Yesterday, I returned to Capo Tower at Guana River Wildlife Management Area (Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida), which can be accessed by way of the Savannah Loop trail.
During my last visit in the fall of 2021, the path to the tower was blocked and under construction. The partial boardwalk was being extended all of the way to the tower’s entrance.
Prior to this new addition, one snaked through the marsh grass on muddy trails. The only mud I encountered today was a small amount at the mouth of the boardwalk – which should have alerted me to pay attention to my surroundings.
As I walked the boards, I found myself surrounded by swirling clumps of marsh grass. They’d been blown down by the day’s previous winds and combed by the tides, appearing to form a great lion’s mane.
Once at the tower, I climbed to the topmost level for views of the tidal marsh.
Although there is a bench at the top of the tower, I’ve never been able to use it. Even in dry sunny weather, it is often wet.
I spent 20-30 minutes peering through my binoculars and taking pictures, then decided it was time to move on. However, when I reached the end of the boardwalk, I discovered the tide had come in. The trail had joined the marsh!
I decided it was best to wade through, since the water was only a few inches (90 cm) deep, and I wasn’t sure how much deeper it might get. I imagined wading knee-deep through water and dodging gators.
Soon I hit dry trail again, but that didn’t last long.
My feet were quite wet by the time I returned to Savannah Loop and, for the rest of my hike, my shoes sounded like coots calling from the reeds.
A short section of Savannah Loop passes between two marshy areas. This portion is rich in wildlife and is hard to resist. However, I know the water can be deceptively deep and support gators, so I’m always watchful as I pass through.
Today the water-marker read seven feet (2 meters) and I saw only one gator, which was between two and three feet in length (just under 1 meter). There were also splashing fish and many wading birds, including a flock of Glossy Ibis. On a previous visit, otters scampered across the path in front of me.
As I made my way back to the parking lot, I noticed something at the mouth of the orange trail (part of an adjoining park, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve). Someone had discovered a fallen nest and shared their find by leaving it on an orange bench. The nest was still attached to the bark of a palm tree and contained a hatched egg.
To reach the Guana River Wildlife Management Area, use the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve’s parking area (505 Guana River Road, Ponte Vedra Beach, FL). There is a moderate fee to use the lot.
As you enter from Highway A1A, drive straight back. You will cross two paved parking lots until you reach a dirt road. Weather and conditions permitting, continue down the dirt road, which leads to a smaller paved lot at the trailhead.
At the trailhead, there are restrooms and a picnic area.
Continue walking straight until you reach a junction where various trails meet, and then turn right. Then, walk the dirt road until you reach the Wildlife Management Area.
The Savannah Loop is 2.8 miles (4.5 km); roughly 3 miles (4.8 km) if you also visit Capo Tower. The trek from the restrooms to the Wildlife Management Area and back again may add an additional mile (1.6 km).
One thing to keep in mind is that there are scheduled hunts within the Wildlife Management Area. A schedule is posted as you leave the parking lot and cross onto the trailhead, but occasionally hunts are unscheduled or rescheduled. When the schedule has changed, you may not be alerted until you reach the Wildlife Management Area itself. When this happens, it’s safer to backtrack and visit the neighboring reserve, where hunting is not permitted.