Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway: Nature Paradise

    By Dalia Colon

    Where: Just west of Orlando, traversing Clermont, Bushnell, Webster and the surrounding parts of Central Florida.

    Length: 62 miles.

    How to get around: Car.

    Best time to visit: On a Monday, to visit Webster Westside Flea Market, which attracts tens of thousands of weekly visitors to the otherwise small town.

    Fun fact: The Parson Brown sweet orange gets its name from a soldier-turned-Baptist minister in Webster.

    For more info: Go to sumterbyway.com or visit the Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway’s Facebook page.
     

    A car passes a lake along the Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway near Sumterville, Fla.

    A car passes a lake along the Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway near Sumterville, Fla.

    - Brad McClenny for VISIT FLORIDA

    The Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway crosses a river near Lake Panasoffkee which offers several recreational opportunities.

    The Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway crosses a river near Lake Panasoffkee which offers several recreational opportunities.

    - Brad McClenny for VISIT FLORIDA


    Dawn Cary knows the reputation.

    “When people think of Sumter County -- especially visitors -- they think of The Villages,” Cary said.

    But the thriving retirement community is only the beginning of what the area surrounding Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway has to offer.

    “Sumter County has it going on,” said Cary, secretary of the corridor management entity. In particular, the southern part of the county is rich in nature and history.

    Florida National Cemetery is kind of like Florida's best-kept secret. It’s like a mini-Arlington,” Cary said. “Even if you don’t have a loved one buried there, it’s kind of a neat place.” More than 130,000 veterans are buried on the stately property, making it an essential part of Central Florida’s military history.
     

    The Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, along the Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway and in the Withlacoochee State Forest, is the final resting place for more than 130,000 veterans and their dependents.

    The Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell, along the Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway and in the Withlacoochee State Forest, is the final resting place for more than 130,000 veterans and their dependents.

    - Brad McClenny for VISIT FLORIDA

    The 80-acre Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, a stop along the Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway, is the place of the battle that started the Second Seminole War.

    The 80-acre Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, a stop along the Scenic Sumter Heritage Byway, is the place of the battle that started the Second Seminole War.

    - Brad McClenny for VISIT FLORIDA


    Then there’s Dade Battlefield Historic State Park. You can almost imagine the opening skirmish of the Second Seminole War, which interpreters reenact there each January. The park’s ancient live oaks and pine flatwoods make it easy to picture the original battle taking place in 1835.

    In fact, much of the area is a nature lover’s paradise. Bike along the Van Fleet Trail or paddle the Withlacoochee River, and don’t be surprised if you spot a great blue heron or kingfisher.

    Speaking of fishers, be sure to stop by Catfish Johnny’s, a homey eatery serving up frog legs, crab legs, grouper and other Florida staples.

    Photos by Brad McClenny for VISIT FLORIDA

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