There are affiliate links in here. I get a small commission if you purchase through them at no extra cost to you.
Continuing the very perforated saga of my mini Central Florida road trip with my parents, after visiting St. Augustine and the space center, we were headed to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. The first thing we did, as usual, was stop at the visitor center. I got my postcards, a tiny ceramic armadillo (how could I not? I love them), and two small manatees that I want to make in to earrings, then we headed out back to walk along the boardwalk. I loved this boardwalk, especially since it was kind of cloudy.
On our way out, we saw a snake in the water grass. I’m not sure what kind it was, but I liked it. Next up was the Black Point Wildlife Drive. It’s a seven-mile dirt road, but it’s in good condition and any car should be fine on it unless it’s been really wet maybe. We set off and saw an alligator immediately.
Of course, we had to stop for pictures. After a few minutes, we kept going and then stopped for some birds. We took some pictures and so the story goes for about two hours. We mostly saw egrets and ibis, but we also got to see quite a few roseate spoonbills, which were definitely my favorite. Those are the pink birds in the header photo. They get their name because, obviously, their color, and also because they have a spoon-shaped bill.
After we finished the drive, we went to the manatee viewing area. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any, but it was ok because our next stop was Blue Spring State Park, probably the best place to see manatees in Florida.
Where is Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge?
Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge is just outside of Titusville, Florida. The entire island is technically a wildlife refuge right along with the Kennedy Space Center.
How to get to Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge
As usual, I’ve included directions from a few places you’re likely to be coming from. All directions will be to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.
Orlando to Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge – 54 minutes
Cocoa Beach to Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge – 50 minutes
St. Augustine to Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge – 1 hour 43 minutes
How much is Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge?
I believe it is $10 to enter, but a national park pass will get you in, too.
What wildlife can you see in the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge?
There are so many birds in the Merrit Island Wildlife Refuge, it’s crazy. It felt like we were stopping for new ones every two minutes. The main wildlife you’ll see in the refuge is going to be birds, but keep your eyes peeled for other critters, too. The Blackpoint Wildlife Drive will be the best place to see most of these animals.
Merritt Island bird list:
This isn’t all of the birds in Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, but these are some of the most common. 358 species have been identified in the refuge.
- Red-shouldered hawk
- Bald eagle
- American kestrel
- Lesser yellowlegs
- Wilson’s snipe
- Ring-billed gull
- Blue Jay
- Barn swallow
- Tufted titmouse
- Carolina wren
- American robin
- Pine warbler
- Blue heron
- White ibis
- Great egret
- Great blue heron
- Roseate spoonbill
- Brown pelicans
- Reddish egrets
- Mottled ducks
Other wildlife on Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge:
- Peninsula cooter (turtle)
- Chicken turtle
- Striped mud turtle
- Wild hogs (invasive)
- More than 140 species of fish
- Eastern indigo snake (endangered)
- Florida Scrub Jay (endangered)
- Gopher tortoise (endangered)
- Southeastern beach mouse (endangered)
- Wood stork (endangered)
What to do at Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge
Hiking trails in Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge are few and far between, but there are plenty of other things to do that will keep you occupied for a day or two. If you love birding, this will be paradise for you. If you want to do some hiking, consider a visit to Gainesville, which is only a couple of hours away.
With 358 species of birds in Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge, you’ll have plenty of birds to look for. It was fun seeing all the birds (as a non-birder), but it was also fun seeing the real birders get excited about what they were looking at. Make sure you bring binoculars if you plan on doing lots of birding. If you’re in the market for new binoculars for birding and wildlife viewing, this guide for the best binoculars will definitely help narrow that down for you.
Black Point Wildlife Drive
This is the best place to look for wildlife. There isn’t really any hiking along the drive, but it’s totally worth doing. It’s only about seven miles but it took us probably two or three hours because we kept stopping for pictures and t owatch birds or gators. We even saw a couple of wild pigs.
Stop at the manatee viewing area
This is a short drive from the wildlife drive. The best time to look for manatees here is in the winter, but we didn’t see any. It’s still worth stopping, just in case. If you really want to see manatees, go to Blue Spring State Park, not too far from Orlando.
Go to the visitor center
You can learn about the wildlife in the refuge here before walking the boardwalk around a small pond out back. We saw a snake in the water grass when we went, but nothing else. The boardwalk goes through the hammock so you can see palms trees, saw palmettos, and tons of other cool plants. I really liked this boardwalk. It should take less than an hour.
These usually leave from Titusville and what you can see depends on the time of year that you go. You can spend a couple of hours kayaking through the calm waters to see glowing comb jellyfish or dinoflagellate. I didn’t get to do this, but I wish I did. I will next time, for sure. I did get to see bioluminescence in Panama, though if you want to read about that.
Go kayaking during the day
If bioluminescence and kayanig at night doesn’t sound good to you, don’t worry. You can go during the day, too! There are plenty of day kayaking tours to choose from, or a sunset tour. There are sunrise, sunset, manatee and dolphin, wildlife viewing, and econ river tours.
Camping at Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge
There aren’t any campgrounds in merritt Island Widlife Refuge, but there are plenty nearby. There are quite a few options whether you’re in an RV or tent.
Where to stay near the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge
Depending on what else you plan to do in Central Florida, there are a few good places to stay near the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. I liked staying in Cocoa Beach, but Titusville and Orlando are also great choices.
I liked staying in Cocoa Beach. It’s on Merritt Island, but at the opposite end from the visitor center. It’s got plenty of options for hotels, restaurants, and shopping. Plus, there’s a beach. It’s not the closest, but I think it’s a good base for the area. We stayed at the Hampton Inn on the beach and I liked it. I’d stay there again. Airbnb is also a great option.
Titusville isn’t the most exciting but you will find Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge jsut outside of Titusville making it the most convenient. If you’re just in the area for the scenic drive and the space center, it’ll work.
It’s east to go to the refuge as a day trip from Orlando as part of a bigger Disney/Universal trip. If you wnat the most options for everything, then this will be the best place for you to stay. You’ll have the most restaurants, hotels, and activities to choose from. There are tons of awesome Airbnb’s here, too.
Tips for visiting Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge:
- You won’t need tons of time here, one day should be plenty, especially if you are doing a kayaking tour. If not, an afternoon or morning should be enough.
- If you want to do lots of birdwatching, make sure you bring binoculars.
- If you’re visiting in the summer, especially, make sure you bring bug spray.
- I would highly recommend doing a kayaking tour. It’s a great way to see the refuge from a new perspective and to see wildlife. I wish I did one, but now I just need to go back.
Have you been to Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge? What did you think of it? What wildlife did you see there? Do you want to go?