Skip to Content

Hontoon Island: Camping, cabins, great kayak trip in wild setting

Hontoon Island was badly damaged in 2022 by Hurricane Ian and is open for day use only.

There’s something about islands, especially ones you must still reach only by boat.

Hontoon Island State Park is located in the St. Johns River; no more than 500 feet of water separate it from “the mainland.” Yet that separation makes Hontoon Island State Park a bit more remote and romantic and has helped keep it from blending into the nearby town of Deland.

Dock at Hontoon Island State Park
View of the dock at Hontoon Island State Park with ferry boat awaiting riders. (Photo: David Blasco)

We’re lucky for that, because Hontoon Island State Park is a terrific refuge for camping or a stay in a rustic cabin and as a base for a kayaking or canoe trip.

The paddle around the island is 10 miles filled with birds and wildlife, past ancient cypress and oak trees. Even if you don’t spend the night in the park, it’s an ideal place for a hike and picnic. There’s also a playground for kids and a small museum.

The Hontoon Dead River is part of a great kayak or canoe trail around Hontoon Island State Park. This view with its cypress knees is from the Hammock Hiking Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The Hontoon Dead River is part of a great kayak or canoe trail around Hontoon Island State Park. This view with its cypress knees is from the Hammock Hiking Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Hontoon Island State Park, in Central Florida just outside Deland, is actually easy to reach. A free electric ferry buzzes back and forth every few minutes, carrying hikers, campers and fishermen and all their gear. (Campers and cabin guests and gear are then shuttled by van to the campground a half-mile from the marina.)

Camping and cabins at Hontoon Island State Park

Rustic cabin at Hontoon Island State Park
Rustic cabin at Hontoon Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Because there are no cars and parking lots, the camp and cabin sites are among the prettiest you’ll find. They are situated in a shady hammock secluded from the busy waterfront.

There are 12 campsites and six very basic cabins clustered around a central bath facility with hot showers and flush toilets.

Screen porch on cabin at Hontoon Island State Park
Screen porch on cabin at Hontoon Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

These aren’t luxury cabins; they are just one step above camping. There’s no heat or air conditioning, no kitchen and, like the campers, you walk to the central bathroom. The cabins have bunk beds with vinyl-covered mattresses and you bring your own sleeping bag (or linens.)

Bunk beds in cabin at Hontoon Island State Park
Bunk beds in cabin at Hontoon Island State Park. (Photo: David Blasco)

The cabins are inexpensive  — $30 a night for a four-bunk cabin; $35 for six bunks. The six-bunk cabin with additional fees and tax comes to $101.20 a night.

For us, these cabins are a perfect option: The fun of being in the woods and cooking over a campfire, while guaranteeing we’d stay dry in a storm and being able to avoid mosquitoes. (In March, there were none.)

The cabins have a screen porch with a table and chairs – perfect if we had bad weather. They also have ceiling fans in the bedroom and porch, lights in both rooms and a single electric outlet. The cabins come with a fire ring with a grill and a picnic table, like the campsites.

Campsites and cabins fill up on weekends, so you must plan ahead. If you can visit on a weekday, it is easy to get a reservation, even at the height of the spring break season in March.

Kayaking and canoeing at Hontoon Island State Park

Circumnavigating Hontoon Island in a canoe or kayak is a perfect day’s paddle. You can bring your own or rent them at Hontoon. Note, however, that there are only two double kayaks and five canoes and they cannot be reserved. On busy weekends you must get to the marina early.  (A backup plan would be to take the ferry to the mainland and drive 15 minutes to Blue Spring State Park and rent a boat there. The concession there, however, does limit you to paddling near Blue Spring. )

Kayaking around Hontoon Island State Park
Typical view while kayaking around Hontoon Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

There are maps of the route at the park and the helpful ranger suggested we start counter-clockwise around the Island. This took us first along the scenic Hontoon Dead River. It is anything but dead: It was full of wildlife and lined with a thick forest. What its name denotes is that it ends in a dead end, but many miles away. It probably was an earlier route of the St. Johns River.

Hontoon Island park as you approach by water
Hontoon Island State Park as you approach by water. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

From there, a left turn took us on the narrower, twisty Snake Creek, which meets up with the St. Johns River at Blue Spring State Park.

We had a picnic at Blue Spring and admired some late-season manatees in the spring run. Then we paddled the last two or three miles on the wider St. Johns River back to Hontoon Island State Park.

It’s all scenic and full of wildlife, but the best section is the Snake Creek. The least appealing part – and we were also just tired – is the last few miles on the wide St. Johns.

Snake Creek at Hontoon Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Snake Creek at Hontoon Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

An alternative route leaving from Blue Spring could skip the main river and go directly to the Snake Creek. There are other lagoons, canals and channels in that area that look promising to explore.

