A Visit Florida round-up of some of the many outdoor activities
With wind chills and snow flurries in the forecast here, VISIT FLORIDA is highlighting all of the amazing “winter” activities tourists can do outdoors in the Sunshine State as we look forward to warmer days and an eventual return to travel. Below are just a few of the many outdoor activities that will fill your days with fun on your future getaway:
Explore Pensacola’s plentiful bays, bayous, and rivers by water, be it in a kayak, canoe, or on a paddleboard. With amazing ecosystems to explore, it’s no wonder the area is the start of the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail.
Destin-Fort Walton is home to Henderson Beach State Park, a 200-acre gem that features a winding nature trail you can follow for a rare view of some of the last remaining endangered coastal scrub communities in the Florida panhandle. With 30-foot sand dunes and 6,000 feet of scenic shoreline boarding the Gulf of Mexico, the park is a haven for shore birds, including six listed and protected species, and visitors can even camp under the stars.
Panama City Beach, and specifically the waters just off its shore, is known as the “Wreck Diving Capital of the South.” With some of the best shipwreck diving on the Gulf Coast, Panama City Beach is a premier diving destination for both beginner and advanced divers. Guests can become scuba certified with Dive Locker and discover underwater treasures, including the destination’s newest artificial reef, the former El Dorado Cruise Liner. Whatever your level of diving experience, the ideal underwater adventure awaits as divers will get up close and personal with octopus, grouper and other colourful wildlife that frequent these waters.
Springs & Trails
Citrus County, home to Crystal River, is full of legendary springs: Three Sisters Springs, Homosassa Springs, Seven Sisters Springs and the 70 springs of Kings Bay – all of them crystal clear and cool even in the heat of summer. Plus, Crystal River is known as the “Manatee Capital of the World” and is the only place in the United States where you can legally experience the up-close encounter of swimming with these gentle giants. Prefer to stay on dry land? The area is also home to the Withlacoochee State Trail, one of America’s top-rated Rails to Trails cycling corridors. At 74 kilometres long, the trail runs through six distinct natural communities, the vibrant, historic towns of Inverness and Floral City, and small towns and ranches.
Take the outdoors to new heights in Ocala/Marion County, where you can feel the open-air whip around you as you zipline through breath taking canyons. Home to Florida’s longest, fastest and highest zip lines over water, Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park is ready for adventurers of all types. If zip lining is not for you, no sweat. There is gem mining, kayaking, horseback riding and more fun activities to do at the Canyons.
The main attraction on Captiva Island: none. And that is the attraction! Many people here wile away the hours in one outdoor endeavour or another. The natural beauty of the island is the draw. It was here that Anne Morrow Lindbergh, wife of the famous aviator, wrote her best-selling book, “Gift from the Sea.” More remote than neighbouring Sanibel, the island offers a laid-back pace, several great restaurants, sunset views and beautiful beaches.
David F. Bolger Playspace is located on the stunning and expansive grounds of the Ringling mansion and art museum in north Sarasota. Perpetually shaded by ancient banyans, kids play on the sleek slide, swing on the net swings, frolic in the water and sand zone, and climb to their heart’s content. There is a café next to the playspace where snacks and coffee can be purchased, and the grounds allow free spirited young ones an opportunity to run with no traffic other than the occasional slow-moving tram. After playing, a stroll through the rose garden or along the water’s edge round out your time here.
Get hooked on bird watching at the 548-acre Winding Waters Natural Area in West Palm Beach. The natural area protects slash pine woods and a 165-acre freshwater marsh. This combination of trees to shelter in and waters to hunt in attracts a wide variety of birds – from small, brightly-coloured palm warblers looking for insects in the treetops to majestic herons and egrets stalking fish in the wetlands. You might also spot birds of prey including ospreys, bald eagles, snail kites, great horned owls and red-shouldered hawks.
This unique program, run every summer out of Juno Beach’s Loggerhead Marinelife Center, invites visitors to learn about and observe the nesting and egg-laying process of sea turtles. With the approval of State issued permits, experienced scouts will patrol a designated section of the beach searching for sea turtles while visitors enjoy an informative presentation on the plight of sea turtles and an after-hours experience to view the current patients in the centre’s outdoor Sea Turtle Hospital. Once a loggerhead sea turtle is found and begins her egg-laying process, the group is then led down to the beach to witness this unforgettable experience.
One of the most fascinating stretches of barrier island in Martin County is Blowing Rocks Preserve, located on Jupiter Island, just south of Hobe Sound. Named for its rocky Anastasia limestone shoreline (the largest on the U.S. Atlantic coast) this magnificently restored sanctuary offers a rare window into Florida’s natural history. During high tide, waves crash through the rock formations, blowing 50 feet up into the air (hence its name). Visitors can get a glimpse of one of the state’s rarest surviving landscapes – an intact Florida dune habitat with beach sunflower, bay cedar, sea grape, and sea oats. Three hiking trails and boardwalks, each up to 535 metres long, feature interpretative signs all along the paths. Swimming, snorkelling, and scuba diving are allowed from the beach during listed hours.
West Volusia County’s Old Florida charm means that there’s plenty of natural habitats to explore. Deep Creek Stables provides the perfect setting for horseback trail rides in the area. This authentic, Old Florida working horse ranch also offers skeet shooting, carriage rides and riding lessons.
Discovery Cove has launched this new animal experience with its resident group of flamingos as an additional private opportunity for guests to enjoy during their visit at the all-inclusive day park. Starting each day at 8am during normal park hours, the experience gives groups of no more than eight guests the opportunity to feed and learn about these birds.
To find out more about the many outdoor adventures that await, check out visitflorida.com.
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