Florida Space Coast Scenic Drives – South Tropical Trail, Merritt Island to Indian Harbor Beach

In the late 1960s, when I first moved to Florida, the South Tropical Trail was a narrow, winding two-lane highway that began at the west end of Mather’s Bridge, connecting Indian Harbor Beach to the south end of Merritt Island, and meandered along the western edge of the island north to the more populous center of Merritt Island near State Road 520. Mather’s Bridge at the time was an old wooden bridge on which I spent my youth fishing and in the western end of Merritt Island was the old Mather’s Fish Camp Bridge. Along the trail, large houses nestled among large estates on the east side of the highway stretched from the Banana River bank west across the trail to the Indian River. These “haciendas” were broken up by undeveloped properties with jungle vegetation, giving a mysterious otherworldly aura to this part of the island. There were also several urban legends about the Camino, including the “Haunted House”, an old, dilapidated and abandoned nursing home, supposedly still haunted by the residents who died there. There was the “Loco del Machete,” a supposedly insane man who prowled the trail on foot at night, looking for unsuspecting teenagers parked in vacant lots. Then there was the “Girl in the Glass Coffin,” as the story goes, a man raising her blind daughter until she tragically dies in her teens. The father, distraught over her death and a lifetime of blindness, entombs his daughter’s body above ground on his property in a glass coffin so that “she won’t have to spend eternity in the dark as she did her short life.” “. Then there was our own version of “Dead Man’s Bend,” a section of trail that saw a higher-than-normal number of fatal traffic accidents, usually younger drivers strutting around late at night. The supposed “Haunted House” was there, ghost or not, as was “Dead Man’s Curve”, a narrow curve on the edge of the Indian River Lagoon lined with thick trees. The “Girl in the Glass Coffin” was a story you always heard. Third, I never met anyone who had actually seen her or could tell exactly where she was, and I never met the “Machete Madman” personally.

That said, though, the drive between State Road 520 on Merritt Island Southward and the Mather’s Bridge, which connects the southern tip of Merritt Island to Indian Harbor Beach, is one of the more interesting drives along the Mid-East Space Coast. from Florida, and can be driven in three sections, however, in my opinion, it gets better the further south you go, with the southernmost section being the best.

The northernmost access is from the State Road 520 Causeway at the first traffic light east of the Indian River Bridge from Cocoa. If you are approaching from the east, it will be the next stoplight west of the intersection of 520 and South Courtenay Parkway. Heading south from 520, the South Tropical Trail will run through mostly residential neighborhoods for the first 3 miles, but once past that, the trail runs along the eastern shoreline of the Indian River Lagoon, offering expansive views of this estuary with the greater biological diversity while to the east of the highway, high-end residential land dominates. This will continue for a little over 2 miles, at which point the trail turns east to meet South Courtenay Parkway, where it turns south again and South Courtenay Parkway or State Road 3 becomes South Tropical Trail or County Road 3.

The second leg, which can be accessed directly via South Courtenay Parkway if you wish to bypass the first leg, will at first pass through residential areas on both sides of the road, but very quickly begins to hug the Banana River to the east and offers great views. from this beautiful river, while to the west, beautiful homes on large lots rule.

The third or southernmost leg begins when the trail passes under the Pineda Causeway and can be entered or exited at this point. This is also the most scenic part of the trail, as the trail now begins to hug the shoreline of the Indian River Lagoon to the west. The island is thinner here and many of the homeowners along this stretch own property from the Banana River to the Indian River and tropical foliage abounds, while attractive gazebos and docks line the shoreline. The views are spectacular, especially towards sunset. South Tropical Trail ends at Mather’s Bridge and at this point the island is not much wider than the road as it turns east across the bridge, becoming Banana River Drive and entering Indian Harbor Beach.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *