By Jamie De Nisco, St. Johns Riverkeeper Education Specialist
This summer, get a chance to discover Florida State Parks for free with the Real Florida Reader Day pass. To check out your free day pass, visit your local library and use your library card to redeem it. Keep in mind that each library location will receive a limited number of passes for checkout by library patrons. The passes are valid through September 12, 2022.
For details and more information, visit https://www.floridastateparks.org/realfloridareader.
Among the many state parks that are nestled along the St. Johns River, Hontoon Island State Park boasts a unique getaway, as it is only accessible by boat. Located in DeLand, Hontoon Island offers rich history, recreation, and plentiful beautiful views of the St. Johns.
You can access the island by boat, kayak, or the free park ferry. If you choose to take the ferry, note that its hours of operation are 8 a.m. to one hour before sunset. When you arrive at the island, you will find a visitor center that offers opportunities to learn about the island’s natural habitats, Native American inhabitants and historical uses over the years. Also, make sure to check out the replica totems located in the picnic area. In 1955, a 10-foot owl totem carved by the Mayaca people was found in the river near the park. Later, two more were discovered, an otter and a pelican. These are some of the most significant carvings ever found in the Southeast!
There are numerous activities on and around Hontoon Island that are sure to leave you with memories of the gorgeous scenery and abundant wildlife:
Camping – There are 12 campsites and 6 primitive cabins situated in secluded areas, away from the busy waterfront. The sites offer grills and picnic tables, and a central bathhouse with hot water. However, it is important to keep in mind that the cabins do not have heating, air conditioning, or a kitchen. Make sure to bring your own linens for the beds as well. Overnight boat slips are also available. For reservations and more information, visit reserve.floridastateparks.org or call 1-800-326-3521.
Kayaking and Canoeing – You can bring your own kayak or canoe, or you can rent them at Hontoon. For a perfect day’s paddle, you can take a trip around the perimeter of the island. The rangers suggest starting counter-clockwise around the island, where you will encounter thick forests full of wildlife.
TIP: As kayak and canoe rentals are limited at Hontoon, you can also check out the rental options at Blue Springs State Park, a short 15 minute drive away (and a great place for a picnic!). If you start your paddle here, you can paddle 3 miles upriver to access Hontoon Island. You may even encounter manatees in the spring run!
Birding – The best way to spot birds in the area is to go for a paddle. Hontoon Island has an active eagle nest and nesting herons. Some birds listed in the area include sandhill cranes, kingfishers, osprey, and limpkin.
Hiking – There are 8 miles of trails on the island. The Hammock Hiking Nature Trail is the most popular, a 3- mile round-trip path that takes you through hardwood forests full of live oaks. Deer and armadillo have been spotted on this hike! The trail ends at an ancient Native American shell mound, where you can view some of the biggest oak trees in the park.
Biking – The trails and sandy roads are open to biking. There are many paths to explore!
Fishing – Fishermen frequent this area for bass, sunfish, catfish, crappie and perch.
Hontoon Island State Park
2309 River Ridge Road
Deland, FL 32720