Big Bend Scenic Byway: Big on Wildlife

    By Dalia Colon

    Where: Just south of Tallahassee. traversing Leon, Wakulla and Franklin counties, plus Apalachicola National Forest. For a map, click here.

    Length: 220 miles.

    How to get around: Drive, bike, hike or ride horseback.

    Best time to visit: Fall or winter, to observe wildlife at its most active.

    Fun fact: The 18-century naval ship U.S.S. Constitution was originally built with live oak cut from the Apalachicola area.

    For more info: Visit FloridaBigBendScenicByway.org.
     

    Big Bend Scenic Byway runs through the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Great Florida Birding Trail that’s prime for spotting more than 300 species of birds.

    Big Bend Scenic Byway runs through the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Great Florida Birding Trail that’s prime for spotting more than 300 species of birds.

    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

    Cypress trees are reflected in Graham Creek as a full moon rises over the Forest Trail West section of the Big Bend Scenic Byway on Florida Highway 65.

    Cypress trees are reflected in Graham Creek as a full moon rises over the Forest Trail West section of the Big Bend Scenic Byway on Florida Highway 65.

    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA


    Long before tourists started spending winters in Florida, animals were already heading to the Sunshine State for refuge from the cold. Big Bend Scenic Byway runs through the 68,000-acre St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, part of the Great Florida Birding Trail that’s prime for spotting more than 300 species of birds including snow geese, red-throated loons and other wintering wildlife.

    “That’s an extraordinary place where people come from all over the world to observe the birds there,” said Del Suggs, chairman of the byway’s management group.

    Then there are the butterflies. The annual Monarch Butterfly Festival in October celebrates the winged creatures as they make a pit stop during the 2,000-mile trip from the Northern United States to Central Mexico. The festivities include arts and crafts, releases of tagged monarchs, wagon tours to view wildlife and more.
     

    Motorists drive the sunlit causeway from the mainland to St. George Island on the Coastal Trail of the Big Bend Scenic Byway.

    Motorists drive the sunlit causeway from the mainland to St. George Island on the Coastal Trail of the Big Bend Scenic Byway.

    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

    The Big Bend Scenic Byway starts just south of Tallahassee, traversing Leon, Wakulla and Franklin counties, plus Apalachicola National Forest.

    The Big Bend Scenic Byway starts just south of Tallahassee, traversing Leon, Wakulla and Franklin counties, plus Apalachicola National Forest.

    - Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA


    “There are times in the fall when you can go down to the beach, and it will be covered with monarch butterflies that are preparing to go south,” Suggs said. “It’s just incredible.”

    For incredible food to accompany the view, dig into the seafood creole at Angelo & Son’s Seafood Restaurant in Panacea or slurp oysters on the waterfront patio of Up the Creek Raw Bar in Apalachicola.

    “Sit and look in the water and eat something that came out of that water,” Suggs suggests.

    After all, fresh seafood and beautiful wintertime views shouldn’t be just for the birds.

    Photos by Colin Hackley for VISIT FLORIDA

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