Why had I never heard of this park? I stumbled upon Smyrna Dunes Park somewhat randomly after deciding to take an impromptu drive to New Smyrna Beach. To find the park you must drive north, away from the hustle and bustle of Flagler Avenue and the New Smyrna Beach accesses. Taking the 10 minute drive off the beaten path is well worth it. Maybe it’s just me, but the interesting landscape and the possibility of seeing a cute turtle made for a good time, and I would certainly go back again.
Located north of the main beach at the very tip of the Key, the park is a peninsula with epic views on all sides. The nice man who collected my $5 entrance fee at the gate advised me to keep and eye out for gopher tortoises and to start on the boardwalk at the left of the pavilion for nicer views. I had never heard of a gopher tortoise but it sounded exciting and gave me a mission. Views! Tortoises! I parked my car (on this sunny weekday afternoon there were only two other cars in the parking lot) and, following his instructions, walked to the left of the pavilion.
As I headed out on the board walk I was not expecting the scene I encountered. I may have said “Wow!” out loud to no one in particular. The boardwalk almost immediately leads to a wide open area with beautiful water views on all sides: inlet and ocean. Across the inlet I could see the red Volusia County Lighthouse in the distance. The 1.5 mile board walk leads you in a circular path through the entire park and keeps visitors off the scrub and dunes, which is where the cute gopher tortoises reside. The observation deck about a quarter of a mile down the walk allowed me to get up a bit higher and take everything in. Look at this view….
On top of the beautiful scenery, the animals I spotted were just an added bonus! I was lucky enough to spot a gopher turtle sitting outside of its sand mound. I think the the trick to seeing a tortoise is to look for the mounds of sand that mark the entrances to their burrows. You can sometimes spot them hanging out right by the burrow openings. Further up I stopped for several minutes to watch a large osprey that had perched on the rail of the walkway.
On the ocean side there are several beach accesses (there are boardwalks and stairs that lead over the dunes and directly onto the beach). I think next time I want to head to the beach I might try here, though you would have to travel light and carry your beach gear about half a mile around the board walk. While it may not be a secret, I reckon it would make for a quieter beach experience than the main beach.
Walking the whole boardwalk took me about 30 minutes at a brisk pace and landed me right back on the other side of the parking lot where my car was located. The portion right before returning to the parking lot is more wooded. I learned the park is also dog friendly, and, though dogs are not allowed on the boardwalk, I saw a few dog walkers on the dirt road that follows the board walk around one side of the park. The park is definitely worth a visit if you find yourself in New Smyrna!
For more information check out the park’s website.