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Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches

Please Note:

We visited this area the week before Hurricane Matthew hit, so I will be describing our experience and showing you the photos of what things looked like then. There was significant damage in some areas, so go to the Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches website at http://www.visitflagler.com for the current status of reconstruction and re-openings of roads and parks. It is also worth calling to get even more specific information. 1-866-736-9291.

An update about Hurricane Matthew from Matt Dunn of Visit Flagler County as of 11/2016:

"As you are aware, Flagler County suffered a great deal from Hurricane Matthew. An evaluation completed by Flagler County shows that 16 homes were destroyed, 186 homes were heavily damaged, 369 homes had minor damage and 1,600 homes were affected; the damage to homes and businesses in Flagler County is estimated at $73 million. Additionally, dune restoration is estimated at $512 million.

Due to the storm surge, high tide and massive waves, our beautiful scenic highway took a big hit; large pieces of the road washed out causing parts of A1A to be closed. Damages to A1A are estimated to be roughly $35 million.

However, the community has rallied together and began the recovery process getting our perfect outdoor destination back to what we know and love! There have been a number of beach clean-ups which have allowed Flagler to open most of the beach already! All of our restaurants, shops, businesses worked tremendously hard to get back up and running as soon as they could. Just 30 days after Hurricane Matthew came through; the 1.3 mile stretch of A1A that was damaged due to the hurricane was re-opened. Now all 19 miles of our scenic highway are open and detour free so you can enjoy the ocean view throughout."

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How could I miss this little bit of paradise on the Atlantic side of Florida, just south of Marineland and just north of Daytona Beach? You would think, after 35 years of visiting St Augustine to photograph birds at the Alligator Farm, Crescent Beach to swim, bike and play in the surf with our dogs, not to mention a few trips to Marineland, why didn't I go a few miles further south to this gem. It is an unexpected area of natural, unspoiled beaches, conservation areas and a laid back atmosphere.

Flagler County boasts 19 miles of uncrowded beaches, a historic pier, and 26 miles of intracoastal rivers, creeks and canals for boating, kayaking/canoeing, fishing and sailing. Palm Coast has over 125 miles of connected bike paths and trails, designed for both the casual rider and the more serious mountain biker, all near the beach, and mostly shaded. They have even provided bike maintenance stations with air and tools for tire and bike repairs! One can ride on shaded bike paths along A1A, where you can visit parks, restaurants and shops and never have to brave the road.

We had looked forward to attending the Florida Outdoor Writers Association conference that was held this September at the Hammock Beach Resort in Palm Coast. We were celebrating the 70th anniversary of this organization of outdoor communicators. We hoisted our canoe on top of the truck, loaded up the bike rack, packed swim suits and cameras, and took off during what we thought was just a day of thunderstorms. We only live 80 miles to the west in the center of Florida, so for us, it was an easy trip on the back roads to Crescent Beach and then South on A1A. We went a day early and we were anxious to stop off and canoe the backwaters and photograph the rocks on the beach at Washington Oaks State Park, just south of Marineland. As we got closer, the skies were black, the rain came down in sheets, mostly horizontally, and the winds started howling. By the time we stopped at Washington Oaks Park to climb the observation boardwalk to the beach, the seas were high and angry and we could barely stand up! We were afraid the winds would flip the truck and the canoe would float us down the road! We started joking that it seemed like a Tropical Storm, and guess what - it was! Julia had just formed off the coast. At first, we were concerned that our conference week would be cancelled, but Julia just spent the day brushing along the East Coast to the North. Even in that weather, driving up to the resort was quite beautiful, and the vista of the rain and clouds and angry seas was compelling.

Hammock Beach Resort is a gated community and has so much to offer that it took us a while to explore everything. The one bedroom suite we had overlooking the ocean was spacious, with an amazing view. They are doing upgrades and renovations throughout the hotel. In addition to 9 or 10 outdoor pools, which include a lazy river, 3 story corkscrew slide, kids areas, adult areas, they had an indoor pool. Golf courses right next to the beach, putting greens, restaurants, excellent customer service, and the beach round out the property. Go to their website at http://www.HammockBeachResort.com for more information.

