Crossing the dunes, the unspoiled beach at Canaveral National Seashore has a special feeling about it, and it’s all yours.
Shore birds hurry along the tide line to a symphony of rolling surf, pecking at bubbles in the sand that likely will yield a dinner of mole crabs, tasty little crustaceans known more commonly in these parts as “sand fleas.”
There’s not a soul in sight, but even if there were, there’s plenty of space. Kick off your shoes and stay awhile.
This is Canaveral National Seashore, the longest undeveloped beach in Florida, 24 miles of pristine coastal sanctuary for people and wildlife.
Best time to go: Weekdays. There is limited parking in beach lots, and they often fill up on weekends, especially in summer.
I have been visiting this park since the mid-70s, returning often to swim and sun or fish in the surf, fly fishing around the oyster bars in the Indian River Lagoon, kayaking around unspoiled back-country islands, and hiking nature trails through subtropical coastal hammocks.
Canaveral National Seashore is a food factory for wildlife, an amazing terrestrial and marine ecosystem that supports a diversity of creatures who inhabit its dunes, hardwood hammocks, unspoiled islands and lagoons.
Entry Fee: $10 for cars and motorcycles; $1 for pedestrians, bicyclists.
On your drive along the six-mile beach road, you probably saw an armadillo scurry into the scrub, or perhaps you saw a white-tailed deer while hiking the Castle Windy Trail.
On the beach, you will almost certainly will spot a sea turtle nest during spring, summer and fall. Last year, more than 12,000 were identified!
There are two access points to Canaveral Seashore
The two entrances to Canaveral National Seashore are from Titusville and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge on the south end. New Smyrna Beach and Bethune Beach are the north gateway.
The north entrance is the road less traveled, although it offers a more diverse selection of activities and sightseeing.
North Access along Apollo Beach
There are five beach parking lots with limited parking along the six-mile beach road below the park entrance. Roadside parking is strictly prohibited outside the designated areas.
During the week, you rarely have a problem finding parking in the limited number of lots that provide access to the beach. But on weekends, plan to arrive early, especially if your destination is the southernmost Lot No. 5.
The surf-fishing crowd at Canaveral Seashore usually gravitates to Lots 2-5 early, but they also leave early. These three beaches have shifting near-shore sandbars that trap fish on outgoing tides, giving fishers a leg up when casting into the outgoing currents between the sandbars.
- Lot No. 1: 89 spaces with handicap access. Most crowded part of the beach.
- Lot No. 2: 25 spaces. Solitude. Surf fishing.
- Lot No. 3: 25 spaces. Most popular for surf fishing. Handicap access to the deck on the boardwalk.
- Lot No. 4: 25 spaces. Solitude. Surf fishing.
- Lot No. 5: 37 spaces with handicap access. Nude beach.
Be aware that the last lot, Lot No. 5, serves nude sunbathers who trek a few hundred yards further south to the clothing optional beach, putting a little distance between themselves and the gawkers who tend to gather on the boardwalk and viewing platform. In any case, this lot is often full and should be avoided on weekends, unless of course you are “sightseeing.”
All of the beach parking lots at Canaveral Seashore have chemical toilets, recycling and trash containers.
Alcohol is tolerated if used responsibly, but bottles are prohibited.
The Turtle Mound is a prehistoric archaeological site where native Timucuan Indians would cast their oyster shells after dinner. It is the largest shell midden in the United States, 600 feet long and rising 50 feet. A boardwalk trail takes you to a viewing platform at the top, providing sweeping views of the dunes, beaches and Indian River Lagoon from the highest point in the park.
Behind the mound is a hidden beach where you can picnic and launch kayaks, paddleboards or canoes into the Indian River Lagoon.
Historic Eldora at Canaveral Seashore
The Eldora Loop Road takes you back through subtropical tree hammocks to Eldora, once a small agricultural community on the Indian River Lagoon where orange groves once thrived. Only two of the town’s original buildings remain, including a home known as the “State House” that has been restored to house a museum showcasing the history of the area. The museum is only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
There are a couple of small parking lots along the Eldora Road with access to trails and fishing in the lagoon.
Kayaking, paddleboards and canoeing at Canaveral Seashore
A wonderland for paddlers, you can put in at several locations on the river side:
Turtle Mound — Launch from the open picnic area behind the midden.
Ranger Station — Canoes and kayaks can be rented here.
Eldora Parking Lot No. 7 — This parking lot provides excellent access to the islands and fishing.
