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Gardens & Edens - Merritt Wildlife Reguge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
State Route 402, east of Titusville
(321) 861-0667
www.fws.gov/merrittisland/

Admission: Free
Hours: Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.;
Saturday and Sunday 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
Location: Just east of Titusville on State Route 406; from I-95, take Exit 229

Hard by Kennedy Space Center, surrounding it in fact, are 140,000 acres of pristine Florida coastal wilderness, home to some 500 species, including 21 on various endangered and threatened species lists. With the possible exception of the West Indian manatee, the stars of the show here are the 311 species of birds that either make the Refuge their home or pass through en route to other climes. As a result, the Refuge is one of the prime birding spots in the Southeast and a must-see attraction for anyone with even a modest interest in bird watching. From the majestic American bald eagle, to the colorful Florida scrub jay, to the many varieties of ducks and wading birds that frequent the salt marches, a visit here will provide ample opportunities to add to your list of species spotted. In between birds, be on the lookout for alligators cruising through the shallows, and if you’re really lucky you might catch a glimpse of an elusive bobcat bounding across the road.

The aforementioned manatees gather at the Haulover Canal linking the Indian River with Mosquito Lagoon. They appear with such regularity at a certain spot that the Park Service has erected a Manatee Observation Deck to give visitors a better look. A stop here makes a perfect counterpoint to the manatee exhibit over at SeaWorld.

The Black Point Wildlife Drive, a self-guided driving tour of the Refuge’s natural marshes and man-made impoundments, is a popular diversion. Maps and recorded guides are available at the Visitors Center. About half way through, you can park and set off on the 5-mile Cruickshank Trail for a closer look at this magnet for migratory birds. The adjacent Canaveral National Seashore ($5 per vehicle charge) offers miles of pristine beaches along the Atlantic. You can spend a very full day or two exploring the rich variety of a landscape that has changed little since the days of Ponce de Leon.

Nearby: Kennedy Space Center.

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