Big Bend Scenic Byway: Big on Wildlife
By Dalia Colon
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.
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.
“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