Located on a peninsula separating the Halifax and Tomoka Rivers, bisected by two creeks, Thompson and Strickland, with additional old mosquito control canals and nameless waterways, this Florida State Park north of Daytona offers mile upon mile of scenic and secluded paddling.
The paved parking lot had only two cars, one with a trailer, as I arrived shortly after 1:30 PM on a Tuesday afternoon. The one boat width concrete ramp, with adjacent dirt landing is located on the Tomoka River, east side of the peninsula, about three quarters of a mile from the northern tip. Just steps away is the Tomoka Trading Post Restaurant, which in addition to food, has bait, tackle, bikes for rent, and, canoe and kayak rentals. Two ladies and a young girl were getting into one of the rental kayaks as I arrived.
As I was setting up my kayak, I saw a piece of paper on a dock. Muttering about litterbugs, I went to pick it up. Turned out to me a laminated map of the Park, an improvement over the map in the Park brochure that I had with me. One man's trash.....
Into the Tomoka, I proceeded south, upstream. Half a dozen substantial homes are visible across the river, beyond the saltwater marsh. Paddling against a moderate current towards a bridge spanning the river, I quickly left the homes behind. The west bank of the river has marsh grasses, with trees in the distance, the east, similar grasses, with low lying bushes, backed by sabal palms, pines and other trees. An osprey nest was in a tall tree near the bridge. At the bridge, anglers tried their luck. The Tomoka is a part of Florida's Statewide System of Greenways and Trails. The website says access is available at the Old Dixie Highway Bridge, the span I was paddling under. I could not spot a place where a canoe or kayak could be safely launched near the bridge. On my return, I spotted a narrow concrete ramp, just downstream of the bridge. This ramp, or perhaps it is a wide gutter, is broken, with chunks of concrete between the end of the ramp and the river, a several foot drop to the water.
I paddled on, looking for an unnamed creek entering the Tomoka from the west. My laminated map showed that the Addison Blockhouse, a ruin of the 1830's war between settlers and Seminoles was on this creek. I passed several creeks, some manmade, and was unable to locate it. I think one of the creeks that looked manmade was it, I need to go back and explore some more.
Now I concentrated on the east bank, looking for the entrance to Thompson Creek. Earlier I had passed the mouth of Strickland Creek, which was marked by a fiberglass pole, and Manatee Zone signs. My laminated map showed an island at the mouth, which made it easy to spot. Thompson, on the other hand, was more difficult to find. Numerous canals in the area added to my confusion. I spotted what seemed like the creek, only to run aground a short way into the marsh. Reversing course, and heading downstream, I found it, or so I thought. Rounding a bend, I said hello to a fella in a small boat with an electric motor. He said I startled him "I never see anyone out here" I asked if this was Thompson Creek, he said "No, it is Sanchez"
My maps had no Sanchez Creek, but this waterway headed south, as was I, so I followed it. Later, talking to rangers at the Park, I found out it was Thompson, Sanchez is the name of a park near the source of the creek.
Thompson Creek, is naturally, narrower than the Tomoka River, but still wide enough that there is no tree canopy, a drawback on a July Florida afternoon. There are trees, palms, oaks, pine. Wildlife had the sense to stay out of the sun. I saw a few herons, osprey, perhaps an eagle, heard hawks. A raccoon on the shore of the Tomoka, a few jumping fish. The Park brochure states that manatees frequent the Tomoka in the summer. I did not see any in the dark water. The presence of manatees seen or unseen is a boon to paddlers, as boaters have to operate at minimum speed to avoid striking the slow moving mammals.
The map in the Park brochure showed a wide area where Thompson and Strickland creeks merge. I came to such a spot, with a road and houses. It was what I was looking for. A short paddle east to Strickland Creek, than north. Soon passed a park with a long fishing pier and ramp. I now know it is Sanchez Park. A few strokes, and again civilization was left behind. Strickland Creek does not have the marsh areas of Tomoka and Thompson, here the trees are right on the flat, sandy banks. I beached on the bank to stretch, switch water bottles, ect. Back in the Creek, I heard voices. People, fishing? on the other side of the creek. I had not seen them through the trees. Hopefully, I did not provide them with to much entertianment when I did the "ect."
I followed Strickland to its end, going past the confluence with the Tomoka. I went back to the Tomoka, downstream to the launch, and past it around the tip of the peninsula into the wide Halifax River, just to say I did. Briefly explored a couple of inlets, one chained off, to prevent people from going behind the Park museum, rangers later informed me. Back to the launch, a angler had just launched, we exchanged the universal boater's wave. In almost 4 hours on the water, he was only the third boat I encountered.
Full service State Park. Camping, short nature trail, museum, picnic areas.
$3.00 for single car occupant. $4-5, I'm not sure, for up to eight in a vehicle.
From I-95 take the Highway 40 exit in Ormond Beach. Head east to Beach Street. Turn left, just before the bridge across the Halifax River. (There is a State Park sign on the corner). North on Beach St. to the Park, which is on the right side. Share the road with cyclists pedaling the scenic Ormond Loop.
Ask for a map at the restaurant/concession. (Or pick one up that was dropped, as I did. I saw another one lying on the ground on my return)