Connect With Nature at Savannas Preserve State Park
Living about 50 feet above sea level, with a panoramic view of the Savannas Preserve State Park from the back deck, our family and neighbors really appreciate the state’s foresight in protecting the diverse beauty and recreation offered by the woods and waters inside its boundaries. We never take for granted having more than 6,000 acres of diverse wilderness right in the back yard.
The diversity of ecosystems is such that they include pine flatwood, wet prairie, marsh lake, scrubby flatwood and sand pine scrub. Those jewels are tucked away behind the high coastal ridge that borders the nearby Indian River Lagoon and the much-extolled bounty of that estuary.
Quietly, and off the beaten track, the Savannas offer curious visitors and caring locals many fun and instructive opportunities to connect with the natural Florida.
The park offers hikers a variety of options from access points in Martin and St. Lucie counties. The two main access points are on Jensen Beach Boulevard and Walton Road. Guided walks are available upon request.
Also, check out the loop trail at Hawk’s Bluff in Jensen Beach, where you can explore five habitats in a 1.1-mile hike. Halpatiokee Nature Trail winds down through scrub country to the mangrove-lined North Fork of the St. Lucie River.
Hikers, bicyclists and equestrian enthusiasts are also all welcome to share more than 15 miles of multi-use trails. They lead visitors through most of the upland habitats and along the wetlands, which shrink and expand depending upon season. Winter and spring months are driest.
There is a designated equestrian area. Call ahead for the gate lock combinations.
Birders in the know love the Savannas, which is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. The rich habitats support diverse populations of local and migratory avian species.
The decaying pine tree trunks at Hawk’s Bluff make superb woodpecker habitat. Red-bellied, pileated and downy woodpeckers are common sightings.
Blackbelly whistling ducks now nest in holes in those trees. Speaking of ducks, there’s no better place to see the Florida mottled duck, a subspecies of mallard that doesn’t migrate and is rarely found outside the state. Wood ducks move between the marsh lake and woody roosts. During the winter, rafts of migratory waterfowl cover the lakes.
The wetlands also draw myriad wading birds, including roseate spoonbills, and wood storks, as well as several species of herons, egrets and ibis.
Keep an eye out overhead for bald eagles, as well as swallowtail kites in the spring. Upland areas support quite a few songbirds, including warblers, vireos and shrikes.
The marsh lakes were once so popular among bass fishermen that several fish camps operated on them. Indeed, it was a group of anglers that successfully lobbied the state to create a state park to protect the Savannas from development.
These waters still teem with big bass, crappie and bream. No outboard motors are allowed, and boat access is limited to a couple of launches, so there’s very little fishing pressure.
It’s a perfect destination for anglers craving solitude, beauty and big, uneducated fish. Fishing is best near the inlets that connect the lakes and in the deeper holes when the water is low. Fly fishing and fishing with conventional tackle are both productive.
Some of the shallower productive areas are heavily vegetated, so bring appropriately heavy tackle when targeting bass. To prevent the introduction of non-native species, fishing with natural bait is illegal.
It’s a good idea to go with a guide the first time you explore the Savannas by water. Knowledgeable volunteers lead two-hour canoe/kayak tours every Friday and Saturday morning at 8:30 a.m. Make sure to book in advance.
Contact the Education Center for reservations. Paddler wishing to explore these teeming waters on their own must bring their own boats, paddles and life jackets. The primary launch is by the education center on Walton Road.
Camping and More
St. Lucie County manages the Savannas Recreation Area, located in Fort Pierce. The 550-acre property offers camping, fishing, hiking and picnicking opportunities, plus a dog park. The recreation area offers canoe and kayak rentals.
When you go…
Savannas Preserve State Park
2541 Walton Road
Port St. Lucie , Fla., 34952
Photos by Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA