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Latest update: September 2021

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge...

Kayaking Florida's Space Coast on the Upper Indian River and Mosquito Lagoon

The Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1963 as part of the development of Canaveral (John F. Kennedy) Space Center, provides important habitat to a wide variety of plants of animals. It also offers many recreational opportunities - bird and wildlife watching, a wildlife drive, manatee observation deck, fishing and hunting, and boating. There are several public access roads to launch onto the Upper Indian River or Mosquito Lagoons, the best areas for paddling to avoid motorboats. It is also one of the most popular locations in America for bioluminescence kayaking tours. A Refuge day pass is required for some facilities including improved boat ramps (check the Refuge website for current fees; annual passes available). Portions of the Refuge close for rocket launches. The information presented here is subject to change due to storm damage, area closures, and Refuge policy. Check the Refuge website for current closures. (Detailed map and photos below).

paddle Merritt 
		    Island National Wildlife Refuge, kayak, canoe

Distance: varies
Location: Brevard County (Titusville)
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Tidal: Yes
Launch points: Along Shiloh Marsh Road, Bairs Cove, Beacon 42 Boat Ramp, WSEG Boat Ramp, Dummitts Cove, Bio Lab Road, Eddy Creek (See map)
Nearby points of interest: Manatee Observation Deck, Kennedy Space Center, Canaveral National Seashore, Playalinda Beach

Support and Advocacy:

Merritt Island Wildlife Association

Rentals/Outfitters/Tours - including Bioluminescence Tours
(Only permitted outfitters may operate from Merritt Island NWR):

A Day Away Kayak Tours  (rentals/tours)
BK Adventures  (rentals/tours)
Cocoa Kayaking (kayak & paddleboard tours)
Florida Adventurer (kayak tours)
Get Up and Go Kayaking (bioluminescence kayak tours)

Others nearby:

A1A Beach Rentals  (rentals/tours)
Kayaks by Bo  (sales)

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge... Comments and Photos

Launching a kayak/canoe is allowed anywhere within the Refuge excluding: (1) Kennedy Space Center restricted areas, (2) anywhere along Wildlife Drive except L-Pond Road, or (3) other areas closed from time to time for maintenance or other reasons. On this page we include paddling on portions of the Upper Indian River Lagoon (west), and then we explore more launch opportunities onto Mosquito Lagoon (east), with some adjoining areas of Canaveral National Seashore that are accessed from Merritt Island. We also visited the dikes around Gator and Catfish Creeks, and Peacocks Pocket. More paddling to the north and east is at Canaveral National Seashore-North (link below). Watch the weather, high winds can create difficult paddling conditions on the shallow lagoons. In the summer months, bioluminescence is an interesting phenomenon and several outfitters offer tours - marine life have developed the ability to use chemicals within their bodies to produce light, visible at night.

 

 

Paddling on the Upper Indian River Lagoon

Paddling on the Upper Indian River Lagoon at the Refuge (to the west) provides an unparalleled view of natural habitat and wildlife including an occasional alligator or dolphin with mostly shallow, open water. Our favorite area to paddle is by launching onto Patillo Creek from Shiloh Marsh Road. Access is from Patillo Creek Road off Kennedy Pkwy. (SR 3) about a mile north of the radar dome. Old Shiloh Marsh Road is now mostly overgrown and open only to foot and bicycle traffic, but a short section here remains open to vehicles for launching.

History - Shiloh is a ghost town, razed when the land was obtained for development of the space center. It's history extends to Native Americans whose middens and mounds are found in the area. The Elliott Plantation was in this area, the oldest and most southern British sugar plantation in America dating to 1760. Then in the 1800's citrus groves were prevalent, and several old family cemeteries remain. After the Civil War free slaves settled here, the Clifton Colored School was established in 1890.

Launch at Shiloh Marsh Road and Canals

We paddled briefly on the creek into the canals across from the launch, be careful and don't get lost in the maze!

History - The canals were dredged in the 1960's by a developer planning to build homes, but that project was abandoned when the land was obtained for the space program.


On the Upper Indian River Lagoon

From the launch we paddled out onto the Indian River Lagoon heading north. With shallow water, motorboats are rare. We visited a small island we dubbed "Kokomo."


