By Kevin and Amanda Mims
Situated in North Florida, Monticello is a welcome respite for anyone who dreams of truly getting away from it all. As the county seat of Jefferson County —the only county in Florida without a single traffic light —this little town is big on history with a thriving downtown area and surrounded by protected natural areas with some of the most pristine waterways in the state.
What’s more, Monticello has been dubbed “the South’s most haunted small town,” and you can take a ghost tour while you’re here to learn about the eerie history of the area.
This itinerary for a family-friendly getaway allows for two days of adventures that include exploring the walkable downtown, taking a thrilling airboat ride on the Wacissa River, and having up-close encounters with all kinds of animals.
Your first day starts with a visit to North Florida Wildlife Center in Lamont, about 10 minutes from Monticello, which offers guided tours and animal encounters. The non-profit center has dozens of resident animal species, including lemurs, fruit bats, and kangaroos, in addition to the many naturally-occurring animals that live there, such as native Florida reptiles, birds, and mammals.
Next, head to your chosen lunch spot before moving on to your second adventure of the day: an airboat tour on the Wacissa River with 5 Rivers Adventures, about 20 minutes from Monticello. During this exciting, one-hour airboat ride, you’ll see the unspoiled, spring-fed river and get a close-up look at its wildlife, which includes alligators, blue herons, and bald eagles.
On your second day, head to Aunt Louise’s Farm in Monticello, where kids and adults alike will enjoy visiting with the many animals there, including goats, Highland cows, zebus, alpacas, horses, pigs, peacocks, turkeys, and quail.
For the remainder of your stay, visit the shops and restaurants of downtown Monticello, explore the historic district, the state’s third-oldest, see the 19th century Monticello Opera House, and take a ghost tour.
If you decide to extend your trip, you can paddle the river and spend time hiking, biking, and birding in the area.
This itinerary takes two days and one night to complete, but more activities can be included for a longer stay.
Distance from Population Centers
Walking/Driving Distance Between Things to Do
Excursions on this itinerary are all less than 20 miles from Monticello. Points of interest in downtown Monticello are within easy walking distance of each other.
What to Bring
Wear casual, comfortable clothes that are suitable for the weather and activity. For outdoor and water activities, bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, a swimsuit for the hotel pool or a dip in the springs, and snorkeling gear.
What to Expect
This is a relaxing, family-friendly getaway that will allow you to spend much of your time outdoors and see all kinds of animals in a variety of settings. In downtown Monticello, walking is encouraged and points of interest are within three city blocks. There is plenty of parking downtown in the county parking lot behind Rev Cafe.
Visitors should be able to walk moderate distances, stand for extended periods of time, and get into and out of an airboat.
Accessibility Enhancements/Inclusion Highlights
Most shops and restaurants are ADA-accessible.
Jefferson County is full of unspoiled natural places and pristine waterways, making it a prime destination for outdoor recreation. An airboat ride along the Wacissa River is an exciting way to experience the river’s unspoiled beauty. Enjoy the easy pace of a town with no traffic lights and friendly people.
Lodging and Accommodations
Monticello has more than 25 restaurants, where you’ll find everything from fresh and trendy cafe offerings to Southern-style comfort-food favorites. For breakfast, try Jackie's Brickhouse Eatery or CowHaus Coffee Company. For lunch and dinner, head to Johnston’s Southern Style Restaurant, Rancho Grande Mexican Restaurant, Rev Cafe, or The Porch on the Green. For something sweet, stop in at The Arctic Scoop or Tupelo’s Bakery & Cafe.
When to Visit and Seasonal Differences
Monticello is an enjoyable destination all year long, but temperatures and humidity levels are highest in summertime. Rain and thunderstorms are more frequent in summer, especially in the afternoons.
The Aucilla Research Institute in Monticello has information online about archeological discoveries and research in this region. Aunt Louise’s Farm has seasonal events throughout the year, which are listed on the website.
Pets aren’t allowed at Aunt Louise’s Farm.
When planning your trip, call ahead to inquire about business hours. Hours and days vary at Aunt Louise’s farm throughout the year. North Florida Wildlife Center is closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
How to Book
To book an airboat tour, contact 5 Rivers Adventures. Tickets for Aunt Louise’s Farm can be purchased online. Online reservations are strongly recommended for guided tours at the North Florida Wildlife Center as walk-ins can’t be guaranteed a tour.