Florida Fun in the Outdoors: St. Lucie County’s New Nature & Wildlife Pass
St. Lucie County has joined the “cool club” of Florida counties, with their recent unveiling of the Visit St. Lucie Nature and Wildlife Pass, a handy app which lists the county’s best places to explore the outdoors.
There’s no more searching for the “best place to see a dolphin in Fort Pierce” or “closest aquarium” or even “where can I find manatees?” The app lists 9 nature-based attractions to help introduce you to the unique natural beauty of the region.
How to Access the Nature & Wildlife Pass & Become a Passholder (It’s free!)
- Download the app (it’s free!) to your phone (or open it up in your browser) from their website.
- Or use the QR codes provided at their information access at the nine locations.
- Sign in and create an account.
- For each place you visit, click the check-in button on the app (or browser) upon your arrival.
- You will receive coupons for savings for the relevant stops for their gift shops (up to 30% off!).
- When you’ve checked in to 5 of the locations, you will get a decal sticker mailed to you.
Explore the Treasures of St. Lucie County & the Treasure Coast
Check into these 9 -nature based locations on your St. Lucie County Nature & Wildlife Pass and explore St. Lucie County’s wilder side.
Oxbow Eco Center & Preserve
The hands-on visitors’ center prepares you for your immersion into the 225-acre natural world at the Oxbow Eco Center. Take the Oxbow Heritage Trail by the Eco-Center to reach the river. The blazed path begins in a highland scrub environment, where you’ll find yourself surrounded by towering pines and changes as you near water and the oxbow of the St. Lucie River.
During your hiking adventures, keep an eye out for flowering cacti, gopher tortoises, butterflies, bird life and of course, alligators in the water and marsh areas. The air plants in the trees are abundant as you approach the water- of the bromeliad family- they are related to pineapples. Turn left at the path before you cross the bridge to follow the channel to reach the boardwalk at the river.
- Location: 5400 NE St James Dr., Port St. Lucie, FL 34983 (Across from Publix at St. Andrews Shopping Center)
- Eco-Center Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 12-4 PM
- Admission: Free
- Oxbow Eco-Center & Preserve website
McCarty Ranch Preserve
If a 5-mile horseback ride around an expanse of water appeals to your sense of adventure, the 3,107-acre McCarty Ranch Preserve is for you. Surround yourself with nature and wake up to sunrise beside a 300+-acre lake on your campsite. Hike or bike miles of wilderness trails, kayak, go fishing or try your hand at disc golf. Then saddle up for a horseback ride around Lake John & Lake Dan to round off your wilderness experience. (Tours on Horseback reservations: 772.468.0101)
- Location: 12525 Range Line Rd, Port St. Lucie, FL 34987
- Admission: Starts at $20 + tax for primitive tent camping
- Horseback rides
- McCarty Ranch Preserve website
Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens
A welcoming oasis in a busy town, once you step from the visitors’ center into the gardens, vibrant colors surround you. Follow the main trail past the aromatic rosemary hedge and into the orchid garden. The path takes you through succulents, cacti & bromeliads to the left and into bamboo, and a hidden Fairy Garden to the right. With many garden areas, each taken care of by their respective ‘garden club’, making this a true community collective. Excited about horticulture? Plants & garden art are available to purchase near the garden exit. This stop also provides a kids-pack of fun (first come- availability basis) to ignite creativity and curiosity in the young.
- Location: 2410 SE Westmoreland Blvd, Port St. Lucie, FL 34952
- Admission: $5 suggested donation
- Port St. Lucie Botanical Gardens website
Spruce Bluff Preserve
History buffs and outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy stepping back through time at Spruce Bluff Preserve. Although settled in 1891 by pioneers, the occupation of the region dates back earlier. Take the 1-mile loop Indian Mound Trail to reach the Ais Native American mound, thought to be a midden mound, at 20 feet in height, is a testament to the Ais culture that thrived in the area. The 1.7-mile (round-trip) Pioneer Trail leads to the area of the original pioneer settlement, settled in 1891. The settlers farmed pineapples and harvested pines for wood. Boardwalks traverse marshes and trails lead through scrub pines. Bring bug spray and sun protection.
- Location: 611 Dar Ln, Port St. Lucie, FL 34984
- Admission: Free
- Spruce Bluff Preserve website
St. Lucie County Aquarium
Before you hit up any of the local beaches (and there are 21-miles of them), this aquarium is a great stop to learn about the local aquatic flora and sea life you may encounter. Aquariums of native fishes and plants introduce you to the region’s unique sea life. In the dividing line between the southern tropics and colder northern waters, the cold water and tropical species mingle in the waters around this area of St. Lucie County, creating a diverse ecosystem not seen elsewhere.
Learn about single celled phytoplankton, meet a horseshoe crab in the touch tank and find out about seahorses, mangroves and their environment and reef life and be sure to catch the 30-minute daily feeding frenzy tour. The St. Lucie County Aquarium is on the Indian River Lagoon and near the area beaches.
