Home of the Green Mound, a significant archaeological site, Ponce Preserve is also nature’s last stand on the barrier island where auto racing was born, protecting 41 acres.
Thanks to ancient dunes and massive middens, part of the trail is a roller-coaster with steep climbs and dips and scenic views.
Not only is the terrain fun, but two nature-themed playgrounds tempt families with children into the coastal forest.
Most of it is set beneath a canopy of coastal scrub, with silvery-blue tinged saw palmetto dominating the understory.
The other half of the trail is entirely accessible, a boardwalk through mangrove forests out to the Halifax River, providing a nice sense of balance for hikers of all abilities.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Ponce Inlet
Length: 1.6 miles round-trip and loop
Address: 4401 South Peninsula Dr, Ponce Inlet
Restroom: At the parking area
Land manager: City of Ponce Inlet
Open dawn to dusk. The boardwalk is accessible. Natural surface paths lead up and over the forest dunes and to the beach.
Kayak put-in and fishing is across the street from the paved parking area. Beach access is via the hiking trail loop.
From From Interstate 95, take exit 256 for Port Orange / Daytona Beach Shores. Drive east on SR 421 (Taylor Avenue), crossing the Intracoastal Waterway onto the barrier island. When you reach A1A (Atlantic Avenue), turn right. Continue 2.5 miles to Wilbur-by-the-Sea. Turn right at Old Carriage Road and drive down to Peninsula Drive, which parallels the Intracoastal Waterway. Turn left. Continue 0.4 mile to the preserve entrance on the left.
About the Preserve
The reason that Ponce Preserve exists is the Green Mound. Once one of the largest middens on the Atlantic Coast, the Green Mound is more than more than fifty feet high.
Made of oyster shells, it is thought to have been built by late St. Johns Period cultures and occupied between 500 B.C. and 1565 A.D.
Before the 1940s, large amounts of the midden were carted away as road fill before archaeologists pointed out the importance of keeping it intact.
Excavations here uncovered evidence of a village, including fire pits and postholes marking the corners of raised houses. The trail system takes you up and over the midden complex.
Passing from state ownership to county and finally to the city of Ponce Inlet, the preserve was largely left alone for decades until the trail system was built.
More recent amenities like the boardwalk system, two nature playgrounds, picnic areas, and an observation tower atop the dune ridge have made this a park for all ages to enjoy.
Starting at the main kiosk at the parking area, at the far end of the parking lot from the nature playground, enter the maritime forest. Turn right at the first junction.
It’s a climb up into the coastal hammock under a dense canopy of sand live oaks. At the next junction, turn right.
The trail continues through the oak tunnel before climbing up into the tall dunes. The dunes are covered in a blanket of saw palmetto, many sporting a silvery-blue hue.
Wildflowers grow between the footpath and the palmetto. At the very peak of the dunes, a side trail leads left to the observation tower.
It’s not a tall tower, but offers a panorama off towards the ocean. Another nature playground is at its base. Return to the main trail and keep clambering up and down through the dunes.
After a climb, the trail reaches a T junction with the original path across the property. Turn right to walk up to the crosswalk leading to the beach. Use caution crossing A1A.
A secondary parking area – always busier than the main one – is at this crossing. Continue down the accessible boardwalk through the dunes.
The trail ends at a ramp and staircase down to the beach, where you can take a beach walk if you like. Turn around here to return to the main part of the preserve.
After crossing the crosswalk, continue past the trail you came in on. This broad path heads downhill into the oak hammock atop the Green Mound.
When Peninsula Drive is visible up ahead, make a left and follow the winding path along the edge of the mound. Oyster shells spill into the path.
Some of the oak trees are quite large. At the next T, turn left and head uphill. At the top of the hill, turn left.
This short side trail ends at an ancient live oak, sprawled across the top of the Green Mound.
Leaving the oak, continue straight ahead into the younger oak hammock. The trail winds past side trails and a handful of picnic benches.
When it returns to the parking area, cross the asphalt over towards the restrooms to find the other crosswalk across Peninsula Drive.
Cross Peninsula Drive carefully, and continue onto the boardwalk trail. It passes the kayak put-in.
The boardwalk is a delightful walk, especially to watch the birds flock in from afar as the sun sets over the river.
Winding through a salt prairie, it passes many tidal inlets, and gives you that “almost Everglades” feel, especially with the scent of the tidal muck.
The farther you progress towards the river, the thicker the mangroves grow together until they create a dense forest along the river’s shore
Arriving at the final of several observation decks along the boardwalk, you reach the Halifax River, where you may spot an angler or two.
After 1.2 miles, this is a great spot to sit in the shade and watch for dolphin and manatees. Return back the way you came along the boardwalk to complete the hike.
See our photos of Ponce Preserve
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Yep, that’s a stegosaurus hiding in the bushes. Sugar Mill Botanical Gardens has had a lot of faces over the ages, including a stint in the 1950s as Bongoland, a roadside attraction full of not-so-scary dinosaurs.
Spilling across the Atlantic Coastal Ridge, Ormond Memorial Gardens leads you into a contemplative world mere steps from a major highway
At Smyrna Dunes Park in New Smyrna Beach, the 2-mile hiking trail is a wheelchair-accessible boardwalk, with side trips off to the sea via more rugged approaches.