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Enjoy a Cheap Florida Vacation at
Hontoon Island State Park

A Camping Cabin at Hontoon Island State Park
A Basic Camping Cabin at Hontoon Island State Park

So you want a cheap Florida vacation? Well, have I got an idea for you.

Imagine staying in your own little very rustic and basic Florida cabin on a huge, wild and wooded island in the middle of Florida's mighty Saint Johns River.

You can only get to this island by boat or by ferry. Once there, you can relax in a totally wild Florida setting. Leisurely explore the whole island via the miles of crisscossing bike paths and foot trails.

There's even an ancient Timucuan Indian shell mound at the island's far end. Why, I half-way expected to meet archeologist Indiana Jones on the trail out there. I'm telling you...he would have fit right into this place.

The Foot Trail to Hontoon Island's Timucuan Indian Mound
The Foot Trail to Hontoon Island's Timucuan Indian Mound

At night, relax and cook out while telling tall tales and munching on s'mores by the campfire next to your cabin. Enjoy listening to owls and other wild Florida night sounds.

Got kids? The kids I saw here were having a great time. Maybe yours would too.

Still with me? Good. Let's get to the nitty gritty details.

The Cabins

I was just there yesterday--March 12, 2011--and the cabins are $30 per night for one that sleeps four, and a whopping $35 per night for one that sleeps six. I'm sure that price could change over time, but that gives you some idea of the cost. The cabins have bunks with vinyl-covered mattresses. Bring your own bedding.

The cabins have electricity, meaning they have lights, a ceiling fan, and an extra outlet for a coffee pot or whatever. There's no heat or air conditioning. Hey, this is a wild-Florida, sort of an Indiana-Jones-type place, remember?

The cabins do NOT have indoor plumbing, but not to worry. Complete washroom facilities, including hot showers are available within a few dozen yards of the cabins.

Hontoon Island Washroom
Hontoon Island's Washroom Faciltities with Hot Showers

The friendly State Park Rangers will help you schlepp your stuff to your cabin. They have the only vehicles on the whole island, and will make ONE trip for you in their van.

Your Cheap Florida Vacation Setting -- Hontoon Island State Park

The Landing at Hontoon Island State Park
The Landing at Hontoon Island State Park
Numerous Tall Cabbage Palms Adorn the Hontoon Island Footpath

Hontoon is a large island--1650 acres to be exact. On these acres are a mixed bag of woodland settings--floodplain forests and marshes, upland forests, and pine flatwoods.

I particularly enjoy the upland forest settings found along the footpath to the Indian Mound. Numerous cabbage palms here grow straight tall.

The hardwood trees are huge, probably hundreds of years old, and often adorned with Resurrection Fern.

There is no bridge to the island. That means the only way over is by boat.

If you don't have a boat, you can catch the Park's ferry by standing on the mainland dock. The ferry Captain will see you from the other side of the river, assume you want to cross, and make the approximately two-hundred-yard trip to fetch you.

The Hontoon Island Ferry
The Hontoon Island Ferry Can Carry Up To Six Passengers and Their Gear

Fitting right in with the idea of a cheap Florida vacation, there's no charge for the ferry. You can, however, make a donation by dropping some cash in the "money pipe" near the Ranger Station. Seems like a good idea to me.

Come and go as often as you like. The ferry operates from 8 AM to an hour before sunset. It's staffed mostly by volunteers, meaning they do this out of the goodness of their heart to help you have a good time in Florida's State Parks.

Things to Do on Your Cheap Florida Vacation to Hontoon Island

Go Paddling. Of course you can bring your own canoe or kayak, but they're also available here for rent. You can't reserve them, so if you're renting, you'll have to take your chances with a first-come, first-served policy.

Hontoon Island Rental Boats
Rent a Canoe or Kayak

You can explore around the entire island, seeing the sights.

Hontoon Dead River
Hontoon Dead River

Go Fishing. I haven't fished here, but I did speak with one guy fishing from the bank who had caught six nice size shell crackers. He was planning on an evening fish fry. With a few exceptions, you'll need a Florida fishing license.

Go Hiking. The Park has about nine miles of trails--three for foot traffic only and the other six for bicycles or hiking.

A Hiker Treks the Hontoon Island Pine Flatwoods
That's me -- Trekking through the Hontoon Island Pine Flatwoods

While you're out hiking, don't miss the foot trail to the Indian Mounds. This large shell mound is the remains of a Timucuan shell midden--an ancient garbage dump. Over 2,000 years ago, the Timucuans inhabited this island and ate snails they gathered from the river. They discarded the shells here, and over the years the shell mound continued to grow.

A Close-up View of the Hontoon Island Shell Midden
What's for Dinner? Let Me Guess -- Snails Again.

These middens are to an archeologist what a dead buffalo is to a buzzard--a most valuable and delightful find. They contain clues to man's ancient ways. You can tell a lot about people from what they throw away. Archeologists use these discards to tell about life long ago.

A Close-up View of the Hontoon Island Shell Mound
Standing Atop Years and Years of Ancient American Culture

The exact spots where artifacts are found tell archeologists as much if not more than what is found. And these ancient sites are limited. That's why amateurs and treasure hunters shouldn't dig in these spots. It's like Moe, Larry, and Curly bumbling through Sherlock Holmes's crime scene. Once the evidence is moved around, its value diminishes greatly.

Go Biking. Bring your bicycle, and explore the six miles or so bike/foot paths.

Just Kick Back. Of course, when you get tired of doing the above, just relax with a good book on the porch your wild Florida cabin, and let the worries of the world bother someone else today. Hey, it's your day off. Enjoy it.

Other Things to Know

Boat Camping. Got a boat? You can rent a slip, and enjoy the island from the comfort of your vessel. It's not costly--$22 per night. That will change, I'm sure, but as of March 2011 that was the cost.

Tent Camping. Prefer your own tent instead of a cabin? Bring your tent and stay in one of the 12 tent sites in the campground. Each site has a water faucet, ground grill, and a picnic table.

Island Store. There's a small store next to the Ranger Station. They sell things campers might want, including ice, firewood, and some food and snack items.

An Interior View of the Hontoon Island Store
The Hontoon Island Store

So, where Is Hontoon Island?. It's just west of DeLand. Google can show better than I can tell you. Just click below where it says "View Larger Map."

View Larger Map

Contact Information
Hontoon Island State Park: 2309 River Ridge Road DeLand, FL 32720
Telephone 386-736-5309

Make Reservations through Reserve America -- 1-800-326-3521

Off You Go. So, there's your cheap Florida vacation. Hontoon Island has no valet parking (no cars here), no bell hop waiting to carry your bags (but the rangers will take your stuff to your cabin), and no theme park attractions (just 1,650 acres of pure, wild Florida).

There aren't too many places these days where you can rent a cabin on a primitive Florida island. But you just found one. Enjoy your trip. And if you think about it, let me know how it went.

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