When you plan a vacation around one of Florida's eco tours and destinations, you get an unforgettable glimpse of the preserved beauty of Florida -- from the swamps of the Everglades to the protected sand dunes in the Northwest's beaches.
Florida – it’s one of the most ecologically and culturally diverse places on the planet. While the Sunshine State is known around the globe for vacations centered around theme parks and shopping experiences, it’s time to see the real Florida and learn about our unique history and natural lands through one of these self-guided eco tours in Florida.
Visit these Florida towns and the destinations that are within easy driving distance of them. Travel lightly and consciously, and discover the truly sublime beauty of natural Florida.
Situated between Pensacola and Destin, Navarre is an excellent location to explore Northwest Florida’s powder-white sand coastline. The Gulf Islands National Seashore boasts eight miles of undeveloped beaches, where four species of sea turtles come ashore to nest. > To the east, take time to visit Walton County’s coastal dune lakes – you won’t find a larger concentration of these freshwater marvels anywhere else in the world. To the north, paddle the Blackwater River near Milton, the “Canoe Capitol of Florida,” or hike the Florida National Scenic Trail in the Blackwater River State Forest.
Pre-Columbian Native American mounds
, middens and a plaza area are all at Crystal River Archaeological State Park. Looking for manatees? Head to King’s Bay and the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, which was created to protect the endangered West Indian Manatee. Choose from several guided boat and kayak tours for a complete taste of Florida’s Nature Coast, or traverse up to 40 miles of some of Central Florida’s best trails in a rolling scrub habitat. Walk on the Citrus Hiking Trail in the Withlacoochee State Forest outside Inverness and look for the rare red-cockaded woodpecker. www.discovercrystalriverfl.com
With miles of undeveloped coastline, Flagler Beach is quickly becoming a favorite destination for nature lovers looking to spend some time on Florida’s east coast.
Traveling north on A1A through North Peninsula State Park, you’ll pass through prime Florida scrub-jay habitat, and the Fairchild Oak, one of the largest live oaks in the south, is a must-see at Bulow Creek State Park. At nearby Graham Swamp Conservation Area, the headwaters of Bulow Creek are protected on this 3,000-acre property that is a haven for deer, fox and many species of wading birds. visitflagler.org
A great jumping-off point for both inland and coastal exploration, Punta Gorda is a spectacular Southwest Florida town that’s full of history and old Florida charm. It’s a gateway to an astonishing amount of preserved land – over 80 percent of the Charlotte Harbor coastline is protected – and the 17th largest estuary in the nation. Almost 200 miles of established blueway trails provide paddlers a great opportunity for birding and wildlife viewing.
Away from the coastline, guided Florida eco tours can be found at Babcock Ranch. On nearby Pine Island, learn about the Calusa Indians at the Randell Research Center. www.charlotteharbortravel.com
, (800) 652-6090
The Everglades is one of the most popular destinations for self-guided eco tours in Florida. Set up your base camp for exploring the “River of Grass” in Everglades City, the western gateway for Everglades National Park. Paddle the 99-mile Wilderness Waterway and camp in the Ten Thousand Islands area, or choose from several guided tours in the area. Visit the historic Rod and Gun Club and the Smallwood Store on Chokoloskee Island.
Along U.S. Highway 41 (Tamiami Trail), stop at the Big Cypress Museum, Oasis Visitor Center, and the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk. www.paradisecoast.com
, (800) 688-3600
St. Vincent Island
You’ll find St. Vincent Island snuggled in the Gulf of Mexico on Florida’s Forgotten Coast in Northwest Florida. This National Wildlife Refuge is a 12,300-acre undeveloped barrier island, a beautiful, pristine place that offers numerous trails, nine miles of beaches, and fabulous birding and wildlife viewing. The refuge is home to San Bar deer, an exotic elk, as well as nesting shorebirds that include snowy plovers.
The island is also a successful "Island Propagation Site" for the Red Wolf Recovery program.
You can reach the island aboard the St. Vincent Island Shuttle that departs year around from Indian Pass. www.stvincentfriends.com