From Sea to Manatee: The Greater Daytona Region Offers an Abundance of Outdoor Fun

There’s more to the Greater Daytona Region’s outdoor recreation than just beach therapy.

By
Cary Estes
On Monday, April 27, 2020 - 23:57
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Outdoor recreation in the Greater Daytona Region isn’t necessarily a day at the beach. Sure, the famed sand and surf of the region is famous worldwide and draws millions of visitors to its shores each year. But venture inland, and you’ll find another natural playground that includes rivers, lagoons, freshwater springs and miles of trails.

Factor in that fantastic Florida weather – average temperature of 80 in the summer and 60 in the winter – and it all adds up to a year-round opportunity for residents and tourists to enjoy the great outdoors.

“We have a little bit of everything here,” says Georgia Turner, executive director at the West Volusia Tourism Bureau. “There are several state parks, a national wildlife refuge, world-class trails for biking and hiking and fantastic fishing. So in addition to the great beaches,  people can travel just a few minutes and find this really nice natural area.”

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Rusty Clark

Water, Water Everywhere

Much of the enjoyment is located along the St. Johns River and its surrounding bodies of water. In addition to excellent fishing for bass and crappie, the waterways provide an ideal balance of fun and education, allowing residents to be plugged into the local ecosystem.

“The St. Johns River is definitely the showplace of what we have in this area,” Turner says. “We have six ecotour boats that can go into the nooks and crannies along the lakes to see alligators and barred owls and manatees. So it’s really an up-close and personal experience that you can have here. It’s very accessible.”

Two of the most popular attractions are Blue Spring State Park and De Leon Springs State Park. Blue Spring is a manatee refuge, where the gentle sea creatures often congregate during the winter months, preferring the warmer spring water to the cooler temperatures in the St. Johns River. Turner says it is not unusual to see as many as 400 manatees in the park’s waters at one time.

Meanwhile, De Leon Springs is ideal for canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, boating and swimming. It also is adjacent to Chuck Lennon Park, which has seven trails for off-road cycling, better known as mountain biking, in more elevated areas of the country.

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Jeff Adkins

Other natural attractions include Canaveral National Seashore, a 58,000-acre barrier island with an open lagoon; Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, a 22,000- acre migratory bird refuge; Indian River Lagoon, a biologically diverse estuary; Gemini Springs, where approximately 6.5 million gallons of fresh water bubble up each day; Tomoka State Park, which is ideal for bird-watchers, as more than 160 species have been sighted; and Green Springs Park, one of Florida’s few green sulfur springs.

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Jeff Adkins

Blazing Trails

For those who prefer land activities to the water, the Greater Daytona Region sits at the crossroads of two of the longest trail systems in the Southeast: The 260-mile St. Johns River-to-Sea Loop and the 250-mile Florida Coast-to-Coast Trail. These trails provide ample opportunities for hiking, biking and simply enjoying the outdoors.

“Both of those trails are great places for folks to get out in nature,” says Tim Baylie, Volusia County parks and trails director. “It goes past parks and natural springs. There are some places where you might be one of the few folks on that stretch of trail.”

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Baylie recommends downloading the free Volusia County parks and trails app for detailed information about everything there is to do along the trail systems. Click on the “Near Me” link to receive the top 25 recreational opportunities in the immediate area and how to get there.

Highlights include Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve, which has a 536-foot boardwalk and a 15-foot observation tower, and the Lyonia Preserve, which is focused on environmental restoration and education. There also are more than a dozen golf courses in the area as well as public tennis courts at theU.S. Tennis Association Complex.

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Volusia County Parks and Trails

And, of course, there are those 47 miles of glorious beaches, including 23 miles of hard-packed sand that you can drive on. The area is being spruced up by a major renovation of Riverfront Park in Daytona Beach, made possible by a $15 million gift from a retired business executive.

“There are just really a lot of things to do around here,” Turner says. “We like to say we’re old Florida with a new vibe.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cary Estes is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Ala.