A system of flat, sandy trails meandering between suburbia and the St. Johns River floodplain, the Viera Wetlands are a bird lover’s paradise.
Officially called the Ritch Grissom Memorial Viera Wetlands, lather up the family in lots of sunscreen and walk these trails, built through wetlands created to process wastewater naturally. You can go up to 2.4 miles, do it twice for more, or cut it short – just be sure to bring water and wear a hat. Otherwise, the wild wind will be the only thing bracing you from the hot Florida sun.
Get ready: The Viera Wetlands are located just past a large tract of subdivisions. From Exit 191 on I-95, take Wickham Drive West for .4 miles. Head straight across the roundabout. Continue on North Wickham for a little more than 2.2 miles. Look for the turnoff for the park on the left (there are signs). The parking area is after the levee.
Get set: Pull into the dusty parking lot, and use the porta potty (it was pretty clean when we were there!) if you need to.
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen, wear a hat and bring your water bottle or bladder!
Go: Hike up the berm where you’ll find the trail board. Take a right along the road. From there, you can choose to stay on the main road, or take one of a number of left turns onto smaller roads that will lead you to impressive observation decks, where you’ll be able to get a good look at some of the amazing wildlife that calls the wetlands home.
BE ADVISED: on certain days, cars are allowed to drive through the park on the outer road. Unfortunately, we were there on a “car day” and it was a bit of a nuisance to have to deal with them passing us as we were trying to immerse ourselves in nature.
Effort: This trail is VERY flat. I would say the most difficult part about it is the sun that will be beating down on you. There is no shade to be found in this park! I’m not going to lie – the water is going to look very appealing – UNTIL you see one of the alligators that calls the habitat home.
Takeaway: The Viera Wetlands are an incredibly popular spot for Florida scrub jays. They’re a dark, almost raven-like bird that have a loud call. We also saw cormorants, ibis and herons. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot a bald eagle flying overhead. While dogs are welcome, I’d leave them at home, so as not to disturb the wildlife. This was my first foray into the wilds of Florida, and while the cars that accompanied us on the route were annoying, it won’t deter us from returning for a quick taste of beautiful nature.