Tag Archives: Florida

Canaveral National Seashore

Overview

When NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) prevented this portion of Florida coast from development in the 1950s, surely they did not imagine it would soon become one of the last long stretches of wild coastline left on the Atlantic seaboard.  The area north of John F. Kennedy Space Center was set aside as Canaveral National Seashore (in 1975) and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (in 1963).

Highlights

Eldora State House, shell mounds, wildlife, fishing, kayaking, beaches

Must-Do Activity

About 310 avian species have been spotted in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Other than birds, we were excited to see our first living armadillo and manatee outside of a zoo.  Despite its unappealing name, Mosquito Lagoon is a nice spot for fishing and paddling.  We hope someday to return to witness a rocket launch from John F. Kennedy Space Center.

Best Trail

Human activity in Canaveral National Seashore is evident in Timucuan shell mounds that date back thousands of years, with a separate trail to Eldora State House preserving more recent history.  At the southern end of the park in Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, you will find Oak and Palm Hammock Trails, as well as Cruickshank Trail that leads to an observation tower.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The park ranger told us the most likely place to see a West Indian manatee was at the boat launch in New Smyrna Beach, Florida just north of the park boundary.  There were also dolphins, great blue herons, anhingas, great egrets, ospreys, brown pelicans, and royal terns.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/cana/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$20 per vehicle day use or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

The main access roads are paved, but the six-mile Black Point Wildlife Drive and some boat launches are not.  Unlike at other National Seashores, there is no driving on the beach allowed, but you can bicycle or walk to remote Klondike Beach.

Camping

Inside the park boundaries there are no campgrounds, but backcountry camping is allowed with a permit.

Related Sites

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)

Cumberland Island National Seashore (Georgia)

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

Explore More – What did engineers build in the 1950s to limit the breeding area for saltmarsh mosquitoes?

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Overview

Gulf Islands National Seashore is renowned for white sand beaches on the barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, but there is more than beaches on the shores of Mississippi and the Florida panhandle (yes, Alabama is in the middle but is not part of this park).  The white sand that attracts beachgoers here originated as quartz in the Appalachian Mountains.  This coastal region was originally purchased by the U.S. from Spain in 1821 and 150 years later Gulf Islands National Seashore was created. 

Highlights

Fort Pickens, Naval Live Oaks Area, Fort Barrancas, West Ship Island ferry, white sand beaches, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) has four visitor centers for Gulf Islands National Seashore, one on the mainland in Ocean Springs, Mississippi and the other three are south of Pensacola, Florida.  The most developed area is around Fort Pickens on Santa Rosa Island with its popular campground.  Nearby, Fort Barrancas sits next to the free National Museum of Naval Aviation on the military base.  The Naval Live Oaks Area protects the first federal tree farm started for shipbuilding purposes in 1828.  In Mississippi, only Davis Bayou can be reached by road, with (seasonal) ferry service limited to West Ship Island.  Otherwise, bring your own boat!

Best Trail

The 1,300-mile long Florida National Scenic Trail starts at Fort Pickens then runs east across Santa Rosa Island.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Fort Pickens dates back to 1829 with additional batteries upgraded during World War II.  Inside the fort there is a nice museum explaining the history of Santa Rosa Island.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/guis/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$25 per vehicle or free with America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

All access roads are paved

Camping

Reservations are highly recommended for the NPS campgrounds on Santa Rosa Island, Florida and Ocean Springs, Mississippi.  Primitive camping is allowed on undeveloped East Ship, Horn, and Petit Bois Islands.

Related Sites

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Canaveral National Seashore (Florida)

Everglades National Park (Florida)

Explore More – What are the four species of sea turtles that nest on the park’s beaches?

Big Cypress National Preserve

Overview

Big Cypress National Preserve was originally planned to be a part of Everglades National Park (established in 1947), but this wild area to the north did not gain federal protection until 1974.  There are few roads and trails in the 729,000-acre preserve, which makes it ideal habitat for the endangered Florida panther.  The easiest access points are along Alligator Alley (Interstate 75) or the Tamiami Trail (Highway 41).  While many of the “trails” require route-finding and slogging through deep water, there are also designated ATV and canoe trails located throughout the park.

Highlights

Kirby Storter Roadside Park, Big Cypress Bend Trail, canoeing

Must-Do Activity

Many of the baldcypress and pond cypress trees that once stood here were logged in the 1930s and 1940s.  At the Kirby Storter Roadside Park, you can still see some large examples of these trees famous for their buttressed boles and root nodules, or “knees,” that stand above the high water level.  We previously reported on these unique deciduous conifers at Congaree National Park in South Carolina, but here they grow right alongside tall palm trees that we typically associate with sandy beaches. 

Best Trail

Many of the trails in the park are underwater and require slogging.  Two exceptions with boardwalks are at Kirby Storter Roadside Park and Big Cypress Bend (technically within Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park).

