4 Must-See Wildlife Hotspots on the Space Coast

By  //  August 2, 2023


Naturally, when most people think of Space Coast, Florida, envision planets and the twinkling stars of the solar system.

The clue’s in the name after all, and it’s not wrong as the area is a fantastic place to visit if you have an interest in space travel and want to walk the same ground as historical NASA icons. However, there’s a lot more to discover. For anyone interested in a holiday that’s rich in local wildlife, read on and discover why the Space Coast could be the ideal travel destination for you.

Before you go

Many visitors to the area are surprised by just how rich and varied the wildlife is on the Space Coast, with stunning clear water beaches, lagoons, and protected wildlife reserves in abundance. All in all,  Space Coast spans a whopping 72 miles, with beaches, trails, and tourist villages galore.

Some visitors opt to pick one area and stick to exploring a walkable distance, however, if you’re planning on taking in the magnitude of Space Coast, we’d highly recommend considering a car rental. Of course, it’s easy to leave these arrangements till you land or reach the local area, but you could save a lot of money by planning in advance. Online sites collate the best car rental discounts, which enable you to select between last-minute offers and promotions. This is the best way to ensure you can flexibly and cost-effectively meander during your vacation.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is a real highlight on the Space Coast, especially for bird watchers. The refuge is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail and attracts numerous bird species throughout the year, including bald eagles, ospreys, herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, and various migratory songbirds.

It’s not just birds though – look out for alligators, common residents of the marshes, ponds, and waterways in Merritt Island. You can often see them basking in the sun or swimming in the water. Though elusive and mostly active during the night, bobcats inhabit the refuge and may occasionally be spotted as well – a real holiday highlight!

The Indian River Lagoon

The Indian River Lagoon is one of the most important waterways in the refuge and is in fact the most biologically diverse estuary in the United States. It’s a popular spot for kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing, so ideal if you enjoy an active holiday, and it’s a great location for watching bottlenose dolphins and manatees, especially during the cooler months when the manatees seek warmer waters.

The Floridian beaches around the Indian River Lagoon are also important nesting grounds for several species of sea turtles, including loggerhead, green, and leatherback turtles, depending on the time of year. If you’re keen to see sea turtles then you should consider the time of year you want to plan your trip.

Canaveral National Seashore

Canaveral National Seashore is a federally protected state park that includes both ocean and lagoon habitats. The park’s beaches, dunes, and tidal flats attract a wide array of shorebirds such as willets, sanderlings, plovers, and terns – look out for them scavenging for food along the shoreline. The waters within and around the park, particularly Mosquito Lagoon, serve as a winter habitat for manatees seeking warmer waters, and dolphins can often be seen in the waters just off the coast.

One important creature in the park is the Gopher tortoise. These unique tortoises are found in the park’s coastal scrub and dune areas and are very popular with tourists. Various snake species, such as the eastern indigo snake and black racer, as well as lizards like the southeastern five-lined skink, can also be found in the park.

Sebastian Inlet State Park

Sebastian Inlet State Park is another important nesting site for sea turtles, including loggerhead, green, and leatherback turtles. During nesting season, you might spot nesting females or, if you’re very lucky, see hatchlings making their way to the ocean – a truly incredible sight that’s sure to be one of the highlights of your trip if you get to see them. You may also encounter raccoons, armadillos, and other small mammals foraging for food in the park’s wooded and grassy areas.

The tidal inlets and estuarine habitats of the park support a diverse array of fish species, crabs, and other marine creatures and it’s a popular destination for anglers. Common fish species include snook, spotted seatrout, and Spanish mackerel.

Whenever you’re looking for wildlife in its natural habitat, it’s essential to act responsibly and maintain a safe distance to avoid disturbing the animals. Keep in mind too that certain wildlife may be more active or visible during specific times of the year, so it’s helpful to check with park rangers or visitor centers for the latest wildlife sightings and information.