  • Tropical storm Julia passing
  • Morning sun
  • View From Hammock Beach to River
  • Hammock Beach room view
  • Golf course on beach
  • Hammock Beach Resort
  • 3 story slide
  • Lazy River pool
  • Full moon over fountain
  • Moon between palms
  • Palmettos and moon
  • Hotel in sunrise
  • Beach at dawn
  • Barnacles on plastic trash
  • Ghost crab
  • Full Moon and fisherman
  • Watching the full moon
  • Full moon
  • Surf fishing under full moon
  • Pelicans over ocean
  • Man with dog
  • Dog on beach
  • Dog enjoying the beach at Palm Coast
  • Hammock Beach Resort

At the crack of dawn the next day, the rains and winds had subsided and we were able to meet with the Sea Turtle Patrol. This section of Florida's beaches from St Augustine down the East Coast have the greatest density of sea turtle nests. As we walked up the beach, we were able to see turtle nests that had been fenced off, so that beachgoers would not disturb them. Sea turtle nesting season runs from March 1 to October 31 on the Atlantic side, and May 1 to October 31 on the Gulf side. The Patrol spoke with us about how they come out and check nests daily for possible hatchings. If it appears that a hatching had occurred overnight, the Turtle Patrol will dig down to check for survivors and any viable eggs. They replace these eggs in the excavated nest and re-cover them in hopes that they will hatch naturally. Loggerheads are the most abundant sea turtles nesting in Florida. There are also Green turtles and rarely, the Kemp's Ridley turtles. That morning we were fortunate to witness finding 2 baby Leatherbacks that had hatched and been trapped under the sand. These hatchlings were released to the surf and swam away on their own as hoped. It was a heartwarming sight for our group. Female turtles lay approximately 100 eggs per nest, laying more than 500 eggs over 5 egg clutches. They only nest every 2.7 years on average. It is against the law for anyone else to disturb, or touch hatchlings or nests. To report injured or dead sea turtles, call the FWC at 1-888-404-3922. It is well worth taking a tour with the Sea Turtle Patrol.

  • Turtle nest
  • Turtle patrol
  • Turtle sign
  • Turtle Patrol
  • Looking for viable eggs and babies
  • Hatched eggs
  • Hatched Leatherback
  • Two hatchlings saved
  • Baby leatherback rush to the sea
  • Sea Turtle Patrol
  • Turtle nest
  • Turtle Patrol ATV
  • Turtle Patrol opening nest
  • Baby deceased sea turtle
  • Pulling viable eggs from nest
  • Beach at Palm Coast
  • Beach turtle ATV tracks
  • Hatched turtle eggs
  • Hatched Leatherback

With all the sea turtle activity in this area, we toured the Whitney Lab's Sea Turtle Rescue/Rehab Hospital. It is located across A1A from Marineland Dolphin Adventure. We learned how they rehabbed these animals for release back into the wild. The Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience or Whitney Marine Lab at the University of Florida is a research, rehabilitation and teaching facility, that conducts research pertaining to Marine Bioscience. They also have evening lectures! Visit them at http://www.whitney.ufl.edu/

More than 60 years ago, I visited Marineland with my family. Almost 48 years ago, my husband and I came to Marineland as part of our camping honeymoon in Florida. Since 1938 Marineland had been known for its dolphin shows and movies like 'The Revenge of the Creature' and similar films. As a scuba instructor, I had even brought students here to dive and do skills in the pool with the turtles, sharks and fish. Things have changed over the years, and they no longer do Dolphin Shows, but do offer Dolphin Experiences. New buildings and pools have been built. While we were there, the Wounded Warriors had a group interacting with the dolphins (swimming is not allowed by law). It is a spiritual experience to be with these animals. For those of us who get to dive in the wild with these fantastic beings, we know how important it is for those that cannot do that to connect with nature and wildlife. Marineland also has a unique museum of artifacts from the movie making days and aquariums of unusual sea life. They are now partnered with the University of Florida Whitney Lab and Ripple Effect Ecotours for a varied and unique experience of adventure and conservation. They are open daily. Check out Marineland's website at http://www.Marineland.net and Ripple Effect Ecotours website at http://www.rippleeffectecotours.com.

  • Whitney Marine lab
  • Turtle Hospital at Whitney
  • Turtle rehab tanks
  • Turtle in tank
  • Hatchlings
  • Turtle nesting areas in FL
  • Turtle shells
  • Leatherback shell over 6 feet
  • Turtle tanks at Marineland
  • Neptune
  • Marineland dolphin sculpture
  • Sand Tiger Shark
  • Marineland Green turtle
  • Dolphins in tank
  • Dolphin
  • New Marineland tanks
  • Dolphin in tank
  • Dolphins and people
  • Wounded Warriors dolphin interaction
  • Marineland
  • Dolphin UW
  • Hermit crab
  • Octopus
  • Redfish
  • Lobster
  • Matanzas River in AM
  • Cloud bank, boat, and palm trees on river
  • Whitney Marine lab

There is so much to see and do in the Palm Coast/Flagler County area. One of the steps to which the area has committed is to set aside large conservation lands, between A1A and I95, where development is discouraged. Because of that, there are dozens of trails, parks, creeks and rivers to enjoy, almost all within sight of the ocean. Just two miles south of Marineland, on A1A is Washington Oaks Gardens State Park. The park encompasses both sides of the road with the Gardens on the west side of A1A, and the beach and coquina rocks on the east side. The beach is about 3/4 mile of these fantastic rock formations that provide great photo ops. At low tide, tidal pools form with lots of creatures to be discovered. The formal gardens, pools, bike/hiking trails, fishing and picnicking are just a few of the things that can be experienced here on the ocean or the banks of the Matanzas River. For updated information, call (386) 446-6780.

