This outstanding coastal site is a treasure trove of biological diversity; it protects significant surface water, recreational, archaeological, botanical, and wildlife resources. Much of the property is a mosaic of pine flatwoods interspersed with freshwater swamp and marsh, scrub, grasslands, salt marsh, tidal creek, and even dune ridge/swale habitats as well. Multiple access points and more than 24 miles of dirt roads and multi-use trails permit you to explore as little or as much as you like (portions of trails may be wet at times, so wear appropriate shoes or boots). For a quick introduction to the preserve, start at the Island Gate trailhead on CR 30A, which has 1.4 miles of loop trails right by the entrance. Just west of Island Gate, the South Gate trailhead offers a 2-mile loop through a sandhill/scrub. Both trailheads connect to an even larger network of trails which can also be accessed from the Main Gate trailhead, across from the preserve’s welcome center on SR 30A. From the welcome center’s viewing tower by the bay, watch for Osprey, Bald Eagle, and Red-tailed Hawk. In winter Black Scoters and Common Loons can be found in the bay. Breeding songbirds include Brown-headed Nuthatch, Yellow-breasted Chat, and Bachman’s Sparrow. Spring and fall are excellent times to visit; 37 species of warblers have been recorded. Butterfly watching is good; look for common wood-nymph, variegated fritillary and gray hairstreak. Guided tram tours are offered. Call ahead for details.
Note: While the St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve Visitor Center is currently closed due to COVID-19, other public areas within the preserve (trails and observation tower) are open and available for use.