ORMOND BEACH – There are a lot of really terrific state parks in Northeast Florida, and Tomoka State Park takes a back seat to none of them.
Hidden among the tidal marshes of the Tomoka and Halifax rivers, this 2,000-acre park offers a shady campground, access to miles of paddle trails, biking and hiking trails, productive fishing from shore and from boats, a half-dozen picnic areas, launch ramps, docks and a well-stocked camp store and concession that features kayak and canoe rentals as well as music on weekends.
Tomoka State Park is also the gateway to the Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail, a graceful, picturesque 34-mile ride through live oak canopies, saltwater marshes, subtropical forest and coastal dune eco-systems.
There are five state parks on or near the loop. Not far from Tomoka, you can visit the majestic 400-year-old Fairchild Oak at Bulow Creek State Park, the Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park, pristine beaches within the sparse North Peninsula State Park and Gamble Rogers State Recreation Area, which has another campground on the beach.
Throughout the loop, there are countless opportunities for paddling kayaks and canoes, hiking trails that reach deep in wilderness, secluded beaches and prime fishing holes.
The loop itself is heaven for bikers out for a Sunday drive, whether you’re riding a Harley or pedaling a Schwinn.
Arriving at Tomoka State Park
By the time you arrive at the main entrance to Tomoka State Park, you have already been introduced to its charms. Live oaks dripping with wisteria and interspersed with native sabal palms offer a dense canopy along North Beach Street, the first leg of the Ormond Scenic Loop.
A new paved trail meanders through the woods nearby, taking bicyclists and hikers off narrow North Beach Street, and ending at the entrance to the park, where you can continue your ride or walk into the depths of the park .
Upon entering the park, your direction will be determined by your purpose. Many visitors head out to the islands in the Halifax River on a hard-pack sand road that will deliver you to shady nooks on shore, where you can fish, picnic or drop a kayak into the water.
Camping at Tomoka State Park
There are 100 well-shaded campsites, and most are quite deep, spacious and affording considerable privacy. All but a few pads are hard-pack sand and coquina shell, so they accommodate tents as well as RVs.
Self-supporting tents with a ground cloth will work best, depending on the site you select. For extra strength against surprise weather, you can tie them off to stakes in the softer ground off-site.
The maximum RV length allowed is 34 feet, although many sites look much deeper.
Every site has electric, water, a picnic table, fire ring/grill and a lantern post that can also serve as a clothes line support. (Tie the line to your RV or tent, not to nearby trees.) There are no sewer hookups, but there is a dump station near the campground entrance/exit.
Handicapped accessible sites on concrete pads
Site 13 – 20’ with 30-amp service
Site 74 – 34’ with 50-amp service
Site 75 – 30’ with 50-amp service
Site 91 – 34’ with 30-amp service – pull-thru site
The campground, which stretches out in an elongated oval, has three restrooms with showers. Pets are allowed.
Although some of the campsites are a short distance to the water, the river is tidal, making it difficult and cumbersome to launch in the omnipresent soft mud. Plan on using other launch areas in the park.
Because of the intense shade, pooling water and dense thickets of scrub, summer camping can be very buggy. Not so much in winter, but you’ll never totally escape the emergence at dusk of pesky no-seeums. Arm yourself with Deet or Skin So Soft.
Be aware of events in nearby Daytona Beach when you set a date for your trip to this park. Reservations will be difficult to obtain during Biketoberfest (October), Rolex 24 (January), Daytona 500 (February), Bike Week (March) and the Pepsi 400 (July 4).
Reservations are accepted up to 11 months in advance only through ReserveAmerica, and expect that sites for these prime weeks will be snapped up the first hour they become available. If you miss out, don’t despair. Check back often for cancellations. These cancellations are put back in inventory promptly at 8 a.m., so you’ve got to be alert and quick when they pop up.
Sites are $24 per night and can be reserved up to two weeks at a time.
Paddling at Tomoka State Park
This is a paddler’s paradise with open water, backcountry trails and plenty of places to launch your kayak or canoe or even a small boat. There is a boat ramp at the park concession, which also has kayaks and canoes available to rent by the hour or by the day.