On our paddling trip we were continually surrounded by the sight and sounds of birds. The island has an active eagle nest and we saw a nesting blue heron with its chick. We also spotted osprey, ibis, heron, egrets, kingfishers, limpkin, sandhill cranes and cardinals. Other wildlife included turtles, alligators – including 10-inch babies — and, happily, manatees.

Along the way, we admired the trees with so many air plants that they were positively fuzzy, knobby cypress knees and the tangled mats of aquatic plants in vivid greens.

There was never a piece of trash and we saw little sign of man’s encroachment.  he whole route is open to motorized boats but there were just a few fishermen present. On the St. Johns, an enormous barge passed while we had lunch, so it is possible to see substantial boat traffic on that leg. When we paddled the St. Johns portion, however, we were passed by only three motor boats.

We loved this kayak trip – it was long enough to be a challenge;  it included a great picnic spot where we could stretch and explore, and it was full of all the beauty and wildlife we always hope to experience.

Hiking at Hontoon Island State Park

Hiking trail at Hontoon Island State Park
Hiking trail at Hontoon Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Hontoon is also a great place for hikers. The 3-mile-long Hammock Hiking Nature Trail takes you through a thick hardwood forest with lots of sprawling live oaks draped with Spanish moss. On a previous visit we saw deer; this time we spotted only an armadillo shuffling along. The path ends at a huge Indian shell mound, a hill about 20 feet high and 400 feet long. The midden is thousands of years old so on its top you’ll find some of the biggest oak trees in the park.

Sandy road/ trail at Hontoon Island State Park
There are miles of sandy road/ trails like this at Hontoon Island State Park. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

There are miles of other trails that are actually sandy roads. These pass through more open pine and palmetto palm forests. Spurs of these trails go to overlooks and landings on the river. If you like hiking, you have lots of possible routes. The trails are also open to mountain bikes.

Map of Hontoon Island State Park
Map of Hontoon Island State Park

History on Hontoon Island State Park

The park has an interesting small museum devoted to its history, particularly to the Native American Indians who gathered shellfish from the St. Johns River and left that midden some 2,000 to 3,000 years ago. The museum also includes artifacts found on the island.  Near the playground is a replica of a large wooden owl totem that was found by a dragline operator near the park’s parking lot in 1955.

Planning a visit to Hontoon Island State Park

For cabin or camping reservations go to or call 1-800-326-3521, Monday-Friday, from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. up to 11 months in advance. 

If you want a bit more comfort, you can have the whole Hontoon Island experience by staying at the Hontoon Landing Resort, which is almost adjacent to the state park’s parking lot. The resort also operates a river nature cruise and rents pontoon and fishing boats. If you stay at Hontoon Landing Resort, you can take the ferry over to Hontoon Island for hiking and launch your canoe or kayak for the paddling trip.

Hontoon Island State Park website

Nearby Blue Spring State Park

Wekiva River Basin.

All articles on are original, produced exclusively for our readers and protected by U.S. Copyright law. Any use or re-publication without written permission is against the law. Read more:

This page may contain affiliate links from which Florida Rambler may earn a small commission if a purchase is made. This revenue supports our mission to produce quality journalism about authentic Florida at no cost to our readers.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Sunday 27th of September 2020

Hi Thank you for the article. I was looking for info about Snake Creek and Smith Canal (from St.Johns to Hontoon Dead River) and it was all were pretty old. Yours was at least dated 2020. I tried to explore Snake Creek about a month ago from Blue Springs Park on a kayak and was able to do only 1/4 of a mile or so, the rest is blocked by vegetation. The same with Smith Canal. Today I tried again (water is higher) and was actually able to go all the way from St.Johns to Hontoon Dead by the Smith canal! Was very proud of myself :)BUT it was very hard to go through all this vegetation and in one place fallen tree AND plants are blocking the way. Why am I writing this? Do you know if anyone is actually trying to keep waterways open? Is there a group of enthusiast who is trying to do something about it? I would be thrilled to kayak Snake Creek. But I don't even know if it is legal to try to remove some plants blocking water ways. If you have some info about it, please share.

Bob Rountree

Monday 28th of September 2020

Snake Creek is within Hontoon Island State Park and managed by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees all Florida state parks. It would be illegal to remove vegetation from a state park unless sanctioned by the DEP. Many state parks have a "Friends" group that performs such tasks with the blessing of the DEP, but we don't know if the Hontoon Island group, the Hontoon Island Foundation, is still active. We suggest you call the Hontoon Island ranger station at 386-736-5309 for more information. They may already have a plan for Snake Creek! (Let us know in this comment thread.)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.