Jetty Park Campground, Cape Canaveral, Florida
When you stay at Cape Canaveral’s Jetty Park Campground, you never really know exactly what you are going to do or see. You might get to watch the spectacular launch of one of America’s space shuttles or maybe sneak a peek at a secretive nuclear submarine at the U.S. Navy’s Trident Submarine Turning Basin. You may catch a glimpse of the rare and endangered Florida panther or a 14-foot-long alligator at the nearby Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Gigantic cruise ships transiting to and from the Bahamas pass within feet of the campground, too.
Located in Brevard County, Florida, Jetty Park Campground is considered the nation’s premiere public campground for watching the launch of this country’s Man in Space program. Andalthough taking in thelaunch of spaceshuttles and rockets, known locally as “bird watching,” could be the most awe-inspiring sight viewed from its oceanfront location, Jetty Park is also a great place for watching thousands of resident and migratory birds moving along the Mid-Atlantic Flyway. Fish-eating osprey stalk meals, pelicans practice formation flying, lone albatross glide effortlessly high overhead riding some unseen thermal, and seagulls and skimmers gorge themselves on the leftovers of a bluefish blitz in the port’s entrance.
The history of the Jetty Park Campground goes back to the early days of the space program. The campground fronts Port Canaveral’s entrance canal and overlooks the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS), the Kennedy Space Center, and the 140,000-acre Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. The 35-acre county-owned campground was established in 1964, and contains 150 individual sites and two group camping locations. Tents and RVs are welcome.
There are modern restrooms, hot showers, laundry facilities, a playground, snack bar and a bait and tackle shop. The 1200-foot-long Malcolm E. McLouth Fishing Pier is a free fishing facility, as well as an excellent cruise ship observation platform. The park’s 4.5-acre, white-sand oceanfront beach is family oriented.
If fishing is your interest, take advantage of Florida’s spectacular saltwater fishing. You’ll love the lighted fishing pier where a variety of night-swimming saltwater fish may be caught. Night fishing for the elusive snook is rated as some of the best in Florida.
The park offers many other activities including swimming, surfing, volleyball, tug of war, camping, and even a video arcade. Beach lovers may rent umbrellas, chairs, (including a sand wheel chair), or boogie boards, and can enjoy food and beverage service provided by the unique four-wheeled “Dune Diners” that travel the beach.
Watch dolphins and manatees swim free in their natural environment, or catch a glimpse of an endangered sea turtle. All this and more is available at Jetty Park.
Located just minutes from the Kennedy Space Center, and less than an hour from the Orlando International Airport and the Disney, Universal and Seaworld theme parks, Jetty Park has something for everyone.
The park is also the ideal spot to watch some of the world’s largest cruise ships move in and out of port. Bring along a portable, handheld VHF monitor and you can listen to conversations going on between cruise ship captains and the port’s pilot boats as the behemoths come and go through the canal to the docks.
There also are many off-campground family activities. These include both free and fee pastimes. At nearby Port Canaveral a modern offshore fishing fleet stands ready to fulfill your piscatorial desires. There are party boats for comparatively inexpensive fishing with a group. Their rates are on a per-person basis. Full- and half-day, as well as night-fishing trips are available. The primary species sought are grouper and snapper. In addition, there are trips that target species such as shark, king mackerel or cobia.
Charter boats go out daily for those who choose a bit more privacy or big-game species like tuna, dolphin, king mackerel or swordfish. These boats normally carry up to six anglers and go farther offshore. They are, of course, significantly more expensive than the party boats and furnish the specialized tackle required. On the party boats you can usually rent sturdy fishing tackle or use your own. Listen to the captain if he advises you that your light, freshwater rods and reels won’t stand up to the abuse of the saltwater species. He’s been there before and has generally seen it all.
For the surfers in your group, a visit to the world-famous RonJon Surf Shop in Cocoa Beach is a special treat. RonJon’s is a mecca for surfers, and is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For the space buffs in the family, it is only a short ride to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex. This is a fee operation. The visitor’s center offers exhibits spanning the early days of unmanned space flight, the manned Mercury and Gemini programs, and the current space shuttle missions. A life-size shuttle model, as well as its solid rocket boosters and main tank are there. An interactive program about future space missions is offered, too. A dramatic separate exhibit covers the spectacular Apollo-Saturn V missions. Plan on a full day if you are going to see it all, including the extra-fee bus tour of Kennedy Space Center to see the launch pad itself, or the IMAX theatre for a movie. Nearby is the Astronaut Hall of Fame and Space Camp Facility. This, too, is a fee-charged operation. Here you can see many of the former astronauts’ personal collections of memorabilia.
A bit farther north, in a Titusville shopping center, called Miracle Mall, is a free, little-known, but rapidly growing small space museum. Without a doubt, it is our first choice and personal favorite. It is operated by a nonprofit group of retired former NASA and contractor personnel who helped launch America’s men in space. They not only volunteer their time to the museum, but they have donated many of its artifacts, which they’ve personally collected over the years. These men and women are more than willing to share their behind-the-scenes stories with visitors. You just never know who you might find there, from former launch directors to an occasional ex-astronaut.
In a downtown waterfront park in Titusville there is the Astronaut’s Walk of Fame. It looks out toward the Kennedy Space Center and its ubiquitous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), still one of the worlds’ largest freestanding buildings.
No matter how you spend your day, make sure you’re back in Jetty Park Campground for the evening. Fire up your grill and cook a fish dinner. We recommend topping your fresh-cooked catch with a medley of diced tropical fruits such as mangos, bananas and pineapples. It’s the perfect ending to a day’s activities as a spectacular Florida sunset sinks slowly from view in the west.
For more information and reservations, contact: Jetty Park Campground, 400 E. Jetty Park Drive, Jetty Park, Cape Canaveral, Florida 32920; 321/783-7111; jettypark.com.