Guide to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge in Florida
By Katy Clarke
My friend Christina and I found ourselves in the beautiful St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge while on a campervan trip that started in Orlando. Both of us are ones that tend to have every inch of a trip planned out from beginning to end, but not this time. The first two days we had nailed down, but after that, we had nothing on the books. Normally that would be pure anxiety for me, but this time it was totally cool. Christina’s family is from southern Georgia/northern Florida, so as we were heading into territory more familiar to her, she started quarterbacking our trip.
A Hidden Gem
One spot that we ended up checking out was St. Marks. I just assumed when she was talking about St. Marks, she referring to a cute little southern town that we could walk around, get coffee and go shopping, which, for the record would have been totally fine by me.
What I got was even better! Way better. St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is what I imagine Florida looked like a hundred years ago. Sitting right on the crook of the panhandle looking out over the Gulf of Mexico, St. Marks lies just off US Highway 98 near Tallahassee.
Its attraction is sitting right there in the title. If you are the type of person going off the beaten path and seeing tons of wildlife, then this is your place. Plus, you get the added bonus of the breathtaking views of the Gulf and the untouched Florida landscape.
As we drove in, we were definitely not greeted with a charming little town with coffee shops and boutiques. We were greeted with nothing. Nothing but wetlands and nature as far as the eye can see save for a lone lighthouse. Ahhh, so good!
Nature Walks and Wildlife at St. Marks
The one single access road with vast, gorgeous views on either side of you will take you straight to the water. It’s absolutely, breathtakingly beautiful. There are plenty of places to pull off on the side of the road to take it all in or to catch a glimpse of any number of creatures that are bound to cross your path.
The main road dead-ends into a little parking lot at the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. We immediately got out of the van and walked down one of the trails leading down the beach. It was incredibly peaceful and we hardly saw any people, but we did see a ton of wildlife. Yes, including a snake. We won’t discuss it.
St. Marks Lighthouse
The main focal attraction, aside from the gorgeous Gulf views and endless marshlands, is the St. Marks Lighthouse. It was built in 1842 and is currently undergoing a renovation.
This place is a fabulous hidden little spot along the Florida Coast. It was one of those places that you kept thinking to yourself, “I feel like I’m the only person in the world right now.”
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is the type of place where you could kill a couple of hours or end up staying forever, and both would totally be ok. I voted forever, but we had to keep moving towards Atlanta to get our trusty little Twitter campervan back home. Next time, we’ll budget more time to hang in St. Marks, because it’s absolutely worth it.
If you want to go on a similar road trip and experience St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, you can reserve an Escape campervan from Orlando.