As its name entails, the Arthur R. Marshall National Wildlife Refuge is a ginormous (about 150,000-acres) habitat for wild animals, and a precious destination for those seeking a true natural setting for hiking, biking, boating, watching the sunset, and soaking in the love that nature has to offer.
I visited this refuge in May of this year with a friend just before the sunset for a quick biking trip. Upon entering, there is a $5.00 entrance fee for vehicles ($1) for pedestrians that you place in a box if you’re visiting after staff leaves for the day. The first entrance to the right is the Visitors Center, which was closed when we visited (9 am – 4 pm), but from research, it looks like a great chance to learn about the habitat, and especially beneficial for the little ones judging from all the educational material. Right next to the Visitors Center, there are some beautiful trails, a thriving butterfly garden, and a boardwalk that leads out to more trails.
One thing to note is since this is a refuge for wild animals, the environment is of the, well, wilder variety. There are bugs. Feel free to venture down the area near the visitor’s center, which is complete with a boardwalk, trails of trees that hang over the wooden planks and railings to give a green and serene atmosphere, and plenty of birds, butterflies and colorful caterpillars to join you along the way.
Or do as we did that day, and hop on your bikes and explore the refuge area (accessible by traveling down the same road you entered on) via two tires and our own intuition (get lost and keep adventuring on!). The areas meant for bicyclists are not paved paths, but shell rock, a somewhat rougher terrain, so check make sure your bike tires are A+ before venturing. The view was perfect, mainly because of the time of day (sunset), and it wasn’t too humid or too hot (again, time of day).
If you’re squeamish, fair warning, there are crickets and grasshoppers. Everywhere. They make noises, they jump, and if you appreciate the wonders that God places on this planet, they are b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l.
With that, there are animals, and other people, too. At the time we went, we saw a group of photographers jumping at the opportunity to take photos of an owl perched on a far away tree. There are other birds as well, and alligators, fish, turtles, a variety of animals waiting to be gazed at. Please don’t disturb the wildlife. After all, this is a National Wildlife Refuge. A place for animals to live without the interference of humans, who can sometimes be pesky. Spectate from afar. So many different varieties of birds, mammals, reptiles are more are there for our wondering eyes and minds, young and old.
We didn’t go down too far as the sun was going down, but from maps, it looks as though there are many, many miles that can be biked – I would recommend Google Mapping if you’d like the exact trail/mileage (I can’t do everything for you!). It’s a great opportunity to catch the sunset without the bombardment of buildings and street signs. With every breath, the air is fresh and the sounds are peaceful. I would not recommend traveling too far down the path alone, or without the benefit of daylight. Sometimes I like to walk paths with my headphones in and my music blaring, but I wouldn’t do so walking through the trails at this refuge, I felt like I never knew what would pop out of the bushes, and I’m tiny, so if you’re like me, your only defense is to be aware and be ready to run if a hungry-little-something plunges towards you.
Something else worth mentioning, although I haven’t experienced myself it at this particular location as of yet – are the motorized and non-motorized boating opportunities. I have seen many patrons using their own motorized boats to travel the waters adjacent to the Everglades, and there is a kayak and canoe rental vendor present by the waters to rent to those who desire to traverse the swamp.
It is definitely worth returning to time and time again because there’s always something new to discover! I think I’ll stick with the buddy system at this location moving forward, for piece-of-mind’s sake. Closer to sunset looks like it’s the ideal time to travel, and I’ll definitely be returning more in the Winter time, as there is most likely less bug traffic.