Instagram-worthy Photo

Wherever you look, you are likely to spot an alligator or two in this wild section of south Florida.  An extra photo-op can be found at the smallest post office in the United States, a former irrigation pipe shed located in Ochopee, Florida since 1953.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/bicy/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None (except for off-road vehicle permits)

Road Conditions

Highway 41 and Interstate 75 are paved, but just about every other road in the park is sandy (and/or submerged) and should only be attempted with an ATV or swamp buggy.

Camping

The NPS offers two campgrounds along Highway 41 (there is also one in Collier-Seminole State Park), as well as designated primitive wilderness sites.

Related Sites

Everglades National Park (Florida)

De Soto National Memorial (Florida)

Big Thicket National Preserve (Texas)

Explore More – What are the five main habitat types protected within the preserve?

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Overview

Established in 1565, St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest permanent European settlement in the continental U.S.  Its centerpiece is Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, a four-sided stone fort dating back to 1672.  In 1702, the British army unsuccessfully besieged the Spanish fort for 50 days, but before they left they burned the entire city.  This explains why the oldest house in St. Augustine dates to this time period and why this charming coastal village is still laid out on a grid of narrow streets, as it was one of the first master-planned communities in America.

Highlights

Historic fort, museum, cannon demonstrations

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) charges an admission fee to enter the fort, but you can watch the cannon-firing demonstrations atop its corner bastion for free from outside.  Costumed reenactors shout orders in Spanish before firing the big cannon.  There is only one entrance to the Castillo de San Marcos across a wide moat.  Your entrance fee also allows you to explore the powder magazines and interpretive displays inside the fort’s walls.

Best Trail

None

Instagram-worthy Photo

The Castillo was renamed Fort Marion by the U.S. military in 1825, when the final changes were made to the coquina structure.  In 1924 it was named a National Monument along with nearby Fort Matanzas.

Peak Season

Winter

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/casa/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$15 per person or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Roads are paved, but there is limited pay parking at the fort, which is especially an issue on busy weekends.

Camping

Anastasia State Park is located just south of St. Augustine, Florida with access to a nice beach.

Related Sites

Fort Caroline National Memorial (Florida)

Fort Matanzas National Monument (Florida)

Dry Tortugas National Park (Florida)

Explore More – Which nation controlled the fort during the American Revolution until its conclusion in 1783 (Hint: It was called Fort St. Mark at the time)?

Fort Caroline National Memorial

Overview

After a failed settlement by persecuted French Protestants (Huguenots) in 1562, two years later a group of 200 soldiers, artisans, and a few women established a colony at the mouth of the St. Johns River (east of present-day Jacksonville, Florida).  Led by René de Goulaine de Laudonnière, they hurriedly assembled the triangular Fort Caroline, named for King Charles IX.  In 1565, Jean Ribault arrived with 600 more settlers and soldiers.  After learning the Catholic Spanish had established a base to the south at St. Augustine, Ribault set sail for a surprise attack, only to be shipwrecked by a hurricane.  The unprotected Fort Caroline was easily captured by the Spanish, who executed 140 of its 200 inhabitants.  The Spanish then killed the majority of the 250 French marooned at Matanzas Inlet, which gained its name from these “slaughters.”

Highlights

Museum, reconstructed fort, Hammock Trail, Ribault Monument

Must-Do Activity

The National Park Service (NPS) administers Fort Caroline National Memorial (established in 1950) as a unit of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (established in 1988).  Start your visit at the NPS museum, which provides information on the indigenous Timucuan, as well as the European colonization efforts.  After walking the Hammock Trail to see the reconstructed fort, drive to the nearby Ribault Monument, a replica of a stone column left by Jean Ribault at the mouth of the St. Johns River on May 2, 1562.

Best Trail

Within this 139-acre National Memorial, the Hammock Trail visits the reconstructed fort along the St. Johns River.  Starting from two parking lots south of Fort Caroline Road several trails explore Spanish Pond and the Theodore Roosevelt Area of Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The actual site of the original fort has never been found (and is probably underwater), but you can tour a one-third scale reconstruction of the triangular structure based upon a drawing from 1564 by French artist Jacques le Moyne.  The French got a measure of revenge in 1568 when they attacked and burned Spanish-controlled Fort Caroline, but they could not take St. Augustine and never colonized Florida again.

Peak Season

Winter when there is less mosquito activity.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/timu/learn/historyculture/foca_visiting.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

All roads paved

Camping

Little Talbot Island State Park and Kathryn Abbey Hanna Park (run by the city of Jacksonville) both have campgrounds.

Related Sites

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve (Florida)

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument (Florida)

Fort Matanzas National Monument (Florida)

Explore More – When the Spanish took control of Fort Caroline in 1565, what did they rename it?