One of the best national parks in Florida , Canaveral National Seashore (visitors center at 7611 S. Atlantic Ave., New Smyrna Beach; southern entrance at 212 S. Washington Ave., Titusville, 386/428-3384, www.nps.gov/cana , 6 a.m.–6 p.m. daily Nov.–Feb., 6 a.m.–8 p.m. daily Mar.–Oct., $3) is something of a unique experience. Combining isolated and near-meditative beaches, an expansive wildlife sanctuary, legendary fishing spots, and extensive hiking trails, Canaveral is a geographical snapshot of what Florida once was and a haven for those longing for an outdoors adventure.
That it directly abuts NASA’s Kennedy Space Center …well, that just makes it kind of weird. The land on which Canaveral sits was purchased on the cheap (it was sparsely populated and of little agricultural value) as a buffer zone for the aeronautical activities at the space center.
Soon, however, the area’s biodiversity and unspoiled beaches became a point of pride in the region, and although quite a few people pass through the gates during the summer, even the busiest day at Canaveral never feels crowded.
Whether making your way to Mosquito Lagoon for some fishing or sneaking off to the unofficial nude beach at the northern end of Playlainda Beach, the thing that impresses most about Canaveral is just how spacious and calming it is.
There are two easily accessible beach areas at Canaveral National Seashore. Playalinda is located at the southern end of the park, and this is the beach you’ll encounter if you enter the park via Titusville . There are 13 parking areas, each of which has rudimentary toilet facilities, trash and recycling containers, and boardwalks to cross over the dunes.
Apollo Beach is accessed via the northern entrance to the park on State Road A1A in New Smyrna, and has parking lots, fishing docks, restrooms, and concessions available at the visitors center.
Between the two primary beaches is Klondike Beach, which is only accessible on foot or by boat. Needless to say, Klondike tends to be far less crowded, and in fact the southern part of Klondike just past the northern edge of Playalinda has for years been an informal and illegal nude beach.
There are half a dozen hiking trails around the park, all of which are brief, fairly easy-going, and well marked. The Turtle Mound trail is one of the best, as it not only winds through tidal flats and Mosquito Lagoon but also contains several shell mounds left by Timucuan Indians.
Many visitors—especially summertime visitors—opt to drive along Black Point Wildlife Drive, a six-mile route that allows them to take in marshland, wildlife sightings, and slash pine copses from the comfort of their air-conditioned cars.
There are seven launch sites within the refuge that give boaters access. Most (five in the north, one in the south) provide access to Mosquito Lagoon, but the launch at Haulover Canal gets you into the Indian River. Fishing is permitted in much of the park, although it is strictly regulated.
Being a designated wildlife refuge, hunting is heavily restricted in Canaveral, but permits can be obtained seasonally for bagging migratory waterfowl. Primitive camping is allowed year-round on several islands in the park but nowhere in the refuge.