Florida Wildlife Refuge Mentioned on List of Wonders With Fewer Crowds that Should Be a National Park

L. Cane

America's national parks have become wildly popular, with more than 300 million visitors estimated in 2022. The upside to that kind of traffic is that countless numbers of Americans get to enjoy the wonderful natural attributes of America. The downside is that some parks must put caps on visitors because the parks become too crowded to accommodate everyone who wants to visit on any given day.

CNN Travel recently argued that there are places around the country that are just as magical as some of the national parks, but just aren't designated that way.

However, the upside was that there were "options for those who want to explore America's great outdoors without the crowds." And one Florida destination was specifically mentioned by the publication.

Why CNN Travel Liked St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge: On Florida's Gulf Coast in the panhandle and spanning no less than three counties, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge was established in 1931 to provide a warm winter habitat for migratory birds. It is one of the oldest in the National Wildlife Refuge System.

What You Can See in the Refuge: The Refuge is probably best known for its monarch butterfly migration festival. However, it's a huge refuge for migratory birds, and the types of wintering birds that you might have the pleasure of viewing are sparrows, songbirds, ducks, warblers, bald eagles, osprey, and ibis, to name just a few. (There are over 300 species that call the refuge home.)

Outside of birds and butterflies, you can see all types of wild things, including bobcats, otters, panthers, black bears, alligators, dolphins, and manatees.

The terrain includes salt marshes, tidal flats, and freshwater pools. You'll see plenty of "old Florida," which can be refreshing if you live in an area with a good deal of development.

There are great opportunities for hiking and wonderful views that include water at times.

The Lighthouse: The St. Marks Lighthouse is the second oldest in the entire state of Florida as it was built in 1842. It's actually still a working lighthouse that marks the location of the St. Marks River. Occasionally, the keeper's quarters are open to the public. You can check the Refuge website for more information.

Camping: Unfortunately, there are no camping facilities available on the Refuge. However, Newport Campground nearby has good reviews.

Reviews of the Refuge: The Refuge has a 4.5 out of 5-star rating on TripAdvisor. The majority of reviewers said that the Refuge and Lighthouse are beautiful. The reviewers who took off stars generally did so when the Lighthouse or Refuge was inaccessible due to COVID. Many reviewers included photos of animals or lovely scenery.

Address and Fees: The Refuge spans three counties, but the main address on the website is listed as:

1255 Lighthouse Road

St. Marks, FL 32355

[GPS: 30° 9.097' N 84° 8.845' W]

Fees are $5 per vehicle. It is always a good idea to contact any facility before you visit as amenities can close for maintenance. And the Lighthouse keeper's quarters are not open daily.

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