- Location: 420 Seaway Dr., Fort Pierce, FL 34949
- Admission: Adults $4.25; Kids 4-17 years $3.25; Kids under 4 free; Seniors aged 55+ $3.25
- St. Lucie County Aquarium website
Manatee Observation and Education Center
Where can you find manatees in Fort Pierce? Start at the Manatee Observation & Education Center, also known as the neatest place to take an air-conditioned break in the summer 😉. The visitors center provides informative information on manatees and the area wildlife with fish tanks, touch-tanks and hands-on learning areas.
Outside on the deck, you can access the viewing observation tower and the walkway around the Indian River Lagoon inlet by Moore’s Creek. Look out for the colorful hand-painted murals that decorate the sea walls (there is even a mermaid under the bridge!).
There you will also find the circular eel grass cages in the water. Eel grass planted in the creek bed are covered with these wire cages to allow it to take root and flourish, undisturbed. After the aquatic grasses have become established, the cages are removed and the new healthy grasses become part of the manatee grazing areas.
Manatees need to eat one-tenth of their body weight of aquatic vegetation a day to survive, so the aquatic grass replanting is not only an important step in reviving the natural ecosystem of the lagoon, for the local manatee population survival, but also for the health of the lagoon.
- Location: 480 N Indian River Dr., Fort Pierce, FL 34950
- Admission: $3 per person; Ages 5 & under free with adult.
- Manatee Observation & Education Center website
Heathcote Botanical Gardens
Overflowing with green goodness, this 5-acre gem in Fort Pierce features America’s largest collection of bonsai. Explore the winding path, gentle flowing water features and tiny trees in the bonsai garden. Each tree takes decades of hand nurturing to achieve their appealing aesthetics.
Wooded paths lead through shaded canopies, leading you to garden art, hidden ponds, and unusual plants. Find the one-of-a-kind three-trunk palm, then take the path through the butterfly garden for native butterfly attracting plants and a children’s playhouse tucked in the shade. Beyond, you will discover a vegetable garden and word garden.
Stop by the Koi Pond in the Japanese Garden and count the time it takes for the deer-scarer to fill up and plonk down. Want to take a bit of Heathcote home? Plants are on sale at the gift shop entrance.
- Location: 210 Savannah Rd, Fort Pierce, FL 34982
- Admission: $10 adults; $3 kids (6-12); Under 6 Free. Veterans with ID Free.
- Heathcote Botanical Gardens website
FAU Harbor Branch Discovery Visitor’s Center
Budding oceanographers & marine biologists and curiosity seekers of aquaculture will enjoy a stop at the FAU Harbor Branch Discovery Visitor’s Center. Run by Florida Atlantic University. This site also serves as the gateway access to exploring the FAU Harbor Branch campus for high schoolers and their parents (appointment required). The center provides information about the history of the work of FAU in relationship to the unique aquatic environment of the area- from health advances to the symbiotic relationships in successful aquaponics.
See a black-and-white clown fish, created for aquarium enthusiasts, ocean garbage recycled as art, and then step on to the patio to view a working hydroponic system.
- Location: 5600 U.S. 1, Fort Pierce, Florida 34946
- Admission: $5 donation
- FAU Harbor Branch Discovery Visitor’s Center website
DJ Wilcox Preserve
Grab your mosquito spray as you step onto the boardwalk and enter the DJ Wilcox Preserve.
As you cross the boardwalk from the parking lot, you will be rewarded with nature’s finest. This eco-friendly wooden trail circumnavigates a large portion of Gator Lake with viewing platforms over the water. Stop and listen for bird life in the thickets around the lake. Look down for swimming turtles, fish and even alligators, because this watering hole is a wildlife action spot.
The trails beyond the boardwalk meander through the woods and also to the Intracoastal Waterway. This path is a lesson in natural mosquito management, and as mosquitoes require dry land to lay eggs, the surrounding mangrove swamps are periodically flooded during laying season with water pumped from the Indian River Lagoon as an attempt at mosquito population control. Got blood? Female mosquitos will bite and feed just before they get ready to lay eggs.
Be on the lookout for wading birds, alligators and other swamp critters on this dirt swamp trail.
- Location: 300 Michigan St, Fort Pierce, FL 34946
- Admission: Free
- D.J. Wilcox Preserve website
Whether you are a lifelong resident or a visitor, the St. Lucie County Nature and Wildlife pass provides a fun & educational way to dive into St. Lucie County’s wilder side.
Need more family fun on your Treasure Coast visit?
Join the Treasure Coast Kids Quest and follow the treasure trail to collect stamps and earn your treasure!* They include most of the stops in the St. Lucie Nature & Wildlife Pass, so it’s double the outdoor fun!
Florida Area Guides for Families: