Picture the end of the road, where the homes and shops of beach life in Florida give way to one lane in each direction. Where wild flowers and brush line the sides of the road and in the distance, glimpses and full-blown views of the Atlantic and inter-coastal offer up a promise of what’s to come. Canaveral National Seashore, part of our National Parks Service, lets you slip as easily from everyday hustle and bustle into the natural wonders of Florida’s coast as a seabird floats on the breeze.
Lining Central Florida’s eastern coast the Canaveral National Seashore is an ode to the way things used to be, when pirates and adventurers first came to this storied land, greeted by nothing and then some. Animals and birds aplenty, and soon they would learn, Native peoples who had called this wilderness home. Years on and much has changed, yet even more remains the same. Birds and wildlife still call this shore home, preserved and reserved for their needs, and for ours.
Drive through these wilds and discover a Florida that still is. Dunes and beaches line the Atlantic side, calling for your day of play. Bring the kids, the family and friends and have a picnic, swim and watch the waves rolling in. Grab a fishing pole or body board and hit the surf. This is the way we play today.
Bring the camera and the binoculars, for here too are the beauties of nature: wildlife abounds such as the friendly turtle who greeted me. Well, ok, he wasn’t as friendly as he was hungry, chomping away on the ground cover and making his way – safely – across the parking lot to see what was on the other side.
Birds overhead scream and dive in their life-rituals. Offshore perhaps you’ll spot a fin or jumping something or another. And should the Atlantic side not fulfill your longing to spy a wild dolphin or manatee, cross to the intro-coastal side and perhaps the reward awaits. A recent conversation led to my being told that sunrise and sunset are the best times for spotting these denizens of the waters, often times playing, swimming and even hunting for meals in wild abandon within easy view of shore or kayak.
This is a barrier island, with open lagoon, coastal hammock, pine flatwoods and open waters that are teaming with life. Hike, kayak, camp or bird-watch all within this vast natural environ. According to the Canaveral National Seashore website, there are 13 federally-listed threatened and endangered animal species here placing it second among the approximately 380 National Park Service units. How’s that for naturally wonderful?
My Day at the Beach
I hadn’t been before, only seeing it on maps and hearing of its beauty. Recently though the chance presented itself for a drive to the coast – an easy ride from Orlando – and soon I was passing through New Smyrna Beach. This area caught me off guard as it was, a beachy town atmosphere, but without the overgrowth of the more famous Cocoa Beach to the south.
The road was still lined with homes and condos, but not nearly the amounts of other Florida beach towns, with obligatory stores to boot, yet soon I was slipping away into a smaller, more compact area and a warning that the road ends soon. And soon it did. The Apollo Beach entrance in on Florida A1A at the southern end of the road, where you’ll pay your park entry fee and see what parking lots are listed as “open.” Here’s a tip: try them out (open) for your long stay, but if you want to check it out, keep going. People leave, spots open, and you never know what you’ll find ahead.
Wildlife Tip: According to the website, the manatees you’ll see here are mainly in the Indian River Lagoon in the summer, traveling south for the winter months.
I stopped at the first lot and took a great photo of the boardwalk up and over the dunes. Here I stood to watch the folks below playing the surf, children building sand castles and others strolling the sand. A lovely view in both directions, I was captivated by the birds overhead and the constant call of the rolling waves.
Driving on, deeper into the park, I came across a cutoff to the right. Following it I found the parking lot for a canoe and kayak launch. Parking and following the short trail, I came to the break in the water-side trees where a couple were putting in their kayaks for a ride. It was their first time and their mid-day journey appeared to be a challenge ahead with a wind driving the water to our right.
Up ahead, back along this single lane road I came across Eldora House – or at least the parking lot for it. Another 250 yard walk would take me there – no time this day to make it – so I moved on to things farther down the road.
I hadn’t pre-planned my visit here and recommend you do. There is so much more here than a quick visit and just stumbling on things will allow – then again, I’m a huge fan of stumbling journeys, which this was what mine was. Ahead I’d pass more parking lots, some with spaces, others without.
At the end of the road – the northern end does not, apparently, connect to the southern end – I found a spot, a beach, a ramp, and a turtle. Again I watched from afar, overlooking the beach, the swimmers and body boarders, fishermen and strollers, but took in the vast and breath-taking beauty of this natural wonder. Across the road is a boat ramp; an incline made of crushed shells where boats apparently are able to load in and out. Here I watched birds sunbath and eat. A natural moment of peace by myself.
Getting Lost, Discovering So Much
I’m a huge fan of “getting lost” – that thing you do when you point the car in a direction and go. Certainly I knew the beach was my destination, but knowing I’d end up at this stretch of sandy Florida was a surprise and a wonderfully pleasant one as well.
I plan a return to this area soon, and will of course return in the cooler months when other wildlife is more plentiful. But on this day I discovered a beautiful part of Florida, where time and history meet today’s caring humans. Where people can appreciated the natural wonders of this amazing state, and where animals are as easy to spot as the grasses – if you know what you’re looking for.
The National Park Service has a great website for all of its parks, but do spend some time on the Canaveral National Seashore pages prior to your visit… or don’t and let yourself discover for yourself as the adventurers who first came here… and as I did.
Its life over, this horseshoe crab ends up on the beach as part of the continuation of the circle of life. Photo Rori Paul
This tortuous was a hungry bugger, making his way through the grasses along the edge of the parking area.
You always wanted to know how the tortuous beat the hare?
He had a HOG