As the wind whips across a broad, sweeping peninsula reaching towards Ponce Inlet, it picks up the squawks of shorebirds and the rustle of gopher tortoises along with engines gunning and dogs barking.
At the northern tip of New Smyrna Beach, Smyrna Dunes Park is one of those rare places where most recreational users are accommodated.
The entire loop is wheelchair-accessible, although the side trails to the beach are not. They involve scrambles along sand paths, or staircases up and over the dunes.
While the obvious trailhead adjoining the restrooms and picnic pavilion beckons most in a clockwise route, our route follows the boardwalk counterclockwise to bring you to the biggest dunes first.
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Location: New Smyrna Beach
Length: 2.4 mile loop
Trailhead: 29.065864, -80.914742
Address: 2995 N Peninsula Ave, New Smyrna Beach
Fees: $10 parking fee, $20 annual pass. Free for handicapped and disabled veteran registered vehicles. Discounts for veterans and first responders.
Restroom: at the trailhead
Land manager: Volusia County
Phone: 386-423-3300 ext 18072
Open 6 AM to 6 PM during the fall and winter, 6 AM to 9 PM during spring and summer.
Pets are permitted on the inlet dog beach. They are not allowed on the boardwalks after 10 AM, nor are they permitted on the Atlantic Ocean beach. You must clean up after your dog.
Alcohol and trailers (camping or boat) are not permitted in the park.
Arrive early! The hike begins at the parking area, which closes when it reaches its max of about 50 cars.
Take Interstate 95 exit 249, New Smyrna. Follow SR 44 east over the causeway into New Smyrna Beach, turning left on Peninsula Boulevard after 5.4 miles. Follow the road for 2.7 miles, until it ends at the Coast Guard Station. Turn right to enter the park, and pay your admission.
The boardwalk begins at the parking area, across from the restrooms and pavilion.
As the trail leads up into the dunes, you catch a brief glimpse of a large condo before the boardwalk turns and, thankfully, puts it at your back.
Along the trail, tangles of saw palmetto and catbriar seem to hold the sand mounds in place. Watch for the first of many gopher tortoise holes.
At Walkway #8, turn right to go up and over the deep bowls between the dunes. Notice how the sand catches and gathers around the grasses.
These white dunes look like mountains in miniature, with virtual glacial blocks of wind-hardened sand cracking away from the hillside, poised to break free.
This is the populated side of the peninsula, so it’s here you’ll see the beach drivers and, in the distance, the shimmer of tall condos in Daytona Shores.
Consider this: all of the oceanfront within your view once looked like the dunes you stand amid now.
Follow Walkway #8 back to the main trail, which leads high over a deep basin between the dunes.
The white geodesic dome off to the left is a NASA tracking station, used to monitor launches as they pass over.
Side boardwalks lead to covered picnic pavilions, including a two-story structure that offers incredible views.
As you reach the point of Ponce Inlet, the boardwalk swings away from the Atlantic Ocean with views of the jetty and deep dune bowls.
In the distance, sails slip behind the dunes, a constant parade of maritime traffic.
A side boardwalk leads to a promontory above the inlet, offering an excellent view towards Daytona Beach.
To the west across the inlet, the Ponce Inlet lighthouse stands out like the historic beacon it is.
The trail drops into a low, barren, desert-like area, where a row of dunes guards these lowlands from the ocean.
After passing more walkways to the beach, the trail turns south to follow the inlet. At 1.2 miles, an observation tower provides a view of the entire park and Ponce Inlet.
Take Walkway #2 to the right. It crosses an old road and scrambles onto another boardwalk into the mangrove swamp. Mangroves cluster around what looks like an old man-made canal.
The canal feeding the swamp barely touches the upper edge of the beach, so the sea only nourishes the swamp at high tide.
Where Walkway #2 reaches the beach, you can turn right and follow the inlet around to the edge of the park (a beach walk of nearly 2 miles) to Walkway #8.
Or backtrack up the boardwalk and follow the old road to the next walkway on the right.
Dune erosion along the inlet exposes the bright pink roots of sea purslane, a succulent with a high salt content in its thick leaves. Its tiny flowers bloom all summer.
The inlet side is the dog beach, so expect to see residents walking their dogs along the lapping waves.
At the fishing pier, climb the stairs to follow Walkway #1 back to the main loop, a 0.1 mile walk.
On the main loop, turn right to return to the parking lot. Those with dogs should follow the natural surface trail back to the parking area.
See our photos of Smyrna Dunes Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
At Sugar Mill Ruins Park in New Smyrna Beach, an interpretive trail tells the story of the Cruger-dePeyster Sugar Mill, established in 1830 and abandoned in 1835 after a Seminole raid