You ever discover a place that's really interesting and cool that's actually not too far from your house, and then become bummed that you didn't realize it was that close, but also excited because now you have someplace else to travel to and explore? No? Well go find something then! We, on the other hand, discovered this national park called the Merritt Island Nature Preserve, only about a hour drive from us.
I discovered this bountiful park when I was Googling different hiking trails throughout Florida, and came upon a trail called the, "Cruickshank Trail." I was first fascinated by the name, but then lost interest about halfway through saying the name because that's a lot of constants. I kept digging around, and found there were a series of trails around Merritt Island, and became very interested in the untamed wilderness it held.
So on one fine Wednesday, we loaded the car with sunscreen, peanuts and PLENTY of water, as it was the middle of June and dehydration never looks good on anyone. (Quick story: one of the first dates I took LeeAnna on was a four mile hike down this trail in northwest Florida. We went to the widest waterfall in Florida (spoiler alert: it's about thirty feet wide) and it was fine and all, but we eventually lost the trail and had to take a maintenance road back to the car, with one water bottle between us. I was genuinely surprised she still was talking to me by the end of the night.) So this time we made sure we were going to be hydrated!
Our first stop was at the Merritt Island Welcome Center, which I absolutely adored. It was full of facts about the preserve, dioramas of the different ecosystems and it had that smell like the place had been there awhile and it was still kicking and that made me really happy. The ladies at the desk were incredibly friendly and gave us great directions to the Cruickshank trail and to the Canaveral National Shoreline beach area. One of them also showed us a telescope that was focused in on an osprey nest, full of osprey chicks! Very, very cool. We made a loop around the boardwalk that was behind the nature center, and after ensuring out water bottles were filled, headed out to the trail.
Once we had our map, paid our fee (I didn’t realize this until we got there, but it’s NATIONAL park and they have small fees to enter) we were on our way! Since our whole reason for coming out was to head down the Cruikshak trail, we decided to head there first. Come to find out, the trail itself was tucked away inside this one-way driving trail, into the heart of the preserve. It's about eight miles long, and full of signs that point of the different wildlife, fauna and all sorts of interesting facts.
We finally found our way to the trail head and this is where a buildup won't really pay off that much: we took this five mile trail for about a mille, and turned around. Turns out, the trail wasn't more of walking through long grass, and we were not ready for that type of hiking. Now, you might be asking, "What were you expecting, Nick? You should expect the unexpected." Well, I'm not a boy scout. And you might be asking yourself, "Nick, the boy scout motto is 'Be Prepared,' which in this case, you were not." And I say, you're a little judgey, you know that? Regardless, it was very hot and though we had plenty of water, we decided to tackle the trail on another day. Most likely later in the year, as there are many migratory birds that settle in the preserve.
Once we finished the drive trail, we pulled out our map, and made tracks for a special treat that neither one of us were expecting: manatees! There is this small section, conveniently located next to the shore, where manatees just hang out. They were flopping about on each other and kept breaching and making funny noises. It was really, really cool. There was a sign there saying, "Why do the mantes come to this spot? Well, we don't know. But it's cool and you should enjoy them." (Maybe not verbatim, but something close to that.)
Our final stop took us to the Canaveral National Beach, conveniently located next to NASA! You literally have to drive past the NASA entrance to get to the beach, and though I don't work there, I'm sure that has got to be cool. Especially on days when a launch is going to occur. Or maybe not. I could see that place getting very busy. BUT, it wasn't busy when we went and that's what mattered! It is easily one of the best beaches I've ever been to, and I would highly recommend it if you're willing to shell out some money for the park fee. Great parking, no snack shops, no craziness--just you and the water. The couple of times we went now, it wasn't busy by any means, and it's just a very nice place.
With one last look, we bid farewell to the preserve, but have definite plans to visit there again, and hopefully sooner rather than later. As I started by saying, I had no idea this place was so close, and so ripe for exploring.
Adventure is always out there!