Washington Oaks is one of seven designated Great Birding and Wildlife trails. Princess Place Preserve, Bulow Plantation Ruins Plantation Park, Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area, Haw Creek Preserve, River to Sea Preserve, and St Joe Walkway/ Palm Coast Linear Park round out the list. Visitors can take guided kayak tours with Ripple Effects Eco Tours, located next to Whitney Labs,. They will guide you around the local creeks, the Intracoastal Waterway, and Matanzas River across to Pellicer Creek and Princess Place Preserve. Call Chris at 904-347-1565 for reservations. All guides are certified Master Naturalist so they are quite knowledgeable and provide great guided tours showing the area's flora and fauna.

  • Washington Oaks Park beach
  • Washington Oaks Park rocks
  • Washington Oaks Park beach
  • Great Egretin flight
  • Coquina Rocks
  • Washington Oaks Park Rockson beach
  • Washington Oaks Park Rocks
  • Great Egret
  • Washington Oaks Park garden
  • Coquina Rocks
  • Coquina Rock
  • Coquina Rocks

We had brought our own canoe, and found that we could launch at Bings Landing boat ramp or across from Marineland. If the winds are unfavorable, it is worth driving around to Faver Dykes State Park (off US 1) and launch at Pellicer Creek boat ramp. The ramp can accommodate small boats. One can canoe the trail to the West and then head East toward the Intracoastal and Princess Place Preserve across the creek. Be aware of tides, so you will not have to fight the current on the canoe trail. Faver Dykes Park also has camping, fishing and hiking. Check out http://www.Faver-Dykes.org.

After canoeing, we drove around to Princess Place Preserve, the site of the Princess Estate, a lodge dating back to the 1800's. There are over 16 miles of horseback riding and hiking trails along Pellicer Creek under a canopy of trees. There also is camping, canoeing, fishing and bird watching.

Additionally in that area is the Florida Agricultural Museum. Although we did not have the time to visit, our friends that did said it was worth the visit and very interesting. They offer tours, horseback riding, and more. We plan to visit on a return trip.

  • Pellicer Creek Faver-Dyke Park
  • Pellicer Creek at Faver-Dyke Park
  • Pat and Peggy
  • Canoeing the creek
  • Pellicer Creek
  • Great Egret
  • Pellicer Creek
  • Kayakers on Creek
  • Kayakers on Creek
  • Faver-Dyke State Park road
  • Covered Bridge at Princess Place Preserve
  • Princess Place Preserve
  • Princess Place Preserve boatramp
  • Lower Pellicer Creek
  • Sunset over river at Bings Landing
  • Sunset at dock at Bings Landing
  • Bings landing boat ramp
  • Captain's BBQ at Bings Landing
  • Bings landing boat ramp

As we headed back up north on A1A to go home, we crossed over the Matanzas River Bridge and turned into Fort Matanzas National Monument on the Matanzas River. Again, we could not believe we never checked this out in all the years we visited this area. It's a must see and an important part of early Spanish Colonial history of this area. When you arrive, first check out the times that the Park boat rides depart for the Fort across the river, get a ticket (it is free), and enjoy the park by the river until the next boat departs. It is a 10 min ride to the Fort, where you will learn about the history of the 1565 massacre of French soldiers here by Spanish soldiers. This helped establish a Spanish colony in Florida. Upon arrival at the Fort, you have about 45 minutes to explore. There are Park Rangers that will show you the features of the fort. The fort is made of coquina rock, the same rock we find on the beaches at Washington Oaks State Park. The barrier island is home to sea turtles, ghost crabs and Least Tern nests. On the island, gopher tortoise, eastern indigo snakes, and many types of birds reside. There is a nature trail and access to the beach on the island across from the Fort. For more information contact http://www.nps.gov/foma

  • Fort Matanzas boat dock
  • Fort Matanzas across River
  • Fort Matanzas
  • Fort Matanzas
  • Fort Matanzas
  • Fort Matanzas
  • Cannon
  • Fort flag
  • Cannon
  • Soldiers quarters
  • Kayaking on the Matanzas
  • Kayakers on river
  • Fort boat dock
  • Fort Matanzas
  • Fort Matanzas

Palm Coast is such a special, laid back place. You will be so glad you took the time to check out this area, there is so much to do. Please visit the Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches website for more information on hotels, motels, inns, campgrounds and rentals at http://www.visitflagler.com.

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