“This loop heads through mahogany forests and coastal mangroves with lots of wildlife along the way.”
— Zander Göpfert
Birding · River/Creek · Wildlife
While the full loop might be a bit long for smaller kids, a shuttle or out and back option along the Snake Bight Trail is a good option with plenty to see along the way.
Even with arguably some of the worst mosquitos in the park, visitors flock to this loop for its rich plant life, ample opportunity to spot wildlife, and picturesque views out into Snake Bight through the mangroves.
Head out along Snake Bight Trail
to the lookout platform at the edge of Snake Bight before backtracking 0.3 miles to head west on the Rowdy Bend Trail
through a lush, tropical forest.
Need to Know
The mosquitos in this area are notoriously bad. Plan accordingly with bug spray and long sleeves.
Begin this hike at the Snake Bight trailhead off the Main Park Road. Head south through the tropical forest on the Snake Bight Trail
, which used to be a road to an old fish-processing plant. Today, the vegetation and erosion of the road have returned this route to a narrow pathway. The trail runs parallel to the Snake Bight canal that leads to Snake Bight (a "bight" is a u-shaped coastal feature similar to a bay or inlet). Be on the lookout for alligators along the banks of the canal!
Continuing along the trail, note the change in plant life as it transitions from a tropical forest to a coastal prairie filled with buttonwoods and salt hay. These last two miles stretch softly underfoot to a raised boardwalk and observation platform for photos and a prime spot to break out the binoculars and spot a rare but consistent wintertime visitor to this area, the Greater Flamingo.
From the deck, head back the way you came for three-tenths of a mile, looking for an unsigned break in the vegetation to the left marking the Rowdy Bend Trail
Turn left onto the Rowdy Bend Trail
as it heads west on a fairly open, grassy route. The further along you get on this trail, the more overgrown the vegetation becomes, tightening in on the path as it winds through the dense tropical hammock.
Just under three-quarters of a mile from the turn off the Snake Bight Trail
, the Rowdy Bend Trail
opens into a grass prairie with pockets of water throughout. The trail tread changes according to the predominant plant life, becoming soft under the matted salt hay.
After another mile, the trail bends to the right, heading northwest, re-entering the mahogany woods with knotted roots along the forest floor. Continue on this last mile of the Rowdy Bend Trail
before it comes out onto the Main Park Road.
Turn right onto the Main Park Road as it heads back to the Snake Bight Parking Area in 2.7 miles. After a little more than a mile, look to the right-hand side of the road over at Mrazek Pond for another great spot to view wildlife.
As an alternative to hiking along the Main Park Road, leave a second vehicle at the Rowdy Bend Parking Area and shuttle back to the Snake Bight Parking Area.
Flora & Fauna
Be on the lookout for Greater Flamingos, alligators, turtles, and a variety of other birds such as egrets, anhingas, spoonbills, herons, and ospreys.