In the late 1960s, when I first moved to Florida, the South Tropical Trail was a narrow, winding two-lane road that began at the west end of Mather’s Bridge, connecting Indian Harbor Beach to the south end of Merritt. Island, and runs along the western edge of Mather’s Bridge. the island north to the more populated center of Merritt Island near State Road 520. Mather’s Bridge at the time was an old wooden bridge where I spent my youth fishing and on the west end of Merritt Island was the old bridge Mather’s Fish Camp. Along the trail, large houses nestled between large properties on the east side of the road stretched from the bank of the Banana River west across the trail to the Indian River. These “properties” were divided by undeveloped properties with jungle-like vegetation, which gave this part of the island a mysterious otherworldly aura. There were also several urban legends about the Trail, including the “Casa Encantada,” a dilapidated and abandoned old nursing home that is allegedly still haunted by residents who died there. There was the “Loco del Machete”, a supposedly insane man who prowled the footpath at night, looking for unsuspecting teenagers parked in vacant lots. Then there was the “Girl in the Glass Coffin”, while the story goes that a man raises his blind daughter until she tragically dies in her teens. The father, distraught over his death and his entire life of blindness, buries his daughter’s body on the ground on his property in a glass coffin so that “she does not have to spend eternity in the dark as she spent her short life” . Then there was our own version of “Dead Man’s Curve,” a section of the trail where a higher than normal number of fatal traffic accidents occurred, usually younger drivers showing off late at night. The so-called “Haunted House” was there, ghosts or not, as was “Dead Man’s Bend,” a narrow bend 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-hand, I never met anyone who had seen it or could tell exactly where it was, and I never personally met the “Machete Madman.”
However, with that said, the journey between State Road 520 on Merritt Island south to Mather’s Bridge, which connects the southern tip of Merritt Island with Indian Harbor Beach, is one of the most interesting drives along the Space Coast of the east central Florida, and can be driven in three sections, however, in my opinion, it gets better the further south you go, with the section further south being the best.
The northernmost access is from 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 pass through mostly residential neighborhoods for the first 3 miles, but after that the trail runs along the east shore of the Indian River Lagoon and offers expansive views of this biologically estuary. more diverse while heading east. from the highway, high-end residential sites dominate. This will continue for a little over 2 miles, at which point the trail turns east to meet South Courtenay Parkway, where it again turns south and South Courtenay Parkway or State Road 3 becomes South Tropical Trail or County Road 3.
The second stretch, which can be accessed directly by South Courtenay Parkway if you want to avoid the first stretch, will initially cut through the residential on both sides of the road, but very quickly begins to hug the Banana River to the east, offering great views. from this beautiful river, while to the west, beautiful homes on expansive lots are the rule.
The third or southernmost section begins when the trail passes under the Pineda Causeway and can be accessed or exited at this point. This is also the most scenic part of the trail as the trail now begins to hug the Indian River Lagoon shoreline to the west. The island is thinner here and many of the homeowners along this stretch own the property from the Banana River to the Indian River and tropical foliage abounds while attractive lookouts and piers 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 entering Indian Harbor Beach.