By Kevin Mims
Tallahassee is known as the center of Florida’s government and the home of major higher learning institutions, but it also happens to perfectly situated within driving distance of many of north Florida’s outdoor, cultural, and family-friendly destinations.
The Capital City is a perfect jumping-off point for even more to see, do and experience nearby, including clear springs, lovely parks, a historic blues club, caverns and a wildlife refuge.
Here are 10 must-see day trip spots from Tallahassee:
Wakulla Springs State Park, 16 miles
Riverboat rides are a time-honored tradition at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. In the ranger-led tour that lasts just under an hour, visitors can take in the scenic Wakulla River, home to alligators, manatees, and all manner of other wildlife, and learn about its history. Splash in the spring, explore nine miles of hiking trails, have a picnic, or even scuba dive while you’re there. And no stop at Wakulla Springs would be complete without seeing the historic Lodge at Wakulla Springs, which includes the Edward Ball Dining Room, plus an authentic soda fountain with a massive marble counter that’s said to be the largest ever built.
Bradfordville Blues Club, 12 miles
Just north of Tallahassee, off the beaten path and down a dirt road is a hidden gem that has been graced by many blues greats over the years. With a middle-of-nowhere feel, the Bradfordville Blues Club’s plain concrete block construction is flanked by Spanish moss-covered oak trees, where both musicians and patrons gather around a bonfire throughout the night. Bring your appetite: The fried catfish and mullet cooked here is legendary. If you’re a fan of the blues – or just like a good time with live music – you can’t miss this old-time juke joint.
Florida Caverns State Park, 70 miles
Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, northwest of Tallahassee, is the only Florida State Park that offers public tours of dry caves. Here, visitors can see stunning geological formations thousands of years old. The tours last between 45 minutes and an hour start with a climb down 33 steps into the cave, which is six-tenths of a mile long and 50 feet deep at its deepest. The cave has low lighting that allows guests to view the beauty of the cave with minimal intrusion on the light-sensitive ecosystems within.
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, 25 miles
Spanning 80,000 acres across three Florida Counties, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge is an important habitat for migratory birds and a destination that birders and nature lovers won’t want to miss. The refuge’s visitor center is just 25 miles south of Tallahassee, and the adjacent Nature’s Classroom hosts an array of educational programs for the public. A visit to St. Marks wouldn’t be complete without seeing historic St. Mark’s Lighthouse and taking a tour of the keeper’s house.
Madison Blue Springs State Park, 66 miles
One of Florida’s most stunning Florida springs can be found at Madison Blue Springs State Park in Lee, Fla. The cool, clear first-magnitude spring is 25 feet deep and 82 feet wide with a shallow spring run that gushes into the Withlacoochee River. It’s a popular swimming spot for families as well as a cave-diving destination. The elevated woods that surround the spring offer a nice vantage point from which to view the dazzling blue spring. Swim, paddle the river, fish, or all of the above while you’re there — it’s up to you.
Stephen Foster State Park, 100 miles
Whether you go to canoe the iconic river, listen to the 97-bell carillon, hike or bike the trails, or visit the craft square and museum, Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs makes for an ideal Tallahassee day trip. Water levels allow for canoeing and kayaking about six months of the year, and the park is a typical starting point for paddlers on the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. Various special events take place at the park throughout the year, including holiday lights displays, concerts, antique tractor shows, and the Florida Folk Festival, which takes place the last weekend in May.
Historic Quincy, 26 miles
Just a short drive from Tallahassee, Quincy is a small town that’s big on art and history. The Quincy Historic District is filled with historic buildings, for which there is a walking tour audio app that guides visitors along a route that covers 71 sites over 36 blocks and teaches all about the town’s past. The Quincy arts scene includes the Gadsden Arts Center & Museum, Quincy Music Theater, and Dean Mitchell’s Marie Brooks Gallery.
Torreya State Park, 50 miles
Stunning views of the Apalachicola River, rare species, an abundance of birds and wildlife, and hiking trails await visitors at Torreya State Park, named for the tree that grows along the bluff and ravines along the Apalachicola River and nowhere else in the world. A small boat ramp provides access to the river, and daily tours allow visitors to walk through an 1840s plantation home. Torreya State Park is also one of the best places to see fall foliage in Florida.
Apalachicola National Forest, 8 miles
Southwest of Tallahassee lies the largest national forest in Florida: the Apalachicola National Forest, which spans more than half a million acres. Within the forest, the Silver Lake Recreation Area, just south of Tallahassee, is a perfect family-friendly spot for a laid-back day of fishing, picnicking, canoeing the lake, and swimming off the white-sand beach. There’s also a short, one-mile interpretive trail. A longer drive of about an hour will get you to Camel Lake Recreation Area, which has picnic tables and a 1.2-mile loop trail around the lake for another easy, family-friendly hike. Make sure your road trip includes a drive along the Apalachee Savannahs Scenic Byway, which starts south of Bristol near Camel Lake and ends south of Fort Gadsden Historic Site.
St. George Island, 75 miles
One of the top beach destinations in the country, St. George Island offers mile after mile of unspoiled coastline and some of the most pristine beach views in the state. Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park has nine miles of beaches, as well as picnic areas and hiking trails, and is an excellent spot for birding, beachcombing, and stargazing. The island is also an important nesting area for sea turtles and shore birds. Fishing can be done by boat or from shore, and common species here include sea trout, redfish, flounder, and whiting.
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