Places to Go: Arcadia; Punta Gorda; Clewiston; Palmdale
Things to See: Inland is the folksier side of Florida – a place to step back in time, where cowboys still tend herds, rodeos are as big a deal as Christmas morning and the bass grow so big they’re called hogs. The Everglades are huge, and lakes and rivers are plentiful, which means umpteen opportunities to see gators and other wildlife up close by canoe, airboat or swamp buggy.
Arcadia, Florida’s rodeo town, has a dashing history, including being a former Royal Air Force training ground and gateway to Florida’s pioneer farm country. Slow down the pace and browse the antiques stores on Main Street, then look for wildlife along the Peace River.
In Punta Gorda, climb aboard a camouflaged open-air bus with craggy tires at Babcock Wilderness Adventures. There, you will get a glimpse inside the working Crescent B Ranch, where livestock and gators coexist.
Perhaps no one understands the Everglades better than the Seminole Indians, who have inhabited the area for centuries. The tribe’s Billie Swamp Safari is a great place to learn about their culture and to take an airboat ride or swamp buggy tour, where you’re likely to see gators, deer, wild hogs, eagles and hawks.
Largemouth bass is celebrated at Lake Okeechobee, which at 730 square miles is the nation’s second-largest freshwater lake. Hook up with a professional guide at Roland & Mary Ann Martins Marina & Resort for some help finding trophy “hogs.” If you’re not up for fishing, hike the 110-mile Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail, which sits atop the dike surrounding the lake.
Places to Stay: Built by and for Florida’s sugar barons, the historic Clewiston Inn is a prestigious hotel. It is also one of the few hotels in the area. Be sure to peek inside the legendary Everglades Lounge at the mural that lines its walls.
Do Drop In: Catch the feeding of giant gators and crocs at Gatorama, one of Florida’s oldest roadside gator attractions, northwest of Clewiston in Palmdale.