Fans flock by the thousands to Daytona Beach, Florida to watch race cars compete in the Daytona 500 and other international auto races at the Daytona Speedway. If you’re not a race fan, is there anything else to do? You bet. The Daytona Beach area has amazing natural resources and activities that will get you out in nature and have your adrenalin pumping.
Here are six cool ideas:
Canoe or kayak Tomoka State Park. A great way to get up-close-and-personal with the natural side of Daytona is to get on the water and theres no better place than Tomoka State Parks gentle waterways. You can rent a canoe or kayak at the Outpost or opt for a naturalist-led tour.
Tomoka features a seven-mile water trail that starts at Strickland Creek and flows into the Tomoka River. You can see plenty of birds — bald eagles, belted king fisher, and water birds like cormorants, great blue and little green herons, as well as turtles and alligators sunning themselves along the banks.
A really terrific way to learn more about these ecosystems is to hire a guide like naturalist/botanist Wynn Hamilton who knows these waters like her own neighborhood. www.floridastateparks.com/tomoka
Jet ski. There’s nothing like the rush of screaming across the water on a powerful jet ski and the waters of Ponce Inlet are perfect with little boat traffic and water that’s relatively protected from wind and wave action.
Even if you’ve never ridden on one, jet skies are easy to operate (no clutch or brake) and, with brief instruction from the experts at Short Money Jet Ski Rentals, you’ll be on your way.
Do expect to get completely soaked and bring along tight-fitting sunglasses to help keep the salty spray out of your eyes. www.shortmoney.net
Parasail. While you’re at Ponce Inlet, you can also parasail. A fast speed boat takes you out beyond the Inlets breakers and the staff straps two guests at a time into strap seat attached to a parachute.
Then the boat roars off and the parachute gently rises into the air. Once the tether plays out, you float above the water like you’re on a cloud.
The amazing thing about paragliding is that you don’t feel like you’re moving at all. Instead, its like sitting peacefully in comfortable chair taking in the view of the skyline, the beaches, and, yes, the occasional pod of whales or dolphins. www.daytonaparasailing.com
Climb a lighthouse. The most striking landmark at Ponce Inlet is the burnt orange-colored Ponce Deleon Lighthouse, the tallest in Florida (175 feet) and one of the most handsome lighthouses you’re likely to ever see.
The Ponce Lighthouse is located in a museum complex that contains several turn-of-the-century buildings filled with historic maritime artifacts, including a fascinating display of handcrafted lighthouse lights.
Climb the 203 steps of lighthouses circular staircases for a heart-pounding view. www.ponceinlet.org
Take an eco-tour. Deleon State Park is only about an hour from downtown Daytona, but a world away. Here you’ll find old Florida in the Woodruff Wildlife Refuge, 22,000 acres of waterways and wetlands filled with alligators and manatees, the gentle giants of the swamps.
This area is also home to 216 species of birds and ducks, including moorhens, anhinga, and tri-colored herons, as well as native plants and trees like wild aster, swamp lily, and moss-draped cypress.
You can take a 50-minute boat tour through the shallow, rust-colored waters and learn about the history and natural cycles of this amazing ecosystem with a knowledgeable guide like Captain Frank, a former sea captain who has dedicated his life to teaching people about the wetlands. www.foytours.net
Ride through a palm forest. Another fast-disappearing part of Florida is palm-studded forestland. You can ride through several acres of forest with Shenandoah Stables, a rental horse stable in Port Orange.
Don’t let the ramshackle facility fool you. These are horse people who know what they’re doing and the horses are in good condition. An experienced wrangler will match your riding ability with the right horse and then lead you through a forest filled with palms and other plants and trees native to the area.
Experienced riders are given several opportunities to gallop their mounts while novices are encouraged to enjoy a more leisurely pace. Shenandoah Stables, 1759 Tomoka Farms Road, Port Orange, FL 32128-3723, (386) 257-1444 firstname.lastname@example.org
Want to know more about Daytona Beach? Check out www.daytonabeach.com
— by Bobbie Hasselbring, RFT Editor