By Kara Franker
Famous for being one of Florida's eco-tourism destinations, the Southwest Gulf Coast is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and beach bums. That's why there are so many outdoor activities during your Charlotte Harbor travels.
Located halfway between Tampa and Naples, Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands are a charming collection of nine coastal communities surrounding the state’s second largest harbor.
Here's a list of fun, eco-friendly ways to explore Charlotte Harbor outdoors.
1. Embark on a Sea Life Wading Excursion
Take a walk on the wet and wild side and take part in a free Seagrass Adventure Estuary Wading Trip. After learning about the eco-system, you'll take a guided tour in Lemon Bay. More info: checflorida.org.
2. Take a Yoga Stand-Up Paddleboarding Class
Open to all ages and activity levels, Hooked on SUP provides YOLO paddle board rentals and instruction in Englewood, Boca Grande and surrounding areas. You can even rent a GoPro camera to video your paddle. Their paddle board “Yoga on Water” classes provide both meditation and a core workout experience. There are special events for groups, including full moon excursions.
3. Head Out on a Swamp Tour
Explore the swamp with Babcock Wilderness Adventures. Ninety-minute buggy tours are available at Babcock Ranch and Telegraph Cypress Swamp. Expert guides share tales of local history and info on local flora and fauna. You might even see an alligator or two!
4. Hang out with Exotic Wildlife
Octagon Wildlife Sanctuary provides a healthy living and recovery environment for abandoned and abused exotic wildlife like lions and tigers, bears, panthers, bobcats, primates, reptiles and more. During self-guided tours at this not-for-profit outdoor sanctuary, you'll meet the animals as well as those who love and care for them.
5. Fish at the Tarpon Capital of the World
One of the world’s top sport-fishing destinations, Charlotte Harbor & the Gulf Islands offers clean waters and dozens of sport fish. Anglers definitely rate this as one of the top outdoor activities in Charlotte Harbor. Captain Ralph Allen, charter captain and owner of King Fisher Fleet, says that one could “fish a different way, for different fish, and in a different place every week and not repeat yourself in six months.” Enjoy the adrenaline rush of deep sea charter fishing in the Gulf or back bay fishing in the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve, teeming with snook, mackerel, redfish, sea trout, yellowtail, cobia, snapper, grouper and kingfish.
6. Go for a Bike Adventure on Punta Gorda
A volunteer organization called TEAM Punta Gorda offers a free bike loaner program. There's an 18-mile bicycle and pedestrian trail system called Punta Gorda Pathways was recently completed, connecting the city’s parks, neighborhoods and commercial areas. There are four bicycle routes around the city, with the longest route being 31 miles.
7. Visit the Peace River Wildlife Center
An animal rehabilitation program, Peace River Wildlife Center takes care of orphaned, displaced, and injured native wildlife species. The center admits around 2,000 “patients” annually and most are released to their natural habitats once healed. Guided tours are offered regularly through the day or a self-guided tour brochure is available.
8. Discover a Secluded Beach
Explore the 28 miles of gorgeous beaches along five barrier islands around Charlotte Harbor, plus two state parks. Swim in the surf and comb the beach for shells. Check out Stump Pass Beach State Park and search for fossilized shark’s teeth. Or visit Don Pedro Island State Park, accessible only by private boat, passenger ferry or a guided kayak tour.
For more information about outdoor activities during Charlotte Harbor travels and other ways to experience the area, check out the Charlotte Harbor Visitor & Convention Bureau's website: CharlotteHarborTravel.com.
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