I cranked up the music, grinning ear to ear and launching into a duet with Stevie Nicks as the sun beamed across the salt marshes hugging the curves of the two lane back road. It was just me and my car. The music. And the open road. I’m sure there’s a song written about that somewhere.
Salt marshes gave way to a dense leafy canopy- ancient trees bowing in silence over the road. Then palm trees swaying in a coastal Florida breeze and more wetlands. I rounded a bend and my heart flip-flopped in my chest- the road ahead had completely vanished -submerged beneath the water and becoming one with the surrounding wetlands.
Ormond Scenic Loop Driving Trail
The 34-mile double driving loop Ormond Scenic Loop & Trail is one of the hidden gems on Florida’s East Coast. It stretches from the Atlantic and heads inland, winding through three Florida State Parks. A designated Florida Scenic Highway and National Byway, it’s located 10 miles north of Daytona Beach and is a favorite motorcyclist drive for visiting bikers during Daytona’s Bike Week.
Scenic Highway Near Daytona Beach
I started my week with my heart set on driving the Ormond Scenic Loop and taking photos of the scenery. I had driven through the loop by accident a couple of years earlier with my daughter. We had just finished a stay in St. Augustine and were headed home- in bad need of a toilet break. It was Bike Week in Daytona Beach. There were motorcyclists everywhere. On our drive on A1A from Flagler Beach to Ormond Beach, I saw a stream of bikers turn down a road and thought: ‘hey they must be going somewhere- there’s gotta be a toilet- let’s follow them!’
So I did. I trailed behind them over a bridge and through marshes. Around curves and curves of road. My poor bladder ready to explode.
On one bend in the road, a guy was set up with a camera, photographing the passing bikers. They gave him ‘thumbs up’ signs as they drove past. I began to suspect that maybe we were just on a joyride- And I felt like we were headed back to the beach from where we came (for those who do not know me, I have absolutely no sense of direction)– so left the line of bikers and turned right.
Needless to say, we ended up way out in the middle of nowhere. Open fields and farms. We GPS-ed our way back to civilization and a toilet.
How to Find the Ormond Scenic Driving Trail and Stick to It
With the past accidental adventure in mind, this time I armed myself with my sister’s directions texted to me and set out from Daytona Beach. 3rd left off of A1A and keep turning left, she told me. Easy-peasy, right? ( Unfortunately, following directions have never been my strong point).
I drove the east coast road, the Atlantic waves crashing on the beaches to my right and quickly lost track of the roads. Most of the road is a 35 MPH zone- but when it hits the North Peninsula State Park, the speed limit shoots up to 55- so I sped past my intended first left turn and had to find a place in Flagler Beach to turn around and retrace my tracks to Highbridge Road.
There are several points of entry to the Ormond Scenic Loop, but without a passenger or Siri to navigate my way, I was keeping it as simple as possible.
Highbridge, Walter Boardman Lane & Old Dixie Highway
Leaving the coastline, the road crosses a drawbridge. On either side is Highbridge Park . This one-acre county park on the Halifax River has a kayak launch & boat ramp, picnic tables, fishing spots and…restrooms! It’s open 7-days a week and there is no fee.
On the first part of the Ormond Scenic Loop, the road is lined with swaying palms. It winds alongside Bulow Creek and the Halifax River, the water lapping against the embankment- level to the road. There are spots to pull over for fishing, or just to let the more rushed vehicles pass. The day I took the trail, many of the pull-offs were flooded. I didn’t want to get my car stuck, so I didn’t stop.
I took a left onto Walter Boardman Road. The salt marshes begin to give way to a thick canopy of oaks as the road elevation rose to meet Old Dixie Highway.
Another left turn onto Old Dixie Highway- I realized this was where I had gone wrong my first time around. I kept the “to the left” song in my head- you know the one 😉
Hiking, History & Mystery at Bulow Creek State Park
Towering oaks dripping with Spanish moss envelope the road, wrapping it in a leafy green jungle. I drove straight by the pull-off for the Fairchild Oak- a 600-year old moss covered sprawling tree located in Bulow Creek State Park. The state park dates the monster-sized oak back 600 years, others say 400. There’s even reports claiming the formerly called “Ormond Oak” and “Harwood Oak” to be over 2,ooo years old, but while it continues to thrive and survive, its true age remains a mystery and object of fascination and folklore in this Florida state park.
