Hontoon Island State Park’s 1650 acres of classic Florida are surrounded by the Hontoon Dead River, Snake Creek, Lake Beresford and the St. Johns River. Accessible only by water, the park provides a free ferry service that shuttles continuously during daylight operating hours. They offer 40 full service boat slips — the largest can accommodate a 60′ yacht — as well as 6 primitive cabins. Though I have yet to do it, I’m told that paddling around the island is the best way to experience it. On this trip, I wanted to check out the trails and service roads.
Clocking slightly over 5 miles, I hiked most of the nature trail (part of it was submerged) out to a large Native American shell mound. Just before reaching the midden (shell mound) you’re treated to a vista along the Hontoon Dead River. The trail rises gently from there and ends with a bench poised beside an enormous tree that leans out over a cypress swamp from atop the mound. From here I backtracked to River to River Road and followed it from The Hontoon Dead River toward the St. Johns.
I found no view of the St. Johns, as the road terminated into a swamp before reaching the river, so I turned to check out an area that had been prescribed burned 2 days earlier. The smell of the fire hung in the air and one small spot was still smoldering. It’s amazing how the plants and animals in this habitat have evolved to depend on fire that occurs with some regularity.
I worked my way back forming a triangle around the island. From the burned area I headed toward the cabins area. Here there are restrooms and a vending machine. It looks like a really nice spot, but if you’d prefer, there are several primitive campsites available further out on the island, where you’re sure to see billions upon billions of stars on a clear night. Back at the beginning, you’ll find a park store, bicycle and canoe rentals, and a beautiful picnic area with a new playground. Did I mention that it’s FREE? Yup — even the ferry ride! There is a donation station, however, and I encourage you to leave $5 or $10 for such a great experience.
Hontoon Island State Park
2309 River Ridge Rd