By Kevin Mims
When you think of places like Miami, Jacksonville or Orlando, an outdoorsy spot right in town probably isn't the first thing to come to mind. Good news -- many of Florida's biggest cities also have great places to play or enjoy a little bit of nature. Here are a few quick getaways from the city life that you should check out:
Florida's largest urban park is smack dab in the middle of town, and it's fantastic. At Oleta River State Park, you can picnic, paddle (try Blue Moon Outfitters), hike, bike, geocache – whatever you want. In fact, this is a must-visit park for mountain biking. The trails here are some of the best in the state, with climbs and descents, bridges and rugged terrain. There are trails for all level of riders, all the way up to the pros.
Need a nature fix? Tree Hill Nature Center is the perfect place for outdoor lovers of all ages. There are great trails and boardwalks passing through swamp and mixed hardwood hammock habitats. The center also has different types of animals on exhibit (snakes, turtles, reptiles, etc.), plus the property is a good birding location.
There's no shortage of fun stuff to do in Orlando. In fact, Orlando is pretty much surrounded on all sides by large tracts of public lands that are just a short drive from town. In case you want to stay in town, head over to Harry P. Leu Gardens and wander through 50 acres of lush landscape. No matter the season, there's always something in bloom, and the gardens hosts several classes and workshops throughout the year.
When visiting Florida's capital city, a stop at Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park is a must. While the gardens are incredible, the park offers much more. Mountain biking, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, birding or just a picnic by Lake Overstreet are all enjoyable. To see the gardens in full bloom, stop in around mid-March.
Tampa / St. Petersburg
If you want to get an idea of the history of Tampa Bay, Weedon Island Preserve is where you want to be. This is the go-to spot for outdoor recreation, cultural and natural study. The Preserve has an education center (lots of annual events), boardwalks, nature trails, a fishing pier and lots more. No kayak? No problem. Rent one at the preserve and explore the South Paddling Trail, a 4-mile loop.
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