Hontoon Island is a sweet little 1,650 acre state park located on the St. John’s River, six miles west of Deland in Florida. We visited in mid-October and had the whole place practically to ourselves. We arrived on a late Sunday afternoon. There were several families enjoying the day use area, fishing and playing on the playground. By Monday morning, the place was pretty much deserted.
We packed light, knowing that we’d have to haul all of our camping stuff onto the ferry and over to the island. It’s a very short ride, maybe five minutes. There are wheel barrows next to the dock you can use to cart your belongings from the parking lot to the ferry. We only had backpacks, so it was an easy trip. Our captain, whose name I completely forgot (sorry!) was super friendly. The whole staff at this park was easily the friendliest group of people at any state park, and they really are usually great at all of the parks! But this place had a special feeling, and it was evident in the hospitality shown by the staff. They all seemed very proud of their park and loved sharing information about it.
Once you arrive to the dock at the island, the door to the ranger’s station will be directly in front of you. If you’re camping, this is where you’ll check in. If you’re just here to hike or have a look around, step off the ferry and just start exploring. Once you’ve checked in, park staff will drive you and your gear to your cabin or campsite. If you choose to walk, the camp area is about a half mile from the ranger station.
The camp area is shady, and it appears that it can also be quite muddy during periods of heavy rain. The tent sites are fairly large, especially on the outer loop. The inner loop is less secluded since the sites back into one another, but still acceptable. If you prefer your site backing up to the woods, definitely book a site on the outer loop. The cabins are adorable little buildings with electricity and fans. No cooking is allowed in the cabins and pets are only allowed on the tent sites. There’s one cabin that is fully accessible and includes a ramp and path leading to the bath house. Hikers need to pass through the camp area to get to the trails that go through the pine flatwoods. Check the map when choosing your site if you don’t want foot traffic going past your site frequently.
The bathhouse is your typical camp bathhouse. It’s a little dated, but fairly clean-ish. They have bear boxes for storing your food at night, which is quite handy. Showers are fine with good water pressure and hot water that lasts, but there’s no bench for sitting your stuff on. They do have plenty of hooks for hanging things though. Expect to have some critters visit in the showers. I had a little frog and a katydid come say hi every single night, along with a pair of stick bugs one of the nights.
If you’re planning to do some hiking, I’d recommend grabbing a map at the ranger’s station first. There are also kiosks peppered throughout the park with maps on them, but they aren’t detailed trail maps.
There are eight miles of trails on the island. You’ll meander through oak hammocks and pine flatwoods. During rainy season, expect much of area to be under water at least ankle high. Dogs are allowed on all of the trails, but must be leashed.
The park’s day use area has a playground, restrooms, showers (a small fee is required for use), picnic tables, and grills. You can rent kayaks and canoes as well as bicycles.
There is a small camp store and a nice little visitors center to check out to learn about the history of the island. The first known inhabitants of this island were the Mayaka Native Americans. There isn’t much known about this tribe. It’s believed they lived on this island for over 12,000 years before Spanish explorers came along. Not much has been found to help us learn more about the Mayaka people other than two totems, which were significant finds. There have also been bits of wood carvings and pottery found on the island in addition to a midden (shell mound) that can be seen by taking the Hammock Hiking Nature Trail. That trail is three miles round trip. There are replica totems located between the ranger station and the playground. The original owl totem is at the Fort Caroline National Memorial in Jacksonville.
While it’s not a huge park, it is one of the most peaceful parks I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. I was told it does get pretty busy during season, around November through April. If you don’t mind some mosquitoes and a bit of heat and maybe some rain, I’d recommend visiting in October or late April. If you’d like more information, check out Hontoon Island’s website : https://www.floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/hontoon-island-state-park. From there you can also make camping reservations. In addition to cabins and tent sites, they have boat slips you can reserve.
I’ll close with a handful of random photos. I did not have my “real” camera with me on this trip as I was packing light. So please forgive the less than awesome quality of the photos. I hope you get a chance to explore this island yourself! If you do, post your photos on Instagram with the hashtag #rhphotoadventures so I can check out the cool things you saw here. Happy adventuring!