Dummitt Cove

Dummitt Cove, along the Indian River Lagoon, is a popular fishing hole. Access is off Kennedy Pkwy. about 1/4 mile north of Biolab Road, next to the Sendler Education Outpost. Several sandy areas along the road open up onto the cove for an easy launch. Unpaved parking, no facilities. A channel leads to the Indian River Lagoon; paddle around the mangrove islands and coves. Dolphin may be seen.

History - The Cove is named for Douglas Dummitt (1806-73, "Father of the Indian River Citrus Industry"), who settled here in the mid-1800's and established citrus groves famous for techniques he developed to graft sour oranges to sweet. The fruit produced were known for their flavor, commanding the princely price of $1 a box. A chimney from his homestead still stands. (More about Douglas Dummitt for history buffs )


Mosquito Lagoon

Mosquito Lagoon lies to the east, part of both Merritt Island NWR and Canaveral National Seashore. This is an undeveloped, pristine area popular for fishing, connecting to the Indian River via the Haulover Canal. Several boat ramps include kayak/canoe launches providing access to the Lagoon and Canaveral National Seashore. The shallow, open water can be rough when windy. Dolphin and manatee may be seen, many birds.

Biolab Boat Ramp and Launch

Biolab Boat Ramp along Biolab Road (off Kennedy Pkwy. [SR3], about 1.5 miles north of the end of SR 406) launches onto Mosquito Lagoon, popular for fishing. A kayak launch has been added at the southern end of the parking area. Paddling along the shoreline toward Playalinda Beach will encounter fewer motorboats. Refuge day fee applies. Ample parking in the unpaved lot. Biolab Road continues from just before the boat ramp for 5.6 miles to Playalinda Beach Road (one way southbound, day pass needed) running between the Lagoon and wetlands with excellent birdwatching.

History - The name comes from an atmospheric sciences lab building that used to stand near the entrance.


Beacon 42 Boat Ramp

Beacon 42 Boat Ramp is located off Kennedy Pkwy. about 1.5 miles north of the Haulover Canal, then another 1/2 mile on an unpaved access road to the large unpaved parking area. A kayak/canoe launch is located next to the two paved boat ramps. Other amenities include portalets and a dock. Popular location for local outfitters/tours. Refuge day fee applies.


WSEG Boat Ramp

The WSEG Boat Ramp is located off Kennedy Pkwy. about 4 miles north of the Haulover Canal, an unpaved access road runs about 3/4 mile to the ramp. This is popular for fishing and is a "Pole and Troll" Zone (boats may run under power only in the posted channels; outside the designated channels vessels must be propelled by push-poles, paddles, or electric motors only). Parking, no other amenities.


Eddy Creek Boat Ramp

The Eddy Creek Boat Ramp is at the southern end of the lagoon at Canaveral National Seashore, accessed from Playalinda Beach Road (between parking areas 7 and 8), about 2.5 miles north from CR 402. Amenities include a paved parking lot, restrooms, fishing pier, and a small beach. It's an easy launch from the unpaved boat ramp into a cove leading to Mosquito Lagoon. The parking lot is shared with beachgoers - across the road is a ramp for Playalinda Beach access, with another restroom and picnic pavilion. A fee is required to enter the National Seashore, no fee to launch.

 

 

Haulover Canal - 2 Launches - North and South Sides

Haulover Canal at the narrowest part of Merritt Island links the Indian River Lagoon (to the west) and Mosquito Lagoon (to the east). It's a popular area for manatee viewing and nighttime bioluminescence kayaking tours. Launches are located on both sides of the canal, west of the drawbridge. If paddling in the canal, be careful - tides can be strong and many watercraft of all sizes run through here for shipping and recreational purposes.

History - This location is near the former site of the fishing community of Allenhurst, one of several that were vacated when the land was acquired by NASA for the space program. But the area has a longer history, dating to Native American and Spanish occupation. During the Seminole Wars, Fort Ann (1837) stood near here. The first canal was built in 1854, and in 1888 rebuilt and widened to accommodate steamship and cargo ships. It was incorporated into the Intracoastal Waterway in 1927.(More about Haulover Canal for history buffs )

 

NW Haulover Canal Access - North Launch

On the north side of the canal at the end of the access road, a wide beach area provides launching (easy on and off) into the Indian River Lagoon near the end of the canal. Unpaved parking, portalet. This area is also a popular spot used by local outfitters/tours. There are several pull offs to the canal along the access road, launching is possible but parking is limited as these spots are mostly claimed for fishing.


