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This pan-flat 7.6-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. This trail 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.
Right before the Stoney Bayou Trail syncs up with the Florida Trail, a short detour leads to an overlook of the pools and serene vistas of the shoreline. This a wildlife oasis is alive with croaking bullfrogs, slithering snakes, and alligators basking in the sun.
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. Here, scan the trees for the elusive bald eagle. 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.