Last Updated on December 21, 2023

West Volusia, Florida is Nirvana to Nature lovers, especially birders. There are 500 bird species either residing or passing through. The Great Florida Birding Trail lists eight locations in Volusia County. There have been reputable sightings of a Florida panther here, and no question there are bears and bobcats.

First things first, West Volusia is located just off I-4 between Daytona Beach and Orlando around the towns of Deltona and Deland.

In December 1971, Jacques Cousteau came to Blue Spring, Florida to film an episode of The Underwater World of Jacques Cousteau called, The Forgotten Mermaids. Cousteau put West Volusia front and center for nature lovers. He showed the world what was then a little-known marine creature: the manatee.

The manatee is not the only wild creature found in West Volusia. If you are lucky, you may see a threatened Florida scrub jay. There is a good possibility of seeing eagles, wood storks, and sandhill cranes.

Catch a Glimpse of a Mermaid

Blue Spring Adventure Boat
© Kathleen Walls

Blue Spring State Park is where Jacques Cousteau filmed his famous documentary. During winter months, manatees seek shelter from the cold Saint Johns River in the warmer spring waters.

When the weather warms, they return to the river. We saw about ten “sea cows” in less than an hour walking along the spring. The best time to visit for manatee watching is from mid-November until mid-March. Before Cousteau’s filming, there were about 10 or 11 manatees. Last year there were 583 manatees.

You can kayak, canoe, or swim, but there is a protected area for them during manatee season. There are several viewing docks along the spring and at the spring—placards throughout the park that describe the spring and the manatees.

If you want to stay overnight, there is camping for tents, RVs, and cabins. If you want to venture indoors, visit the Thursby House built by Louis Thursby in 1872. He was one of the first European settlers in Volusia.

One of my favorite activities there is the two-hour St. John’s River boat tour. Captain Rebecca brought us up close and personal with alligators, turtles, and every kind of wading bird around. She knew so much about the wild birds.

I never knew a blue heron was white for the first year of its life. We saw both adults and a white juvenile. Another interesting bird here is the limpkin, also known as the crying bird. She told us the cries in the early Tarzan movies supposedly from Cheetah are really that of limpkins.

Take a Ferry Ride

Rene Acuna at Hontoon Island State Park, Florida
© Kathleen Walls

Hontoon Island State Park can only be reached by boat. A pontoon ferry brings you to the island so you can begin exploring. Those with their own boats can stop in also. There are a picnic and playground area with a shelter for relaxing. Visitors can see an Owl Totem replica used by the island’s indigenous inhabitants, the Timucuan, to show which clan claimed an area. The original totem was recovered in 1955.

You can camp in the park, but it is limited to tents or primitive cabins. You can rent a kayak, canoe, or bicycle to explore the island. You might see an alligator and lots of wildlife.

Visit the interpretive center to learn about the history of the island and its wildlife.

Explore a Mayaca Settlement

DeLeon Springs State Park has a spring popular for swimming and diving. This spring also remains a constant 72-degrees. Stop in at the Visitor’s Center to learn about the park’s history.

Springs have always been a magnet for settlements. The earliest recorded dwellers were the Mayaca, who left behind the shell mounds. The park was a plantation in the 19th-century and a resort in the 1950/60s. It’s another good wildlife sighting place as it’s on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

The park rents kayaks, canoes and has an eco/history boat tour on Spring Garden Run aboard the M/V Acuera.

You can see the remains of the old sugar mill, some brickwork, mill machinery, boiling kettles, and the original mill wheel hub behind the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant.

Wander with Water Birds

Blue Heron
© Kathleen Walls

Gemini Springs is a county park with a dual spring that pumps about 6.5-million gallons of water daily. You’ll find flocks of Florida white ibises around the spring and lots of other water birds. You can hike the paved trail that wanders across the spring or several wooded trails. There is a campground, tents only here, a dog park, and lots of picnic tables.

Take the Healing Waters

Green Spring, Florida
© Kathleen Walls

Green Springs is one of Florida’s few sulfur springs. The Native Americans attributed magical healing powers to this spring. It looks like an emerald dropped in the middle of the woods.

Try Your Wings

Wings of the West are a group of six different wing murals painted by Erica Group. They have become a Mecca for selfies posed with arms outstretched on the wings. Each pair is placed in a location featuring outdoor activities.

