This post is part of a series of stories from our 2018 trip to Florida.
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As we build travel itineraries for experiences across the country, we always check the area for National Parks. Sometimes the National Park itself is our destination — but often we’re able to add a stop to a trip with a different focus, and experience a special, local place as a bonus.

Canaveral National Seashore — and Castillo de San Marcos National Monument — were exactly that during our recent trip to Florida to visit Kennedy Space Center. A quick check of the area while trip planning, and we happily added both to our itinerary and looked forward to spending a full day getting a glimpse of two of Florida’s unique and special destinations.

First things first, this was our first National Seashore! There are ten protected and designated national seashores operated by the National Park Service, and this was our first visit to one.

#PictureByTheSign

We headed straight for the Visitors Center, and we’re glad we did! As we walked in the door we heard, “I’m sorry – we’re closed.” Wait – what? We just paid at the gate and drove straight here! Unfortunately for us, the front door of the Visitors Center had blown off its hinges during recent storms and the guys had just arrived to repair it. It wouldn’t be safe to have people in and out all day so they were closing! A bummer, but we grabbed a stamp in Colt’s passport before we headed out to enjoy the rest of the area — and stay outta the way of the door repair guys.

Usually, we like to watch the videos and ask questions at the Visitors Center before we venture out into a National Park — so we have a handle on the area and the activities and the significance of the park. Without that opportunity at Canaveral, we set out to explore what we could and enjoy our morning.

Without leaving the Visitors Center parking lot, we saw a dock with a beautiful view of the water so we started there.

A man fishing nearby asked if we were there to see the manatees. MANATEES?! Well, NOW we are. He showed us what to look for in the water — large flat trails along the surface that indicated something was juuuust beneath.

Manatee tail!

What a treat! We sat and watched for about 30 minutes — catching glimpses of a tail here and a head there. It made me want to find a place to snorkel with them!

Next stop along the seashore was a place called Turtle Mound. We parked the car and started walking toward the water — and the jungle that unfolded around us was unbelievable.

The boardwalk trail forked, with one short path headed toward a view of the water — and the other path headed deeper into the trees, destination uncertain.

This was something we hadn’t seen before — a guided tour via cellphone. We’re suckers for an audio tour so we dialed in to hear all about the history of Turtle Mound and a bit about the ecosystem around us.

The turtle-shaped mound contains oysters and refuse from the prehistoric Timucuan people. Archaeologists believe these people may have used this site as a high-ground refuge during hurricanes.

Finally! The end of the trail! What a view. We watched dolphins playing in the water below us and could even pick out a few signs of manatees from that height.

As we set up the camera for a photo. “Wouldn’t it be awesome if one of those dolphins photobombed us, Mommy?”

Can you spot the photobomber?

We eventually made it back to the car and headed for one more stop — Eldora.

Eldora is a little town — pointed out to us by the Visitors Center as a “ghost town”. It was once a prominent community in the area, but a freeze destroyed the orange groves and it was nearly completely abandoned. Over time, its small population dwindled to nothing and only two structures remain today, and Eldora State House (below) serves as a museum.

Just beyond the front porch of the house is Mosquito Lagoon — which we quickly learned had EARNED that nickname so we didn’t linger.

We headed back to the car and waved goodbye to Canaveral National Seashore. What a beautiful slice of Florida. We never regret visiting National Parks, and we are forever grateful for a chance to visit incredible corners of our country this way. #findyourpark

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