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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
- Distance: 12.3
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.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
Location: 30.1401196, -84.1169815
Bear left @ Y-junction to follow main trail.
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.
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.
Location: 30.1394901, -84.1276016
Bear left @ Y-junction. In 0.2 mile, stay right to return to the parking lot.
Location: 30.140419, -84.1350861
Peer through flaxen-grass clearing for white-tailed deer. ©Eli Schelin
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
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
Location: 30.1185379, -84.1288452
An alligator glides through the murky pools, a fascinating, but potentially dangerous sighting. ©Eli Schelin
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