Great footpaths can be found all over the Sunshine State, but a hike along the 1,500-mile Florida National Scenic Trail as it skirts the legendary Suwannee River is not to be missed. With just-rugged-enough terrain to provide a challenge, this section of trail is one of Florida’s most popular destinations for both day and extended trips. You’ll climb in and out of ravines carved from spring-fed tributaries of the Suwannee River and hike high atop its steep banks, offering a lofty view of the coffee-colored waterway as it weaves its way toward the Gulf of Mexico. During periods of low water, picture-perfect campsites can be found on the Suwannee’s white sandy beaches, rounding out an
adventure of a lifetime.
For a great “basecamp,” look no further than the historic town of White Springs. Considered by many to be the epicenter for outdoor recreation in Florida, White Springs is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring the northern portion of the state. Just north of White Springs lies Big Shoals State Park, where a short hike leads to Florida’s only Class III whitewater rapids. Here, the Suwannee River furiously collides with ancient limestone outcroppings during periods of high water, making Big Shoals one of Florida’s most scenic locations. The trail leading to Big Shoals is typically flat, so it’s easy to visit.
For the ultimate combination of adventure and natural beauty, hike this section in spring, when wildlife is most abundant and the fragrance of wild azaleas in bloom will have you coming back year after year.
Red-shouldered hawks, royal terns, and boat-tailed grackles are just a few of the 220 bird species found on Sanibel Island and the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. In fact, this area is world-renowned for its abundance of migratory species, attracting birding enthusiasts from all over the globe.
The wildlife refuge will keep you busy, thanks to 6,390 acres of federally protected habitat that includes an education center, multi-use trails and plenty of spots for fishing and boating. Reach the trails via Wildlife Road, which is open Saturday through Thursday and costs $5 per vehicle or $1 for walkers and bikers. The refuge hosts the “Ding” Darling Birthday and Duck Stamp Celebration, a weeklong festival held annually in October.
New to birding? It’s a great way to get in both some exercise and family time. Visit Sanibel and the wildlife refuge between December and March – that’s when you’ll find the largest concentration of migratory birds feeding on the mud flats during low tide.
The whole experience of setting up a campsite, making a fire, cooking hot dogs on a palmetto stick and sleeping beneath the stars is something you’ll never forget. Whether it’s a car camping trip to a Florida state park or a solo multiday hike, nothing beats crawling into a tent at the end of the day and listening to nature’s soundtrack.
On the “bucket list” for many families is a Florida beach camping adventure. Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park, located 75 miles southwest of Tallahassee, is an excellent location for beach camping. The park is situated on the tip of St. George Island and features nine miles of undeveloped white-sand beaches. Since it’s a barrier island, visitors can also enjoy fishing and boating in the protected waters of Apalachicola Bay Aquatic Preserve. For a side trip on your camping
adventure, the fishing village of Apalachicola and Tate’s Hell State Forest are just minutes away.
Full-facility campsites, located on the Apalachicola Bay side of the narrow island, provide easy walking access to the Gulf beaches. For those looking for a true beach adventure, hike the 2.5-mile, one-way nature trail to Gap Point and camp primitive-style within steps of Apalachicola Bay. On most occasions, you’ll have the place to yourself. Gap Point can also be reached by canoe or kayak, so consider a combined paddling and camping trip as well. Now that’s the stuff memories are made of.
It’s been said many times before, but it bears repeating – Florida is a paddler’s paradise. With countless waterways crisscrossing the state, finding a great place to go kayaking is a cinch. From wild, tea-colored rivers to coastal marshes, Florida provides outstanding destinations for recreational and seasoned kayakers alike.
For an out-of-this-world kayaking trip, explore the waters of the Gulf of Mexico from one of Florida’s hidden gems – Cedar Key. With a town-that-time-forgot feel and access to Waccasassa Bay, the Cedar Keys and the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, Cedar Key offers a plethora of paddling options or history lessons. While paddling, have your camera ready – dolphins are a common
sight, as are numerous migrating bird species, including roseate spoonbills, magnificent frigatebirds and rare bald eagles.
The islands of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge lie within sight of the village of Cedar Key and are well within reach for a day paddle. On Atsena Otie Key, you’ll find traces of human life dating back thousands of years. In fact, Atsena Otie is mostly an ancient shell midden. The foundation of the 1868 Faber Mill and a cemetery with ornate headstones stand as testaments to the island’s history before a storm in 1896 destroyed most of its structures.
No boat? No worries. Several local guides offer guided trips ranging from a few hours to a full day’s adventure. Just show up with a little sunscreen and some drinking water, and get ready for a paddle into the past.
Looking for an outdoors activity for the whole family? Check out geocaching – an exciting, high-tech treasure hunt that will have you feeling like Indiana Jones. Instead of following a sketch-drawn map, you’ll use a handheld GPS unit with preprogrammed coordinates to find your “treasure,” called a cache. Traditionally, it’s a waterproof container holding small items such as coins and toys, along with a log book that you sign and date.
Geocaching.com is an excellent online resource for finding cache locations. You can search for caches by zip code, which will display a map with a list of caches in your area. Once you have chosen a cache, you enter the coordinates into your GPS. With a list of caches to discover, all that’s left to do
is go and find them.
Geocaching is quite popular in Florida; caches can be found readily all over the state. The Florida Geocaching Association, along with local clubs, helps to maintain the caches and has a list of “cachers” for those interested in meeting up with others who enjoy the sport.
Polk County’s Friends of the Parks Foundation administers the highly successful Trek Ten Trails Program, which features 15 trails with official caches. Geocachers carry a preprinted card and mark it with the stamp found in the cache. The program features guided group events as well. Even if you aren’t participating in the Trek Ten Trails event, you can find caches along those same trails.
Discover the Green Swamp – the source of the Peace, Oklawaha, Hillsborough and Withlacoochee rivers – as you search for caches at Colt Creek State Park.
At Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales, enjoy finding a geocache on the grounds of the soaring 205-foot Singing Tower, a National Historic Landmark. Afterwards, enjoy a stroll through the world-class
Now that you know what you need and how to do it, what’s stopping you? Go geocaching!