Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge

#4 in Best Things To Do in Vero Beach
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Key Info

4055 Wildlife Way

Price & Hours

Free
7:30 a.m.-sunset daily

Details

Natural Wonders, Free, Parks and Gardens, Hiking, Recreation Type
1 to 2 hours Time to Spend

scorecard

  • 5.0Value
  • 3.0Facilities
  • 4.5Atmosphere

You'll feel worlds away from society when you visit Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. Established in 1903 as the country's first national wildlife refuge, this 5,400-plus acre sanctuary is a haven for migratory birds, fish, sea turtles, alligators and mammals like manatees, dolphins and bobcats. More than 10 kinds of pelicans also nest here. It's hardly surprising, then, that the refuge's main activities are bird-watching and fishing. You can also enjoy leisurely hikes along three trails that cover roughly 7 miles of the property.

For the best view of Pelican Island, the refuge's main landmark, past visitors recommended trekking the Centennial Trail. This nearly 1-mile-long trail features an 18-foot-tall observation tower with two mounted spotting scopes, as well as a boardwalk with several signs that display QR codes you can scan with a smartphone to access additional information. Regardless of which trail you choose to traverse, reviewers suggested bringing plenty of drinking water since it's not available on-site. Also plan on slathering on lots of sunscreen and insect repellant, especially during the warmer months, to keep yourself protected from the sun and mosquitoes.

Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge sits on the northern end of North Hutchinson Island approximately 15 miles north of downtown Vero Beach. Its proximity to the McLarty Treasure Museum and Sebastian Inlet State Park – both sit less than 2 miles north of the refuge – makes it easy to visit during a daytrip to the museum and park. Admission and use of the property's parking lot and restroom are free. From December to March, complimentary guided wildlife tours are available every Wednesday between 8 and 10 a.m., but space is limited and fills up fast, so be sure to call the refuge to make an advance reservation. Daily visiting hours are from 7:30 a.m. to sunset. To learn more, visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service website.

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One of Vero Beach's main draws is its beautiful beaches, and many consider the town's best to be the beach at Round Island Oceanside Park. Located 8 miles southeast of downtown Vero, this beach park offers everything you need. You'll find covered pavilions with grills, a playground and restrooms, among other amenities. Plus, the wide shore offers plenty of space for stretching out, even when there are sections blocked off to protect sea turtle nests.

But what sets this beach apart from others is its proximity to the Indian River Lagoon. When you want a change of scenery, you can walk across state Road A1A to the beach's sister park: Round Island Riverside Park. This park's amenities include a 400-foot-long boardwalk, nature trails, a fishing pier and an observation tower. Climb up the tower to look for manatees, or go paddleboarding or kayaking to see the gentle creatures up close. Water sports equipment rentals are not available on-site, so remember to bring your own gear or arrange equipment delivery if you want to get out on the water.

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