The waters and marshes around the park are mostly shallow, so they do not lend themselves to larger boats.
You don’t have to launch at the boat ramp. If you drive out to the islands in the Halifax River (access road is across from the concession stand), you’ll find several areas of cleared shoreline where you can pull up in your vehicle and launch.
But the boat ramp offers the access to the best paddle trails, including the Tomoka River, the marshes and upriver creeks that run deep into the natural areas of the park, making them ideal for wildlife viewing.
The Tomoka Outpost concession next to the boat ramp offers canoes and tandem kayaks for $20 for the first hour, $10 for each additional hour. Solo kayaks are $15 for the first hour and $5 for each additional hour.
Hiking and Biking at Tomoka State Park
The only improved trail within the park is a .8-mile interpretive trail that winds through a hardwood hammock that was once inhabited by Timucuan Indians, including an ancient village site on the banks of the Tomoka River.
The trail starts at the park concession and ends at the statue of Chief Tomokie.
There are many unimproved park roads that are bike-friendly, and, of course, there is the new, paved multi-use trail at the entrance to the park. And you’ll have premium access to the Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail.
There are several trails at nearby Bulow Creek State Park that are definitely worth your attention, including the 6.8-mile Bulow Woods Trail that runs from the 400-acre Fairchild Oak to the Bulow Plantation Ruins. This trail will take you through old growth forest of live oaks, and these woods are popping with wildlife.
There’s another short trail that is a short loop around a groundwater spring that seeps from a coquina bluff. There are boardwalks on this trail so that hikers don’t disrupt the sensitive eco-system.
If you follow the Ormond Loop around to North Peninsula State Park, you’ll find a two-mile-long Coastal Strand Trail that will take you into the coastal dunes, where you can observe a variety of unexpected wildlife, such as shore birds and gopher tortoises.
Legend of Tomokie
The statue is on a pedestal at the northernmost point of the park and is easily accessible from the main park road.
While there may, in fact, have never been a Chief Tomokie, the monument is a reminder that this area was once populated by native Americans who lived and fished these waters for centuries before Europeans arrived.
Legend propagated by early Spanish explorers would suggest that these Indians stood 7 feet tall and were cannibals, but there’s little evidence these Indians were any different than any other.
Indeed, they more likely settled here because of an abundance of fish, shellfish and wild game that were easily hunted. And archaeological evidence indicates the Timucuans were of normal size.
A large picnic area is convenient to the statue, and the point behind the statue juts out into the Tomoka River where it joins the Halifax River, and the location is ideal for fishing from shore.
The Ormond Scenic Loop and Trail
This 34-mile double loop of roadways between Ormond Beach and Flagler Beach passes through three state parks and several county parks and preservation areas, stitching them together into a quiet drive in the country with spectacular views.
Bicyclists tackle these roads with enthusiasm, but understand that the roads are narrow and cars not always respectful. This trail is heaven for motorcycles, and you’ll find it packed with bikers during special motorcycle events in nearby Daytona Beach.
What’s the attraction?
Simply, the views.
The Ormond Scenic Loop is one of the most picturesque destinations in northeast Florida. The trail takes you through tunnels of live oaks and dense hardwood forests, sweeping grass savannahs and saltwater marshes, coastal dune eco-systems and pristine beaches.
The double loop starts on North Beach Street at Tomoka State Park, continues north along Old Dixie Highway, then jogs east on Walter Boardman Lane, jogging south then east on Highbridge Road until you cross the Intracoastal Waterway at High Bridge.
Immediately after crossing High Bridge, turn south onto John Anderson Drive and cruise alongside the Halifax River, eventually dipping into bustling Ormond Beach before swinging east to State Road A1A.
Heading north along the beach, you will be greeted by gentle sea breezes and the pristine dune environment of North Peninsula State Park.
The loop ends back at Highbridge Road, but it will be worth your while to continue cruising north on A1A through Gamble Rogers State Park to Flagler Beach, and old Florida beach town with tons of character.
I usually end my day on the loop with a stop at the rooftop bar above Finn’s Oceanside Pub in Flagler Beach, and I highly recommend the seasoned steamed clams while sitting at a table overlooking the beach and the town’s fishing pier.
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