National Wildlife Refuge-St. Marks & Otter Lake

National Wildlife Refuge-St. Marks & Otter Lake

Open year round, daylight hours
(Gate on Lighthouse Road opens at 6 am).Visitor Center is open Mondays – Fridays, 8 am – 4 pm; Saturdays and Sundays, 10 am – 5 pm; Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas

St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is one of the oldest wildlife refuges in the United States. Established in 1931 as a wintering ground for migratory birds, it encompasses 68,000 acres (280 km2) spread between Wakulla, Jefferson, and Taylor Counties.  The refuge encompasses three separate units – Otter Lake (Panacea), St. Marks, and Aucilla River (Wakulla) – each with its own separate access points and trailheads. Of these, the St. Marks Unit is the most-visited, thanks to its historic lighthouse and access to a broad array of hiking and multi-use trails. It is also the only unit to charge an entrance fee. Boat ramp fees also apply at the Aucilla River.

The refuge includes several Gulf of Mexico coastal habitats, such as saltwater marshes, islands, tidal creeks, and the estuaries of seven north Florida rivers. It is home to a diverse range of  plant and animal life and also has a long history of human use, including structures such as the St. Marks Lighthouse, the second oldest lighthouse in Florida. 

St. Marks NWR provides numerous recreation opportunities to thousands of visitors every year. People enjoy viewing the unique geology and diverse wildlife.  Certain trails are limited to foot traffic only while all the levees and woodland roads are open to hiking, bicycling and horseback riding.  The Florida National Scenic Trail crosses through the St. Marks Unit of the Refuge for a length of almost 50 miles.  Through hikers may obtain camping permits at the Visitor Center. 

Otter Lake Recreation Area in Panacea is only minutes from the town and cooled by beautiful moss-draped oaks, making it a favorite picnic spot for locals and visitors alike. The scenic view of Cypress tree reflections in the still lake waters are worth a picture or two. A nice hiking trail circles the lake. Activities include picnicking, hiking, fishing, boating, nature photography, and wildlife viewing. Facilities include picnic tables and shelters, hiking trails, restrooms, boat launch for small boats with motor size limit of 10 horse power or less.

There are lots of fun, interesting, and educational things you can do on the refuge.  Keep in mind, if an activity is not wildlife related and doesn’t help in the protection or understanding of wildlife or their habitat, there are probably refuge rules governing this activity.  Please check with the refuge management before participating in an activity that could harm the environment or yourself.

A few rules:  Observe posted speed limits.  Pets on leash allowed.  Collecting or taking of artifacts, natural features, animals or plants on government property is prohibited.  Please do not litter.  Boats are allowed in refuge pools, March 15 through October 15, however only non-motorized boats or boats with electric motors are allowed.  Drones are prohibited.

Directions from Carrabelle:  East on Hwy 98.  Otter Lake Recreation Area in Panacea is about 26 miles away, Turn on Otter Lake Road.  St. Marks NWR is 47 miles from Carrabelle, Turn on Lighthouse Road.

 Interested in what wildlife can be viewed in this area? Click here for more info.

Categories: Day Trips