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The Historic Jungle trail winds for nearly 8 miles along a sandy road through the hammock habitat of Florida's barrier islands north of Vero Beach. The trail—really a road—is on the National Register of Historic Places and was built in the 1920s so that citrus growers could haul their produce up and down the barrier island. Although cars do drive along the road, it's mostly used by cyclists, walkers and joggers. The road is sandy but mostly hard packed and easy going for wide-tire bicycles. Some places can get soft at times.
From the northern end point, the trail begins in Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, the nation's first wildlife refuge established in 1903 by Teddy Roosevelt to protect birds from feather hunters. Bird feathers were widely used to decorate women's hats in the early 20th century, and Florida's barrier islands were teeming with the most vulnerable of species.
Park in the refuge just off A1A (you'll find bathrooms and drinking fountains here). From here you can also explore a 2.5-mile walking path (no bikes allowed) around one of the peninsulas on the Indian River. Head south on the Jungle Trail through the refuge in an open savannah of palm, sea grape and other coastal wetland species. In about 0.5 mile you'll come to a turn-off for another parking area. Head down here for a short diversion along the Centennial Trail (walking only, accessible; bike racks available). The Centennial Trail is a part-paved and part-boardwalk trail leading to a lookout from which you can see the original Pelican Island. (The refuge has expanded greatly since 1903.) There's also another hiking trail in this area.
The scenery is spectacular and the lookout has spotting scopes that allow you a close-up view of roosting and nesting wood storks, pelicans, egrets, herons and ospreys, to name a few species. Interpretive signs give a brief history of how Pelican Island was saved and about efforts to restore the natural habitat of the refuge. The sun can by intense here, but shelters and benches are provided at the start of the trail and the lookout is under cover.
Continuing on the main Historic Jungle Trail you soon reach a section where you can pull over and get another look at the Indian River Lagoon. You can also launch a kayak or canoe from here, as well as drop a fishing line (check local fishing regulations). The trail continues south, winding through the hammock habitat. After leaving the refuge, you'll begin to get glimpses of the gated golf course communities on each side of the trail. This stretch is more shaded though the road may be covered in debris if the vegetation-trimming crew has recently been around. Also, watch for snakes warming themselves on the road in early morning or around dusk.
When you reach a road crossing (Orchid Island Drive), proceed with caution because the vegetation can block your view, although traffic is sparse. A short distance later, you'll reach another more tricky crossing at SR 510 (Wabasso Beach Road). Use caution when crossing the road here since there are no pedestrian signals. This next section of trail is much less shaded and passes between the Indian River to the west and the back yards of upscale homes to the east.
At Captain Forster's Hammock Preserve take a side-trip through the 110-acre area, which has additional nature trails winding through the trees. You'll find parking here, bike racks, bathrooms and drinking fountains.
Back on the main Historic Jungle Trail continue south to trail's end, where it turns into the paved Old Winter Beach Road. You can take this about 0.5 mile to Route A1A, and there is a paved side path so you don't have to ride on the road. At A1A you can pick up the Route 1A Trail and head back north to where you parked at the wildlife Refuge about 6 miles, or head back along the Historic Jungle Trail.
To reach the northern access point and parking: From the intersection of Wabasso Road (CR 510) and SR A1A, drive north 3.7 miles on A1A; you will see a sign on the right indicating Pelican Island Wildlife Refuge; turn left onto the road marked Historic Jungle Trail.
To reach the southern access point (no parking): From the intersection of Wabasso Road (CR 510) and SR A1A, drive south 2.4 miles on A1A to Old Winter Beach Road and turn right. Drive a short distance to the bend in the road. The trail starts on the right when the road becomes gravel/sand.
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