Hike, Camp, Or Relax On The Beach At One Of Florida's Longest Stretches Of Coastline

Wilderness lovers and solitude seekers can find plenty of both far from the madding crowd on Canaveral National Seashore's 24 miles of pristine beaches. One of the longest undeveloped stretches of coastline in Florida lies just north of the John F. Kennedy Space Center on the Space Coast. Used as a missile testing range after World War II, this 67,000-plus acres of unspoiled beach and wildlife habitat was declared a national seashore in 1975. 


This is the other Florida, where you can leave the spring break party scene and the yachty set behind for some turtle watching, kayaking, beachcombing, and even nude sunbathing on one of the United States' best nude beaches, in case you're a whole-body sun worshipper who's allergic to tan lines (here are some tips on nude beach etiquette). With a strictly enforced roadside parking quota, you're guaranteed an unspoiled experience at this national park — just get there early or plan on a weekday visit.

Hike through history at Cape Canaveral National Seashore

A narrow spit of land off the northeast coast of Florida, just an hour from Orlando, Cape Canaveral has been inhabited for some 14,000 years, and you can take a short hike back in time when you head out on the picturesque boardwalk that marks the start of the Turtle Mound trail. The 50-foot tall hill you climb on this easy 7-minute hike isn't a dune at all, but a shell mound, or midden, piled up over thousands of years as the native Timucuan people discarded thousands of shells after what must have been some magnificent seafood dinners.


The short, sweet Castle Windy Trail will take you through shady, verdant tunnels of green foliage to Mosquito Lagoon. But there's nothing like a stroll through the surf, which can be as long or as lazy as you like. Beachcombing, or shell collecting, is a popular pastime here, and you can stop by the Apollo Beach Visitor Center between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. to pick up a copy of the Canaveral Guide to Seashells, identifying species like the calico scallop, the great heart cockle, and the Atlantic auger. Collect 'em all! Then pop your beach umbrella for some well-earned chillaxing with your favorite beach read.

Camp and kayak at Cape Canaveral National Seashore

Mosquito Lagoon is more than just a cool hiking destination: It's a great place to take a nighttime bioluminescence kayak tour. Tiny plankton, called dinoflagellates, light up when stirred by any kind of motion, from your hand trailing through the water to a dolphin swimming, turning the lagoon's surface into a stunning sequined evening gown.


The National Park Service's turtle tours, which start in May or June and run through the fall, provide another reason to stay up late. You can book a ranger-led tour between 9 p.m. and midnight to see nesting sea turtles, like the loggerhead or the rare, endangered leatherback. A nest sighting isn't guaranteed, of course, but the National Park Service reports a 90% success rate.

The Canaveral National Seashore offers no drive-in car camping, but if you have an adventurous spirit, you can score a $20 backcountry camping permit for one of the park's 14 boat-in campsites and head out for the ultimate beach camping experience. The park even rents canoes you can use to ferry two people plus camping gear to some of the closest sites. And once you've had your fill of sun and sand, you can seek out even more activities that make the popular Space Coast a great destination.