Florida Scrub Jay

Lyonia Environmental Center is one place you might see a Florida scrub jay and the Scrub Jay Wings. They are painted on a wall facing a beautiful butterfly garden.

Sandy Falcon, Center Director, brought us inside and taught us all about the scrub habitat and wildlife. She showed us interactive exhibits and wildlife. We learned about a ball python, a pair of turtles named Tuttie and Frutti, and king snakes. A few fish in the turtle tank were originally meant to be turtle food but managed to survive and now co-exist with the turtles. She brought out a blue-tongued skink named Igor that we got to pet.

Mounds and Middens

Lake Woodruff Wildlife Refuge is a 22,000-acre refuge that was home to the Timucuan Indians and their pre-Columbian predecessors. You’ll find Indian mounds and middens.

The refuge protects several endangered species’ habitats, including the second-largest pre-migration number of endangered swallow-tailed kites.

Spirit Camp

Cassadaga is one of the most unusual places in Florida. It’s a Spiritualist community called a “camp” since the first Spiritualist communities sprang up in the mid-1800s.

Early camps were often tents and open only part of the year. Nowadays, people come here for either a reading or healing. Still, it’s a fun destination with a lot of history and a beautiful lake. You can visit their visitor’s center and learn about the culture.

Hike Cassadaga Fairy Trail, where psychic energy mingles with peaceful places. You can find the Fairy Wings along a trail strewn with fairy houses, gnomes, and wildflowers.

West Volusia Pioneer Life

Lewis cabin at Barberville Pioneer Settlement
© Kathleen Walls

Barberville Pioneer Settlement is one of my favorite living history places. It is much more than a museum; it represents a living, breathing village that existed at the turn of the 18th century when Florida was the wild frontier. The buildings range from the late 1800s to the early 1900s and present a way of life that is very different from the present.

Hug a Tree

Barton Oak, West Volusia, Florida
© Kathleen Walls

It’s a local landmark. You’ve got to stop and see the Bartram Tree located on HWY 40 near the river in Aster. It’s a giant oak.

Soar with the Birds

Have you ever wished you could fly without a plane? The DeLand Airport is one of the world’s top skydiving hotspots. The Skydive DeLand Wings are bi-plane wings, and you can take your selfie with your feet on the ground.

If you are one of those brave souls that don’t need terra firma underneath your shoe soles, you can do some skydiving.

Taste Local Favorites

Urban Brick is a locally owned Italian restaurant. They offer some delicious traditional Italian choices. My choice there is the Sweet and Salty Pizza.

Bake Chop has a patio or indoor dining. My choice there is the Boulevard, a grilled chicken breast, herbed goat cheese, balsamic glaze, red onion, tomato, mixed greens.

Dockside Deli at Hontoon Landing is on the river just across from Hontoon Island State Park. It’s a soup, salad, and sandwiches kind of place where you can see lots of birds and view the boats on the river. My choice here is the French Dip.

The Table is known for its steak, seafood, or specialty dishes. It has a gorgeous mural/waterfall celebrating manatees in its large outdoor area.

Genuine Bistro is another indoor or outdoor eatery. When you drive up and see the giant barbecue pit on wheels, you know their specialty

Santorini’s Greek Restaurant is authentically Greek. My favorite here is the Shrimp a la Zorba, jumbo shrimp with garlic, and a Greek touch over pasta.

Boston Coffee House has the most delicious Belgian waffles ever.

Mr. Bill’s Donuts and Sandwiches is a coffee drinker’s place. It’s great for a quick donut or breakfast stop. Try the scrumptious sausage-gravy and biscuits.

It makes a more laid-back base to visit either of those places. It has year-round festivals celebrating art, food, drink, rodeo, and jazz.

Today, more than ever, people are seeking outdoor paradises to visit. With three state parks, countless trails, county parks, environmental preserves, lakes, springs, and miles of the Saint Johns River, you can enjoy camping, boating, fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing in a natural setting in West Volusia County.

Author

  • Kathleen Walls

    Kathleen Walls, a former reporter for Union Sentinel in Blairsville, GA, is publisher/writer for American Roads and Global Highways. Originally from New Orleans, she currently resides in Middleburg, FL and has lived in Florida most of her life while traveling extensively.