• Florida's Adventure Coast

St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge

Most people will never get there. There are no bridges and you can only get there by boat. But be sure to add this to your authentic Florida bucket list. There are few experiences in Florida that will ever compare.

Have you ever seen a true, wild Florida island? I had never witnessed one quite this pristine, ever….and found it to be a profound “real Florida” experience.

The St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge is located in northwest Florida, near the mouth of the Apalachicola River. Twenty-two miles southwest of Apalachicola and at the end of Country Road 30-B, you’ll find Indian Pass, one of the launching points to the St. Vincent Refuge. If you don’t have an available boat or kayak, the St. Vincent Island Shuttle will take you 1/4 mile across the pass.  This is a private service, so be sure to call ahead and make a reservation. Also, other local captains are available for hire by calling the Apalachicola Chamber of Commerce.

St. Vincent Island is one of the largest northern Gulf Coast barrier islands, operated by the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System. Shaped like a triangle, the island is nine miles long and four miles wide at the west end, narrowing to a tip at Indian Pass.

The island has an intriguing history of hunting, cattle and logging interests, but in 1968 it became primarily a shelter for waterfowl – wood ducks and migratory blue winged teal. Since then, the island has taken on increased environmental significance. In addition to being a protected area for endangered and threatened wildlife, it’s a safe harbor for migratory birds. With over 240 bird species, the island serves as a habitat for many birds and rookeries thrive with great egrets, snowy egrets, tri-colored and little blue herons.

St. Vincent is home to a wide variety of animals – and the short list includes bald eagles, sea turtles, indigo snakes, pygmy and eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, gopher tortoises, colonial bats, alligators,Wood Storks, American Oyster Catchers and Snowy Plovers. White tailed deer also populate the island as do red wolves (reestablished). Imported from years ago – the (elk-like) Asian Sambar deer also populate the island.

Additionally, there are over 12,000 acres of protected tidal marshes, freshwater lakes and springs, sand dunes, mixed hardwoods, scrub oaks, cabbage palms, and pine communities co-existing on the island.

Our Discoveries

We kayaked the northern side of island up the coastline which runs nine miles. Fallen palm and pine trees were laying on the sand or submerged in shallow water. The thick vegetation had a jungle-like affect. It was both stunning and breathtaking. In the hidden bayous alligators were floating in the brackish water. American Oyster Catchers were feeding on oyster beds. An authentic Florida dream come true.

My husband caught a few speckled trout and he was quite pleased with the number and size of the fish.

And the beach. We hiked to the beach near the westernmost point, carefully avoiding the protected bird area. When we reached the Gulf side, our jaws dropped while looking at fourteen miles of untouched beach with not a human in sight. Scrubby sand dunes and the nearby protected area for Snowy Plovers reminded us that we needed to be careful and respectful of this habitat. We sat in awe while we ate the steamed shrimp we had purchased from 13 Mile Seafood in Apalachicola. Lunch, cold drinks, a swim in the Gulf and we were feeling blissful.

On St. Vincent Island, there are 80 miles of hiking trails and wildlife observation is permitted along the refuge roads. Be forewarned, this island is not for sissies. Bring bug repellant. Tours are October and May. Call ahead to find out if the island is open, as sometimes they are doing some controlled burning and prohibit visitors.

On the return trip to Apalachicola we stopped at a local hangout, the Indian Pass Raw Bar (8391 C – 30A), which once served as a commissary during turpentine days. We grabbed a cold one from cooler and minutes later we had more fresh oysters than we could eat. A local hang out and we stuffed ourselves full of yet, another few dozen fresh Apalach oysters.

Go with a Private Tour: Bay View Charters of St. George Island

For a special tour of the island, consider going with Bay View Charters of St. George Island with Captain Wes and Joanna McCall. Leaving from St. George Island, the trip to St. Vincent Island (and Little St. George Island) is likely to be one of the few times in Florida where you can walk a wide-open beach without crowds (you are usually the only ones there.) Stroll miles of beautiful beach surrounded by white sand dunes, collect shells, driftwood, identify animal tracks and bird watch. After a delightful visit to both islands, enjoy some dolphin watching on your return trip to St. George Island.

In your life, you have never seen such a Florida beauty. Most people will not get there. I hope you are one of the lucky ones.

Note: The St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center for an overview is in Apalachicola, 479 Market Street.

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