Bulow Creek State Park has over 5,600 acres of historic ruins, hiking trails, ancient oaks and wetlands. Two hiking trails begin at the Fairchild Oak parking area. The 6.8 mile Bulow Woods Trail leads to Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park, and the lighter 0.3 mile Wahlin Trail is a boardwalk loop.
It’s easy to miss the pull off for Dummett Sugar Mill as well, even though you can see the historic ruins from Old Dixie Highway. Constructed in the early 1800’s, Dummett’s Sugar Mill was the first steam-powered cane-crushing sugar mill in the area. It was destroyed by the Seminoles during the 2nd Seminole Indian War. Now it’s a tiny park and the ruins are fenced off.
Driving the Scenic Wetlands: Flooded Road Ahead
Old Dixie Highway ( it becomes North Beach Street). I confess I saw two yellow ‘road under water’ warning signs along my drive, but kept going. If you have a motorbike or car, be-aware. The warnings are the real-deal. I read later that parts of Old Dixie Highway and Walter Boardman Lane sometimes flood after storms. And for me, this was one of those times.
The road curved as it approached the Tomoka – Halifax river bridge and this is where I came to an abrupt stop. The road ahead was completely submerged, as if it had been reclaimed by the wetlands. Marshlands stretched out on either side. Was this high tide? A regular occurrence or due to the recent high surfs from the last passing hurricane? I wasn’t sure, but as a line of cars grew behind me, I did know there was no possible way I could turn my car around.
In front of me, two medium sized cars attempted to cross over to the bridge while another headed into the water-logged road from the other direction. Not one to be a sheeple, I ignored the cars behind me and watched what unfolded ahead with open curiosity.
It was impossible to tell how deep the water was- it was also impossible to turn around- my car was too big and I couldn’t tell what was ground and what was marsh. The first of the crossing cars went off the edge- the car tilted dangerously to one side before the driver regained control and managed to get back on the road. Both of the vehicles reached the bridge successfully. I could almost hear them cheer.
I waited until the car coming in my direction passed, a wave of water in its wake. I have a big car- an old SUV. Sturdy as a Sherman tank and heavy as a locomotive. I’d learned my lesson from watching car number one and wasn’t going to chance going anywhere near the edge on a road I couldn’t see. What I could see however, was the bright yellow line painted down the center of the road.
I straddled the yellow line down the middle of the road with my car and drove through the water, the spray splashing to the tops of my windows. Was my heart-beating furiously? Heck yeah, but more in an excited – oh wow-way. All I could think of was how my teenage son would have thought this was totally cool.
I think I finally exhaled when my tank emerged from the water. I drove the short distance to the entrance of Tomoka State Park. Another left turn. Minutes later I was on the patio deck of the Tomoka Outpost under the late afteroon sun, kicking back a ice cold Dr. Pepper- the non-alcoholic version of chugging a beer. The vista views of Tomoka basin stretched out all around.
Although the Ormond Scenic loop & Trail continues onto John Anderson Drive, I chose to hop off after my break at Tomoka. I wiped the salt spray from my windows and followed North Beach Street back through Ormond Beach and south to Daytona Beach.
- North Peninsula State Park is located at 40 High Bridge Rd, Ormond by the Sea, Florida. There is no fee for this park.
- Highbridge Park is located at 39 Highbridge Road in Ormond Beach, Florida. There is no fee for this park.
- Bulow Creek State Park is located at 3351 Old Dixie Highway, Ormond Beach, Florida. There is no fee for this park.
- Fairchild Oak can be found at 3301 Old Dixie Hwy in Ormond Beach, Florida. No fee.
- Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park is located at 3501 Old Kings Road in Flagler Beach, Florida. Fees: $4 per vehicle. Honor box system, so bring cash.
- Dummett Sugar Mill Ruins can be found at 3178 Old Dixie Hwy in Ormond Beach, Florida. No fee.
- Tomoka State Park is located at 2099 North Beach Street in Ormond Beach, Florida. Fees: $5 per vehicle. Keep your receipt to use for the entrance across the road on North Beach Street too (Fishing, kayak launch). The camp store at Tomoka Outpost is open til 5 pm.
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