Places to Explore Florida's Great Outdoors
I still miss the mountains and really wished we lived closer to trails. Despite this, there are some really special outdoor activities to enjoy in the Sunshine State.
In this blog post, I uncover the best(or my favorite) of Florida's amazing wilderness with my favorite adventure activities — perfect for your next family vacation, friends getaway, fun-date trip, or just a long day away from home. Pack your outdoor gear and get ready for adventure!
Snorkeling at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Mile Marker 102.5 Overseas Highway
Key Largo, FL 3303
By far, one of my favorite places in the state of Florida. John Pennekamp is a beautiful state park off the coast of Key Largo, and it's the first undersea park in the U.S.A. It encompasses about 70 nautical square miles and the park offers both above and below water experiences. The park's coral reefs and its marine life is the park's main attraction, by far. One of my favorite plans is to book the 4-hour snorkeling tour for $38.95. They also offer a 2-hour tour, but you don't get to stop at many areas on the reef. The instructors are super friendly, knowledgeable, and the tour, in general, is such a blast. One of the stops of the tour is the Christ of the Abyss statue, which sits in about 25 feet of water. (This is just one of three Christ of the Abyss underwater statues; the others reside in Italy and Grenada.)/
First photo credit: aliceinw0nder
Hiking in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness at Ocala National Forest
The 14,283-acre Juniper Prairie Wilderness is perhaps the most popular of the four wilderness areas in the Ocala National Forest. It is a roadless attraction that appeals to hikers as well as kayak and canoe fans who like the shallow lakes. Checking in at a district office is a good idea, to inform someone of your travel plans and get the latest info on weather conditions. It's recommended that overnight visitors check in with the office staff, who can advise visitors about campfire bans which are very common during times of high fire danger.
Visit one of the state's Botanical Gardens
When Ponce de Leon stumbled upon what would eventually become the Sunshine State, he dubbed the peninsula La Florida, meaning “land of the flowers.” The name is fitting, as Florida is home to a large list of beautiful botanical gardens throughout the state and especially in the South Florida area. If you’re looking for a great outdoor activity that is both unique and relaxing, head over to Mounts Botanical Garden, The Kampong, Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden, or the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens. Each of these botanical gardens boasts acres of lush, expansive plant and animal life and are the perfect places to spend a relaxing Florida afternoon.
Canouing at Rainbow Springs
19158 SW 81st Place Road
Rainbow Springs is Florida's fourth largest spring, and probably my favorite. Rainbow River is a gorgeous, crystal clear, 73-degree, 5.7 miles long river that merges with the Withlacoochee River in Dunnellon, Florida. It’s also a designated National Natural Landmark, aquatic preserve, and Outstanding Florida Waterway. Rainbow Springs feels like an untouched piece of history that you just won’t find anywhere else. Rainbow Springs is the head of Rainbow River, it’s also the swimming hole, and place where you can rent kayaks and canoes for the day. I highly reccomend renting the canoes and making your way all the way down Rainbow River, it is SO beautiful.
Canoe or kayak in Oleta River State Park
3400 NE 163rd St.
North Miami Beach, FL
Oleta River State Park, overlooking Biscayne Bay, is so much fun to explore. This spot offers a ton of great outdoor activities, but riding through the scenic mangrove trails and into the waters of North Biscayne Bay is an unforgettable experience. On your scenic ride, you'll catch a glimpse of wildlife, but try not to freak out if you accidentally bump into a mangrove and one of those creepy crabs falls into your kayak. Learn more at floridastateparks.org/park/Oleta-River. Admission costs $6 per vehicle (two to eight people) and $4 for a single-occupant vehicle or motorcycle. Visit bgoletariveroutdoor.com for rental prices.
Explore Everglades National Park
40001 State Road 9336
The beauty and wildlife that the Everglades has never ceased to amaze me. From riding through the swamps on an airboat to bike riding through Shark Valley, and camping, Everglades National Park is the ultimate stop for all outdoor enthusiasts. Just don't forget the bug spray. Cars aren't allowed beyond the visitor center at the Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park. My favorite activity is renting or bringing our bikes, and ride the 15-mile loop in Shark Valley and making our way up to the 65-foot observation tower, the views are pretty amazing.
Camping at Highland Hammocks State Park
5931 Hammock Rd
Sebring on its own isn't really a majestic town, but i do love this state park because it is so unique and It is one of Florida's oldest parks. For a fascinating look at various areas, the park offers nine separate nature trails, including the popular catwalk through a cypress swamp. Again, don't forget the bug spray! I love seeing the ancient hammock forests! This place is highly worth visiting, especially during the wet season, where you can walk on the boardwalk, surrounded by cypress swamps. You can also glimpse Florida wildlife if you are quiet on the trails.
As appealing as Florida's sandy coastline may be, there's more to the state than the view from a beach towel. From the coral reefs dotting the turquoise waters offshore to the waving saw grass plains of its swampy interior, the Sunshine State offers a bounty of natural beauty to explore. These adventures are easy day trips from major urban base camps, yet still off the well-worn tourist path. Have you tried any of these? Which one is your favorite?