Looking for a perfect, scenic bike ride? Look no further than Lighthouse Road in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, a flat, paved road with a shoulder that is perfect for cycling.
Riding from the visitor center to the lighthouse and back makes a 13-mile route that passes through forest, swamp and marsh before reaching the water of Apalachee Bay.
Wildlife is plentiful along this road and you are almost guaranteed to spot alligators and many species of birds, including bald eagles. The Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail provides a safe, paved route to ride from Tallahassee, Woodville or the town of St. Marks out to the lighthouse to make a longer ride. This trail is also very flat and provides a lot of shade.
What Makes It Great
Riding to the lighthouse in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is perfect at any time of the day. Even in the heat of summer, you are sure to have a refreshing breeze, although it might not feel refreshing while riding into it. There is abundant wildlife in this refuge, including alligators, black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, many bird species and even dolphins in the bay. Riding in the early morning or evening is best for wildlife viewing and will have the advantage of less traffic on the road as well.
For a scenic, flat 13-mile ride, start at the visitor center in the wildlife refuge. Ride the 6.5 miles to the lighthouse, get off the bike to stretch, take a drink and stare in awe at the gorgeous scenery, and then take a leisurely ride back to your car. Be aware of traffic on the road and remember to watch for wildlife along the way.
If you are looking for a longer ride, you can start in Tallahassee or at the far end of the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail in the town of St. Marks for a 30-60 mile ride. You can stop at the Riverside Café in St. Marks for lunch either when you return to your car in St. Marks or before riding the state trail back to the trailhead in Tallahassee. This restaurant is on the St. Marks River and serves seafood, burgers and salads. There are bike racks out front and cyclists frequent this area every weekend.
Who is Going to Love It
Cyclists of all levels will enjoy riding in this wildlife refuge. The road is flat and has a shoulder so it is a great place for a beginner to get used to riding on the road. There is almost always noticeable wind since this is a coastal route, so the ride will feel easy and fast in one direction and will provide much more of a challenge in the opposite direction most of the time.
Cyclists that are also wildlife watchers will enjoy getting a workout while also watching for alligators, bobcats, bears, snakes, and many types of birds. The ride can be shortened or lengthened to suit cyclists of all abilities.
Directions, Parking, & Regulations
For a 13 mile ride, from Tallahassee, take South Monroe south from the Capitol and continue south on Woodville Highway to Highway 267 in Wakulla County. Turn left onto 267 and continue to the stop sign at Highway 98. Turn left and cross the bridge over the St. Marks River, then turn right on County Road 59. The visitor center parking lot is just past the entrance station on this road.
For a longer ride, you can park at the trailhead for the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail near the intersection of Capital Circle and Woodville Highway. The ride will be approximately 50 miles if you turn off of the trail at Highway 267 to get to the lighthouse, just short of 10 miles down the trail. or you can ride to the town of St. Marks and then take Newport Road to Highway 98 (turn right at the stop sign) to the wildlife refuge for an approximately 60 mile ride.
The entrance fee is $5 for a vehicle or $1 for a bicycle. An annual pass to the refuge is $25 and an annual pass to all national lands is available at the visitor center for $80. Drinking water is available only at the visitor center and restrooms are located in the visitor center and the picnic area approximately 4 miles down the road.
Difficulty: 2 of 5
This ride has no real elevation change, but it often has very strong wind since it is near the coast.
Time To Complete: 1.5
There are several options to make the ride longer or shorter. You can drive your bike to the visitor center in the wildlife refuge and ride 6.5 miles to the lighthouse and then turn around and ride back for a nice 13 mile ride. Starting in the town of St. Marks and taking Newport Road to Highway 98 and then to the lighthouse will make it approximately 30 miles round trip. You can also start from the St. Marks Trailhead and ride it to Highway 267 or 98 to get to the refuge. This ride will be about 55-60 miles round trip. You will definitely want to spend some time at the lighthouse before you turn around.
The ride inside the wildlife refuge from the visitor center parking lot to the lighthouse and back is 13 miles round trip.
Seasonality: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
The refuge is open year-round. Spring and fall are the best times to ride here due to weather and lack of boat traffic. The summer can have heavy boat traffic but most of the drivers are courteous inside the refuge.
Fees Permit: Yes
The entrance fee is $1 per bicycle or pedestrian, $5 per vehicle. You can also purchase an annual pass to this refuge for $25 or an annual pass to all national lands for $80. Anyone age 62 or older qualifies for a Lifetime Senior Pass to all national lands for only $10.
Dog Friendly: On Leash Only
Dogs are welcome on a leash at the refuge but with the traffic on the road, it is not recommended to ride your bike with your dog here. There are often alligators just feet from the road too.
Get out there and visit St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge! Stay in a Northwest Florida vacation rental.