Beach Parking Lot No. 5 — There is a hard-pack sand road that dips off the beach road on the west side of the dunes.
Related Article: Bioluminescent kayak tours
Fishing, clamming and oysters at Canaveral Seashore
Aside from surf fishing, there are several prime fishing areas in the lagoon that are accessible from the Eldora Road, including a fishing pier that juts out about a hundred yards over the lagoon.
Fly-fishers are often seen wading in this area, although I personally have not much luck here. I find that paddling out from either Eldora or Turtle Mound will provide the best access to backcountry channels and oyster bars, where you will enjoy the company of tailing red drum!
Clam beds and oyster bars abound in the lagoon, and clamming is permitted in some areas. Leased beds are marked, and you should (must) avoid those areas. If you are in doubt, contact the Ranger Station for more information about permitted areas.
Also note these are warm waters that encourage bacteria, so avoid eating raw shellfish in summer. My suggestion would be to take a camping stove and a steam pot out to one of the islands and set up shop, devouring the shellfish fresh!
Related Article: Surf fishing: Family fun for your beach day
Hiking at Canaveral Seashore
The two primary hiking trails are the Castle Windy Trail, across the road from Beach Parking Lot No. 4, and the Eldora Hammock Trail, on the Eldora Road. Both of these hikes are short and shaded, so you can hike here comfortably in summer. and offer a unique view
There are unnamed trails at two Eldora Road parking lots that provide access to the lagoon for fishing and swimming.
Related Article: Castle Windy Trail
There are two primitive beach sites on Klondike Beach, a two-mile hike south of Parking Lot 5, and there are 11 designated sites on select islands in the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoons, which are accessible only by boat.
Bring the bug spray… It was named Mosquito Lagoon for good reason! You must obtain a backcountry permit from the ranger station.
There is a boat ramp near the entrance to the park that provides access for bigger boats, as well as kayaks and canoes.
Be aware that most areas of the Indian River and Mosquito Lagoons are quite shallow with deeper channels snaking between some islands. Local knowledge, or at least a chart and depth-finder, and a keen eye are highly recommended for motorboats. Oyster bars are everywhere, and the tidal flow varies significantly throughout the lagoon.
Related Information: Backcountry camping at Canaveral
South Entrance — Playalinda Beach (Titusville)
The South District tends to draw more people, largely because of its proximity to the Kennedy Space Center and the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge. Thow in a popular nude beach, and there you have it.
You have to drive through the refuge on State Road 402 to get the beach entrance.
Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge provide a wilderness buffer around the north border of the secure Kennedy Space Center, which still functions as a venue for frequent rocket launches even though the shuttle program has come to an end.
Once you pass the south entrance station, you have four miles of beach road with parking lots similar to those along Apollo Beach in the North District.
However, don’t expect to drive north to the North District!
There is a 10-mile stretch of “back country” beach, known as Klondike Beach, that strings out along a thin ribbon of barrier island that has been left untouched. No roads.
If you wish to hike or camp on Klondike, you will need a backcountry permit, which you can obtain at the entrance Ranger Station.
There are 13 beach parking lots along the four-mile beach road serving Playalinda, and if you don’t find parking at one beach, you will almost surely find a spot somewhere.
Lot No. 1 — Has nearly 80 parking spots, but keep in mind that it’s the closest to the entrance is will likely fill up faster than the others further up the road.
Lot Nos. 8, 10, 11 & 12 — These lots provide handicap beach access.
Lot No. 13 — The last lot is at the end of the road, and you’ll see a radar complex that monitors launches from Kennedy Space Center. Lot 13 is also the access point for Playalinda’s clothing optional beach.
Confusion about the nude beach at Playalinda
You will see several signs along Playalinda’s Beach Road warning that “Nudity on the beach or in public is prohibited by law.”
Here’s the catch: Public nudity is against the law in Brevard County, but there are no restrictions north of the Volusia County line within Canaveral National Seashore.
Playalinda Beach straddles the border of both counties, so sunbathers who wish to shed their duds need only drive into Volusia County (marked). Go all the way to Lot No. 13.
Fair warning: The nude sunbathers on Playalinda are not as discreet as on Apollo Beach. If you are offended, stay south of the Volusia-Brevard county line
Related Article: Playalinda Beach by the BeachHunter
Contact Information for Canaveral National Seashore:
Park Headquarters (Titusville): (321) 267-1110
Apollo Beach Visitor Center: (386) 428-3384
For island camping reservations, call the Visitor Center at (386) 428-3384, Ext. 0