There are many public lands on islands in Florida, but Hontoon Island State Park is one of the few surrounded by fresh water and accessible via a free ferryboat. For more than three thousand years, the Timucua lived on this deeply forested island, sharing the lush palm hammocks and pine flatwoods with deer, otters, and owl. In 1955, when a channel was being dredged between the island and the landside parking area, a totem pole was discovered, a massive carved owl, buried deep in the river muck. Two more, an otter and a pelican, were found in 1978 while work was going on for the marina. In North America, these were the only totem poles of any significant age found outside the Pacific Northwest; they are now in museum care, replaced by replicas that stand near the park’s picnic area.
The Indian Mound Nature Trail is an easy walk that immerses you in shady forests—cathedrals of cabbage palms in a hydric hammock, grand old live oaks, and tall pines. It roughly parallels the Hontoon Dead River, which defines the north side of the island, and ends up on a tall midden marked by a particularly ancient live oaks.
Length: 3.3 miles
Lat-Long: 28.974316, -81.357561
Fees / Permits: None
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: moderate to high
Restroom: at the visitor center
If the river is in flood stage, this trail will flood, especially along the bog bridges in the hydric hammocks. Do wear mosquito repellent! In addition to this trail, there are miles of forest roads you can walk or bicycle that surround the campground. Cabins and tent camping are available.
From US 17 in downtown Deland, take SR 44 west to Old New York Ave. Signs direct you along the remainder of the 7.2 mile back road route to the park. Bear right onto Berensford Road (CR 4110), then left on Old New York Road, paralleling the river. Turn left on Hontoon Road, then right on River Ridge Road, which leads to the state park’s parking lot along the river. Wait for the ferryboat at the landing.
Turn right as you exit the ferryboat landing and pass the visitor center and camp store. Walk past the marina; the trail starts at a large sign at the far end of the marina. heading up a jeep road that parallels the river briefly The road leads to the campground, but the trail immediately heads into the woods, entering a floodplain forest of live oak, cabbage palm, and sweetgum. Bog bridges lead you into a hydric hammock, a swamp forest of tall cabbage palms thickly painted in lichens and mosses and draped with shoelace fern, and a well-knit canopy of ancient live oaks, their limbs furry with resurrection fern.
As the trail rises into a forest of slash pine, pine needles carpet the footpath. Then you drop back down into the swamp forest, crossing bog bridges past tall cypress trees. This cycle repeats, up and down through the two habitats, the trail riding the rim of both. You pass a bench at 0.8 mile. Soon after, keep alert for a sharp left turn at the base of a large sand post oak; if you see the interpretive marker for slash pine, you’re on the right path. A corridor of tall cabbage palms creates a cathedral overhead. This trail is extremely shady, whether you’re in the uplands or the swamps, and thus prone to mosquitoes.
After 1.3 miles, you reach an open clearing with a bench. Turn right and walk down the slope to the edge of the Hontoon Dead River. It’s a “dead” river because it doesn’t make enough of a channel around the island for any boats wider than a kayak to follow; the St. Johns has many of these waterways that turn into floodplain forests. As you continue along the main trail, you’ll pass a fellow “FVA” sign; off to the left, the horizon opens up into pine flatwoods.
Continue straight as the trail begins its climb up the midden. Snail shells spill out beneath roots underfoot. Watch for colorful and unusual forms of fungi on rotting logs and tree branches. As the trail becomes indistinct, keep to the dry mound. The trail ends at a bench beneath one of the largest live oaks you’ll ever see, after 1.6 miles. This is a high spot on the westernmost edge of the midden. From here, you’ll retrace your steps back to the marina. When you return, don’t forget to visit the picnic area to see the replica totem poles. It’s a great place for watching wading birds along the St. Johns River.