Wild Weekend Escapes
A weekend getaway: We all need one on occasion. Some are just fine with kicking back in a chair at the beach, but for others – well, something a little different is needed. If bikes, fins and backpacks are standard items in your vehicle, you’ll dig these two-day escapes at some of the best outdoor recreation spots in the Sunshine State.
Paddleboard Walton County’s Coastal Dune Lakes
Stand-up paddleboarding, or SUP for short, is all the rage. You’ll find incredible places to paddleboard all over the state, but the epicenter for the movement is in northwest Florida’s Walton County. Located along Scenic Highway 30-A, these coastal dune lakes are ultra-rare, found only in a handful of places on the planet. Standing up on a paddleboard, you’ll get a different perspective on the lakes (and a workout, too). At Western Lake, meet up with Walco Eco Tours or the crew from YOLO Board for SUP instruction, and get a first-hand look at this globally important ecosystem.
Escape to White Springs
White Springs – it’s the kind of town that outdoorsy folks dream about. Pack all of your gear for this weekend getaway and get ready to spend some quality time in one of Florida’s premier hiking, biking and paddling destinations. Set up basecamp at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park and hike a rugged section of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Paddle the waters of the legendary Suwannee River Wilderness Trail as it winds its way to the Gulf of Mexico. Rentals and shuttles are available in town, in case you want to spend a few days on the river. Miles of primo singletrack trails wind through the scenic Suwannee River Valley, and don’t miss a ride or walk out to Big Shoals State Park, a powerful section of whitewater that can reach a Class III rating.
Tube a Spring-Fed River
Summer isn’t complete without a lazy float down one of Florida’s spring-fed rivers. Two rivers in particular, the Ichetucknee and the Rainbow, have stood out as favorites for beating the summer heat for generations of Floridians and visitors. Camp at Rainbow Springs State Park in Dunnellon and enjoy a full-service trip on the Rainbow River that lasts about two hours. Just show up in your bathing suit. Tube rentals are included, and a shuttle service takes you upstream for two hours of floating fun. In Fort White, several campgrounds and tube vendors are located near Ichetucknee Springs State Park, where you can choose from several different trips during the summer tubing season. When you go, make sure to arrive early – both parks will limit access at full capacity.
Get Really Wild
When you really want to get off the grid for a while, head down to the Everglades. Take a few days and explore a side of Florida that’s rarely seen as you traverse the southernmost section of the Florida National Scenic Trail through the Big Cypress National Preserve. This is truly an immersive experience – year-round wading is to be expected, but things are much drier between January and April. As far as the scenery goes, it’s intoxicating. You’ll pass sections lined by dwarf cypress trees covered with bromeliads, over pine islands and through wide-open prairies. Pick up a copy of the official Florida Trail Association Big Cypress section maps before heading into the backcountry.
Snorkel in Paradise
Say it with me – The Florida Keys. Feel that? Just the mention of the place brings the heart rate down a little. Take things down a few more notches by heading to Key Largo and pitching a tent at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park’s full-facility campground. Just off the shore of Cannon Beach, you can snorkel over several artifacts from a Spanish shipwreck and see marine life in the lagoon. Several snorkeling trips venture offshore to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, where some of the world’s best diving and snorkeling can be found. Bring your underwater camera to capture schools of colorful parrotfish, damselfish and snapper, just a few of the species commonly seen on the reef. Don’t want to get wet? Take a tour to the reef aboard the Spirit of Pennekamp, a glass-bottom boat that can transport up to 130 passengers.