Tallahassee, FL: Stoney Bayou Pools

This pan-flat, 7.6-miler in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge swings through salt marshes and forested swamps fraught with birds, butterflies, and the occasional gator.
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This pan-flat, 7.6-miler in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge swings through salt marshes and forested swamps fraught with birds, butterflies, and the occasional gator.

This 7.7-mile loop in St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge meanders through a variety of ecosystems—freshwater impoundments, natural salt marshes, tidal flats—and through an equally diverse mix of flora and fauna. Starting from the trailhead on Lighthouse Road (1.5 miles south of the St. Marks Visitor's Center), hike due east through Florida marshland before turning south at mile 0.5 to head toward the trail's namesake highlight, the Stoney Bayou Pools. Right before the Stoney Bayou Trail synchs up with the Florida National Scenic Trail, a short detour leads to an overlook of the pools and serene vistas of the shoreline. Continuing west, the Florida Trail skirts the pools; keep a watchful eye out for the refuge's dominant natural predator, the alligator, on this stretch through saltwater estuary and thick brackish swamp. As the trail jogs back north and east into thicker, coastal vegetation, there is no shortage of wildlife: you may spot diverse bird species (including ibises, herons, ospreys, even eagles), white-tailed deer, snakes, and even skittish black bear (if you’re quiet enough) on the return trip to the trailhead.
-Mapped by Christopher Harper and Eli Schelin

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 12.3

Waypoints

SBT001

Location: 30.1408405, -84.1386566

Stoney Bayou Trailhead is about 1.5 miles south of the St. Marks NWR Visitor's Center. Start hiking east on a trail that follows old logging roads around brackish water pools. Peer through the flaxen-grass clearing here for a chance spotting of white-tailed deer. Wildlife sitings in the refuge are not uncommon: you may encounter wild pigs, birds, even black bear on this trail.

SBT002

Location: 30.1397705, -84.1300278

Go right @ T-junction to head toward the Stoney Bayou Pools, a wildlife oasis alive with croaking bullfrogs, slithering snakes, and alligators basking in the sun.

SBT003

Location: 30.1237106, -84.1394424

Turn left @ 4-way junction; here the Stoney Bayou Trail joins Florida National Scenic Trail for 1.4 miles, and follows the shore of Stoney Bayou; grassy tufts and lily pads float in the marsh. This junction also offers a bailout (to the right) to Light House Road. Continue straight at this junction for a short detour to a Gulf of Mexico viewpoint. As you continue on the Florida Trail, you'll start to wander through the Stoney Bayou Pools (keep an eye out for gators!).

SBT004

Location: 30.11376, -84.1189117

Turn left @ T-junction and walk down a corridor flanked by a saltwater estuary and brackish forest swamp; scan trees for the elusive bald eagle.

SBT005

Location: 30.1367779, -84.1070786

Make a hard left at a crooked T-junction to hike northwest. During spring migration, this area is a parade of rainbow-plumed birds; in fall, flocks of butterflies speckle the forests with vibrant colors.

SBT006

Location: 30.1401196, -84.1169815

Bear left @ Y-junction to follow main trail.

SBT007

Location: 30.1397896, -84.119133

Bear right @ Y-junction to continue through a longleaf pine forest where the rare red-cockaded woodpecker makes its woody nest.

SBT008

Location: 30.1394596, -84.1266632

Continue right @ Y-junction. Keep an eye out for the diverse bird culture of the refuge along this stretch: multitudes of ibises, ospreys, and blue herons rule the sky.

SBT009

Location: 30.1394901, -84.1276016

Bear left @ Y-junction. In 0.2 mile, stay right to return to the parking lot.

Grazing Deer

Location: 30.140419, -84.1350861

Peer through flaxen-grass clearing for white-tailed deer. ©Eli Schelin

Winding Trail

Location: 30.1398182, -84.1304779

Trail is highlighted by splashes of rusted red and yellow-green as the trees begin to change for fall. ©Eli Schelin

Lurking Gator

Location: 30.1248341, -84.1389999

Stoney Bayou Pools is a wildlife oasis alive with alligators basking in the sunlight. ©Eli Schelin

Stony Bayou Pools

Location: 30.1234226, -84.1387787

The serene view of Stony Bayou Pools unfold as the trail follows the shoreline. ©Eli Schelin

Swimming Predator

Location: 30.1185379, -84.1288452

An alligator glides through the murky pools, a fascinating, but potentially dangerous sighting. ©Eli Schelin

Soaring Flocks

Location: 30.1325436, -84.1133728

During spring migration, this area is a parade of rainbow-plumed birds. ©Eli Schelin

Upland Estuary Forest

Location: 30.135149, -84.1104431

Thick vegetation and lime green ferns are a startling contrast to the murky brown and blue pools along the shore. ©Eli Schelin