Haulover Canal - South Launch - Bairs Cove

On the south side of the canal, the kayak launch is opposite the paved boat ramp located at the end of Bairs Cove Road (paved parking, portalets). The boat ramp is at the cove, a short distance to the canal. The kayak/canoe launch is directly onto the canal, south of the cove. The cove is also good for manatee viewing. Refuge day fee applies.


Manatee Viewing Area

Also north of the drawbridge - opposite the NW Haulover Canal access road - there's an entrance to the popular Manatee Viewing Area where manatee can be seen year-round - we've seen both manatee and dolphin from the viewing area. No launch area and fishing is prohibited, but good views of the canal and the drawbridge.


Launching from the Dikes

The dikes at Gator Creek Road, Catfish Creek Road and Peacocks Pocket Rosd are accessible and mostly popular for fishing, but there are some launch sites available onto Gator Creek, Catfish Creek and the Upper Indian River Lagoon. The interior ponds look more inviting, but no access provided. The dike roads are narrow and unpaved with no shade, and are closed from time to time due to storms or for maintenance. Fishing aside, this is a good area for birdwatching!

History: The dikes were built in the 1960's for mosquito control, but cutting off the flow of water from the marshlands resulted in water degradation, altered vegetation, and reduced fish spawning. Culverts have been built to help restore the flow, an ongoing effort.

 

Gator Creek

There are two entrances off SR 406 (A. Max Brewer Memorial Pkwy.) to West Gator Creek Road, the first is at the entry to the Refuge, just past Parrish Park, and the second about 3/4 mile past that. The first entrance is very popular for fishing access, be very careful of the traffic. There are limited points to launch onto Gator Creek and the Indian River Lagoon as the pull-off areas have been reinforced by rock with steep drop-off to the water. East Gator Creek Road connects near the second entrance and exits onto SR 406. Together they run about 3 miles between SR 402 and SR 406, but we stuck to W. Gator Creek - the East road is very narrow, making it difficult for two cars to pass.


Catfish Creek

Catfish Creek Rd. is best reached from the second entrance to E. Gator Creek Rd. along SR 406. It links at the point where West Gator Creek and East Gator Creek Roads meet. The 3-mile loop has a few spots where it's possible to launch onto Gator Creek, Catfish Creek and the Upper Indian River Lagoon, but as at Gator Creek rocks added to reinforce the shoreline block launching at other pull-offs.


Peacock's Pocket

Located about 1/2 mile east of the Visitor Center along SR 402. The road then runs about 2.5 miles to Peacocks Pocket, a cove off the Indian River Lagoon. Several launch spots are available at the end of the road, onto Peacocks Pocket cove, and onto the interior canal. Peacock Pocket Rd. used to link to Catfish Creek Rd., but that section is now overgrown and open for foot and bicycle traffic only.


Wildlife

The Refuge provides a wide variety of habitats: coastal dunes, saltwater marshes, freshwater impoundments, scrub, pine flatwoods, and hardwood hammocks that provide habitat for more than 1,500 species of plants and animals, including 358 species of birds.

More Information and Resources

Fishing and Hunting:

Fishing and hunting at the Refuge are by permit. Kayak fishing is available in the open waters of the Indian River Lagoon, Banana River, Mosquito Lagoon, mosquito control impoundments and interior lakes, but prohibited from Wildlife Drive or any adjacent dike roads except L-Pond Road. During waterfowl hunting season, take care - hunting is allowed on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 1/2 hour before sunrise until 12 noon.


About the Indian River Lagoon (IRL):

Despite its name, the Indian River is not a river but a Lagoon System running 156 miles from Ponce Inlet to Jupiter Inlet (40% of Florida's East Coast), comprised of three areas: (1) Indian River Lagoon, the main and largest section, (2) Mosquito Lagoon, and (3) Banana River Lagoon. Once a vast wetland, it was dredged and channelized for commerce, development and mosquito control, and was incorporated into the Intracoastal Waterway in 1951. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a glimpse back to how it was. The earliest inhabitants were the Ais tribe of native Americans (AD 600 - early 1700's; several burial mounds are still visible), with the Spanish arriving in the 1500's. The Ais Lagoon became the Ais River, and later the Indian River. (More details for those who are interested )

Due to surrounding development and industry, the Indian River system has suffered significant degradation over the years from disruption of natural water flow, fertilizers, sewage, wastewater disposal and more. Devastating algae blooms have been reported extensively in recent news. Efforts to restore and improve water quality are ongoing with various organizations spearheading efforts.


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