ABOVE: Canaveral National Seashore (Photo by (Photo attribution rainbow - By Joneboi at the English-language Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org
Anyone in Lake County longing for the sand and surf has likely hit the shores of New Smyrna Beach. A quick drive past the popular drive-on beach transports beachgoers to a completely different beach experience with less-travelled, pristine coastline.
The 57,662-acre Canaveral National Seashore (CANA) sits on a barrier island just minutes south of vibrant New Smyrna Beach and just past residential Bethune Beach.
This federally protected, 24-mile stretch of Atlantic beach is the longest expanse of undeveloped land along the East Coast of Florida and features gentle sloping dunes with coast grasses and sprawling sandy beaches on the east side and Mosquito Lagoon, part of the Indian River Lagoon system. The unspoiled seashore is home to protected gopher tortoises, over 300 bird species and more than 1,000 plant species.
CANA is known to be an outdoor recreational paradise with kayaking, fishing, camping, horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, boating, hiking, nature watching, swimming and surfing when the waves permit. History buffs can explore the historic Turtle Mound or Seminole Rest Historic Site, both home to large Timucuan shell mounds. The cultural significance of CANA reflects human history from 2000 B.C. to the early 20th century.
The expansive seashore is divided into three sections. The southern part of CANA is Playalinda Beach, the middle section is Klondike Beach, and the northern section closest to Bethune Beach is Apollo Beach. Playalinda Beach has 13 small parking lots numbered from the south. The space shuttle launch facility is easily visible from the approach to Parking Lot number one.
Klondike Beach is the designated backcountry hiking area of Canaveral National Seashore. Visitors wishing to hike there must have a Backcountry Hiking Permit. To obtain a permit, speak with the Visitor Use Assistant on duty at Apollo Beach or the Playalinda Beach entrance station. 14 backcountry campsites along Mosquito Lagoon can be reserved at the national reservation booking service, www.recreation.gov.
The John F. Kennedy Space Center is located at the southern end of the barrier island occupied by CANA, so access to the seashore is often restricted during launch-related activities at the space center.
CANA is open from 6 a.m to 8 p.m. and parking is limited, so it’s best to arrive early. The cost to enter is $20 per car. Public wifi is available at the Apollo Beach Visitor Center. Cellular reception within the park is spotty and very limited in some areas. There is a small nude beach between areas 11 and 12, so visitors with families should be aware.
After a day at the beach, visitors can check for manatees at nearby Mary Bethune Park, and then grab a bite and cocktail at J.B.’s Fish Camp, an outdoor institution along the mangroves at Mosquito Lagoon. At the fish camp, visitors will find kayak rentals and fishing charters, but J.B.’s is best known as an iconic watering hole with a scenic deck, fresh peel-n-eat shrimp and other seafood specialties.