Being outside pretty much defines who we are as Floridians. Like so many of us, I keep right on going from one activity to the next. I’ll hang up my paddle for a while and spend some days hiking and camping under the stars, and during the warmer months of the year, you’ll most likely find me perfecting my cannonball at a freshwater spring. Here are some of my favorite places to get out and experience Florida’s beauty – no matter the season.
Ahh, springtime. It’s the season of new beginnings, and everywhere you look, trees and plants are exploding with growth and color. The weather’s nice, and that means it’s time to hit the bike trails. Some days I prefer a nice leisurely ride on a paved pathway like the 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail or the 29.2-mile General James A. Van Fleet State Trail. Then there are times when I like to turn things up a notch and ride some sweet singletrack at Alafia River State Park, Santos, Oleta River State Park or Munson Hills Off-Road Bicycle Trail near Tallahassee.
It’s almost a rite of passage to splash down in a crystal-clear freshwater spring with a group of friends or family. Our springs are world-famous, and you just can’t find this kind of good old-fashioned fun anywhere else. For some great summer splashes, head to Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park just outside of Tallahassee, Fanning Springs State Park, Juniper or Alexander Springs in the Ocala National Forest or paddle out to Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River.
The days are shorter, and vibrant greens give way to earthy browns, reds, greens and yellows. Flocks of birds, millions of monarch butterflies and schools of fish migrate to warmer areas. The best way to see the transition from summer to fall is on a canoe or kayak trip, and we all know that Florida is a paddler’s paradise. For excellent day and extended trips, ply the waters of the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail starting at White Springs, the Blackwater River near Milton, the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, the Great Calusa Blueway Paddling Trail or the Wilderness Waterway Trail in Everglades National Park.
I have to admit that I chuckle to myself when I imagine all those other places that are blanketed in snow as I stand outside wearing shorts and flip-flops. But the temperatures do get a little cooler, and that’s when I like to grab my hiking gear and head out in the woods, following those orange blazes that mark the route of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Winter is prime hiking season here, and I highly recommend the trails at Torreya State Park, Big Cypress National Preserve and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge for their combination of rugged terrain and untamed beauty. For a more leisurely stroll, try Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.