Hontoon Island State Park

Brief History

Hontoon Island State Park is a 1650 acre park located on the west side of the St Johns River. It is truly surrounded by water meaning access is limited to personal watercraft or the park-provided ferry. The ferry is free to take but at the time of this article is limited to 6 passengers per trip due to COVID-19. There are docking spaces if you have your own boat or you can kayak/canoe to the island.

Things You Should Know

If you are coming to this park by auto, you will need to park in the parking lot located at 2309 River Ridge Road, Deland Florida. The parking lot is not super big so our guess is it fills quite quickly in the summer season and on Friday nights when a lot of campers are coming in. The park is open from 8am-1 Hour Before Sundown 365 days a year. It is pet friendly but all pets must be on a leash.

Free Ferry

The Ferry is a passenger ferry only. Masks are required to board the ferry. It’s a very short ride from the parking lot to the island, about 2-4 minutes total. There are no vehicles (other than the rangers) allowed on the island. What this means for you is you need to carry on anything you will need for the day. We threw water bottles, snacks, insect repellants, and a map in a backpack. That worked great for us.

Plastic Wheel Barrels

If you are camping in a tent or one of their cabins there are plastic wheel barrels located in the parking lot. You can load all your stuff in as many wheel barrels as you need to get it on the ferry and to the island. Once on the island, there is a van that you can load your stuff into and it will take it to your site. Keep in mind the van will only take your stuff, not you. We are not sure if that is a liability or pandemic reason but either way you will be walking to your site which is approximately 1 mile.

Primitive Sites & Cabins

Cabin

The campsites are primitive and the cabins have water and electricity but only one outlet. There are no bathrooms in the cabins. The bathhouse for the campground is centrally located and were clean. There is a camp store where you can get the basics and firewood located in the main area where the ferry drops you off. The store allows only one group at a time in and masks are a must.

Our Trip/Day 1

We made two trips to the island. The reason for the two trips was that we arrived later in the day on the first trip. The last ferry back over to the parking lot was at 5:30 pm. According to the ranger on duty at the time, the ferry times back up to about 7:30 pm at the height of the summer.

Day-Use Area

So once you get off the ferry you are in the “business” part of the park. With the ferry behind you looking ahead is a long building that houses the ranger station, the store, the museums (closed due to COVID), and the bathrooms. To your left is a day-use/picnic area with picnic tables, grills, a playground, and a covered pavilion. The covered pavilion can be rented for the day.

Hammock Hiking Nature Trail

On this day since time was short we opted to hit the Hammock Hiking Nature Trail. To access this trail you head past the bathrooms and start heading down a wide access path towards the campground. about 3/4 of the way to the campground is the trailhead kiosk for the Nature Trail. It is about 3 miles out and back with a couple of benches along the way.

Sun Through Oak Tree

Chicken Wire

There are two sections that are made up of boardwalk with chicken wire on top. We assume the chicken wire was there to prevent you from slipping on the wet wood. We have been on many trails with a boardwalk but have never seen that. At one point as you near the end of the trail, you can veer off the trail and take a look at the St Johns River. Not too much further than that you will find yourself at the Indian Shell Mound.

Where Is The Mound?

When we arrived at the end of the trail we noticed a bench but no mound. It took us a couple of minutes to realize that we were standing on the mound. In the last section of the trail, you are actually walking on the mound. Along the trail, you will see lots of Spanish moss, live oaks, and wildflower.

On our first trip we observed there are many other trails in the park so we decided to make another trip.

Day 2

This time we started out much earlier. We packed up a lunch and some snacks that did not have to be refrigerated. We arrived at the parking lot about 11 am and there was a minimal wait for the ferry. After taking the ferry across we decided to eat an early lunch and save our snacks for the trail. We grabbed a picnic table right on the water. What a great place to relax and eat.

A Trail Not On The Map?

After eating we took a look around the day-use area. We found bathrooms but they were locked at this time. There seemed to be a trail that was not listed on the map behind the restroom building so we decided to check it out. Nope, not a trail. Just a short area that led nowhere.

We Were Ready To Roll!!!

So with our backpack full of water, snacks, bug spray, and sweatshirts off we went. All the trails and the campground are accessed from the right side (looking at the building) of the building housing the office, ranger station, museum, store, and bathrooms.

Starting On The Opposite Side

Since we had already done the Hammock Hiking Nature Trail, we decided to start with a trail on the opposite side of the island and make our way across. First up was the River Spoil Landing Trail. After making it to the end we were disappointed that there were no water views at the end. You know when your at the end of the trail because there are markers with the trail initials followed by a 1. One thing we didn’t realize (we forget to check our app) is that there was a Geocache on this trail. By the time we remembered to check the app, we were already too far to head back.

Bear Tree Landing

Off to the next trail. The Bear Tree Landing Trail was the next to conquer. This was another trail that did not lead to water but it had a couple of cool things going on. The first thing was that, unlike the last trail, this time we checked the Geocaching app. It turns out there was one on this trail too. This time we, or should I say, Chris, found it. The other cool thing about this trail was that it was home to the largest oak tree in the park!!!

Oak Tree Landing

After completing the Bear Tree Landing Trail it was off to Oak Tree Landing. This time we were treated to a water view. The water was called Snake Creek and no we did not see any snakes…lol. There was however a small boat with two guys fishing. We chatted a bit with them and moved on to tackle the last trail in the park, Snake Creek Landing.

Snake Creek Landing

Snake Creek Landing was an easy trail that treated us to another view of Snake Creek. As with a few of the other trails, there was a bench at the end. This one was right at the water. We sat on the bench just relaxing and looking for any kind of wildlife but only saw a turtle popping his head up and down as he traveled along the creek.

Time To Head Back

Ok, time to head back. We were getting a little tired at this point so we decided to take the most direct route back. When we arrived back at the dock we realized that we had hiked about 6 miles throughout the day. No wonder we were tired!!! There was no wait for the ferry so we were back at our truck in no time.

Pros

  • No Cost To Enter
  • Clean Facilities Including A Day-Use Area With BBQ’s & Picnic Tables
  • Kayak Rentals & Camping Available

Cons

  • Small Parking Lot
  • Ferry Only Takes 6 At A Time Meaning You Could Have A Long Wait
  • Most Trails Are Dirt So They Can Be Quite Muddy After Heavy Rains

Final Thoughts

We really enjoyed this park. For a state park that costs nothing to enter this park was definitely a hidden gem. With over 9 miles of hiking, clean restrooms, a small store, a campground with shower and bathroom facilities (camping reservations can be made through Reserve America), kayak rentals, and a nice picnic area with a playground you will certainly keep yourself busy. All the trails were well marked with numerous kiosks that had “you are here” markings to let you know where you were.

If you are going to check this park out make sure you bring plenty of water, bug spray, sunscreen, and your Geocaching app!!! We went on weekdays so the park was not that crowded. If you were to go on a weekend we would think the park may be quite busy. Remember, the parking lot is small and the ferry only takes 6 at a time. Don’t forget your masks.

Have you been to this state park? Would you enjoy a park like this? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below.

Check Out Our Slideshow Below Featuring 130 Photos Of This State Park

TAOW Hontoon Island State Park