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.
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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.
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.
Beach driving is permissible up to the jetties. There is space to play and splash away from the cars on the inlet side of the peninsula.
Arrive early! The hike begins at the parking area, which 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 development before the boardwalk turns and, thankfully, puts it at your back.
Along the trail, tangles of saw palmetto and catbrier 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 the NASA tracking station, used to monitor launches as they pass over.
In the distance, sails slip behind the dunes, a constant parade of maritime traffic. Across the inlet, the Ponce Inlet lighthouse.
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 that provides a view of the entire park and Ponce Inlet.
Take Walkway #2 to the right. It crosses an old road scrambles onto another boardwalk into the mangrove swamp. Mangroves cluster around what looks like an old man-made canal.
This is the northern extent of the red mangrove. 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) back to Walkway #8, or head 0.3 mile south to Walkway #1.
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.
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