Roughing it: St. Sebastian River Preserve

St. Sebastian River (Photo by Kyle Gabriel)

St. Sebastian River (Photo by Kyle Gabriel)

By Bob Rountree,, Special to, June 18, 2015 – There are no fancy entrance gates, nor is there a groomed campground within the preserve.

To get there, you travel on unpaved roads that require deft handling. Other than a buffer road along the C-54 canal, which divides the park, motorized vehicles are prohibited.

But you can hike here.  You can hike until you drop — on 60 miles of trails through 22,000 acres of wilderness, trails that are also open to mountain bikes and equestrians.

Backpackers can enjoy six primitive campsites, some deep in the grassy forests of longleaf pine, grassland prairies, low-lying scrub, cypress domes and swamps.

The rare Florida scrub jay makes its home here, as does the red-cockaded woodpecker, Bachman’s sparrows, Eastern indigo snakes, bald eagles and gopher tortoises. And then there is the occasional rattlesnake and the ubiquitous frog.

Wild turkeys can often be seen trailside, and river otters are common, while bobcats roam more clandestinely. Blackberries are plentiful along the trails, and wildflowers are abundant, many of them rare.

The C-54 Canal is a haven for manatees, who gather there from November through March and can be viewed from a platform near the end of the unpaved Buffer Preserve Drive. The manatee-viewing platform is handicap-accessible.