boardwalk through a mangrove forest. These forests are globally rare ecosystems that function as the cradle of the ocean for many species of fish. The boardwalk will take you out to an observation deck on the Indian River Lagoon. Watch for mullet jumping in the shallows and for bottlenose dolphins cruising the waterway.
For those who want to take a longer walk, or even a jog, the loop trail will take you a long the perimeter of the mangroves for a total two-mile loop, but you can shorten the trip by returning via the mangrove boardwalk. You can also bypass the mini-adventure trail as you head back to the parking area. Note that parts of the Main Trail can get very soggy after an afternoon rainstorm. For more information on the Lagoon Greenway, visit the Indian River Land Trust’s website.
Captain Forster Hammock Preserve
For a nice lagoon to ocean hike on the barrier island, try Captain Forster’s, accessible from the Jungle Trail that hugs the western shore of the island one mile south of the Wabasso Causeway (State Route 510). This trail takes you less than a mile, east through a mature oak hammock, with a crossing of Hwy A1A to the ocean.
After crossing A1A, the trail continues out to a low bluff and onto the beach. After enjoying the view you can double back to the trailhead parking area. Conversely, if you can arrange for two cars of fellow hikers, before your trek you can park one car at Wabasso Beach at the eastern terminus of Route 510 and pile into the other car for the short drive over to the trailhead. This would allow you to continue your walk north along the shore to Wabasso Beach one mile from the beach trail access and then to drive back to the trailhead together to retrieve the first vehicle.
Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge
A visit to the first national wildlife refuge in America, signed into law by Teddy Roosevelt in 1903, is always a treat. Also located on the barrier island, north of the Wabasso Causeway, you can walk a network of trails and see restored coastal wetland habitat here. A 15-minute stroll on the wheelchair accessible Centennial Trail includes a boardwalk and observation platform with a view of the historic Pelican Island in the Indian River Lagoon. The famous Pelican Island is a protected rookery with herons, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, egrets and more. A true bird island.
North Sebastian Conservation Area
Enjoy an opportunity to explore unique scrub habitat. This 400-acre preserve is located behind Sebastian City Hall and is big enough to explore for an entire morning, or for as little as an hour. Park in the far corner of the municipal complex and begin your adventure at the trailhead leading across the picturesque pond. If you’re lucky, you may spot an alligator submerged near the shoreline.
The map on the trailhead kiosk across the bridge will point the way toward several interconnecting trails as
they wind their way across the property. On the east side of the property there is an observation platform on the edge of a seasonal pond often populated with ducks, herons, egrets and ospreys. Along your hike, you may also see or hear federally threatened Florida Scrub Jays, working together as families in this scrub landscape. It’s often the sentryyou’ll hear or see first, after he’s already seen you. You may also see asphalt remnants of a failed subdivision where Killdeer nest on the ground with their eggs perfectly camouflaged among the fragments of dark paving. After your hike, you can enjoy a picnic lunch at the adjoining Friendship Park behind the parking area at City Hall.
Ken Grudens, Executive Director of the Indian River Land Trust, a land conservation organization in Vero Beach, Florida, is also an avid hiker and sailor and greatly enjoys connecting people with nature. Visit www.irlt.org. Follow Ken on Instagram @naturespeaks4me