Some of the most challenging off-road bicycling trails in Florida can be found at Alafia River State Park. Located on what was once a phosphate mining site, the unique topography of the reclaimed land offers some of Florida's most radical elevation changes. Alafia State Park is home to 17 miles of bike trails, ranging from beginner to advanced. Alafia also offers equestrians and hikers the opportunity to explore mixed hardwood forests, pine flatwoods and rolling hills with 20 miles of hiking and horse trails. The abundance of wildlife found along Alafia's trails will delight any bird-watcher or nature enthusiast. The south prong of the Alafia River and the lakes scattered throughout the park provide ample opportunities for canoeing and fishing. The 6,260 acre park also offers picnic pavilions, a playground, horseshoe pit and volleyball court. For overnight stays, the park has a full-facility campground for both primitive and RV camping, as well as equestrian friendly campsites.
The beautiful ornamental gardens are located on a portion of the park's 1,076 upland acres. The gardens were first planted in 1923 by Alfred B. and Louise Maclay after purchasing the property for their winter home. A masterpiece of floral architecture, the gardens feature a picturesque brick walkway, a secret garden, a reflection pool, a walled garden and hundreds of azalea and camellia plants. Lake Hall offers swimming and fishing, along with non-motorized boating for canoers and kayakers. Pavilions and grills along the shore provide a perfect setting for picnicking. Two short nature trails through the woods overlooking the lake will enthrall walking enthusiasts, while hikers, bicyclists and equestrians can enjoy five miles of multi-use trails surrounding Lake Overstreet which adjoins the gardens. High blooming season is from January 1-April 30, peaking in mid-to-late March.
Located along the beautiful Lake Wales Ridge, Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park, covers more than 8,000 acres of scrub, sandhill and flatwoods land, in addition to 65 acres of submerged land. The preserve offers six miles of hiking trails, seven miles of equestrian trails, a covered pavilion, fishing and excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. The preserve is home to numerous rare plants, such as scrub morning glory, scrub plum, pygmy fringe tree and cutthroat grass and several protected animal species including Florida scrub-jays, bald eagles, gopher tortoises and Florida scrub lizards. When you visit the preserve make sure you are prepared for the rugged conditions typical of the scrub habitat. Bring plenty of water and be prepared for the challenging trails at the park. Enjoy your visit and bring back memories of one of the rarer habitats in Florida.
An easy drive from Jacksonville, the park protects over 200 acres of unspoiled wilderness along the southern tip of Amelia Island. Beautiful beaches, salt marshes and coastal maritime forests provide visitors a glimpse of the original Florida. Amelia Island State Park is one of the few locations on the east coast that offers horseback riding on the beach and riding tours along the shoreline. Fishermen can surf fish along the shoreline or they can wet their lines from the mile-long George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier which spans Nassau Sound. Visitors can stroll along the beach, look for shells or watch the wildlife. For horseback tour reservations, contact Kelly Seahorse Ranch at (904) 491-5166. Tours are given four times daily.
Anastasia State Park includes more than 1,600 acres featuring four miles of pristine beach, a tidal salt marsh, and a maritime and upland hammock. There is also an archaeological site where coquina rock was mined to create the nearby fortress, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument.
Enjoy the blue-green Gulf waters that lap gently along the sandy beaches of the four islands that make up Anclote Key Preserve State Park - Anclote Key, North Anclote Bar, South Anclote Bar and Three Rooker Island. Located three miles off the coast of Tarpon Springs, Anclote Key Preserve State Park is accessible only by private boat or ferry service. The 403-acre park is home to at least 43 species of birds, including the American oystercatcher, bald eagle and piping plover. A picturesque 1887 lighthouse stands as a sentinel on the southern end of the island. Visitors can swim and sunbathe at the beach, fire up a grill and enjoy a picnic, or pitch a tent and enjoy a night of primitive camping under the stars. There are no provisions offered on the island, so be prepared to bring your own water and supplies. Kayak guided ecotours of the island are provided by Arts Aquatic Adventures (727)686-5968 - artsaquaticadventures.com Ferry service to the island is offered by Sun Line Cruises (727) 944-4468 and Sponge-O-Rama (727) 943-2164. These ferries both leave from Tarpon Springs' historic Sponge Docks. Ferry services do not drop visitors off for overnight camping. You must have your own transportation to stay overnight. Dogs are allowed only on North Anclote Bar.
Avalon has more than a mile of increasingly rare undeveloped beachfront. The park provides habitat for many species of wildlife. Threatened and endangered sea turtles such as the loggerhead, Atlantic green and leatherback nest on the beach during the spring and summer. Dune crossovers protect the fragile dune ecosystem. The park is ideal for swimmers, snorkelers, fishermen and sunbathers for beach recreation. Swimmers and snorkelers are advised to be cautious of underwater obstacles left behind by amphibious warfare exercises during World War II. Visitors can enjoy a meal at sheltered picnic tables overlooking the beach.
Henry Flagler's railroad to Key West turned the remote island of Bahia Honda Key into a tropical destination. Today, the island is home to one of Florida's southernmost state parks, known for beautiful beaches, magnificent sunsets and excellent snorkeling. Visitors can picnic on the beach and take a swim or relax and enjoy the balmy sea breezes that caress the shores year-round. Anglers can fish from shore or bring a boat and launch at the boat ramp. Kayaks and snorkeling gear can be rented. Boat trips to the reef for a snorkeling excursion are available. Bahia Honda is an excellent place to see wading birds and shorebirds. The nature center introduces nature lovers to the island's plants and animals. Full-facility campsites and vacation cabins are available.
Some of the most picturesque scenic areas along north Florida's Gulf Coast are found within the park which supports 4,065 upland acres. Located on Alligator Point, where Ochlockonee Bay meets Apalachee Bay, Bald Point offers a multitude of land and water activities. Coastal marshes, pine flatwoods, and oak thickets foster a diversity of biological communities that make the park a popular destination for birding and wildlife viewing. Each fall, bald eagles and other migrating raptors, along with monarch butterflies, are commonly seen heading south for the winter. Bald Point offers access to two Apalachee Bay beaches for swimming, sunbathing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and windsurfing. Facilities include a fishing dock and picnic pavilions.
Sitting on the northern shoreline of its namesake, Big Lagoon State Park's 655 upland acres separate the mainland from Perdido Key and the Gulf of Mexico. Natural communities, ranging from saltwater marshes to pine flatwoods, attract a wide variety of birds, especially during the spring and fall migrations, while the beaches, shallow bays, nature trails and open woodlands offer splendid opportunities for nature study. The park also beckons visitors to camp, swim, fish, boat, canoe and hike. Crabbing in the shallow waters of Big Lagoon is a popular activity as well. The West Beach picnic area, shaded by pines and oaks, is just the place to enjoy a relaxing meal.
Big Shoals State Park features the largest whitewater rapids in Florida. Limestone bluffs, towering 80 feet above the banks of the Suwannee River, afford outstanding vistas not found anywhere else in Florida. When the water level on the Suwannee River is between 59 and 61 feet above mean sea level, the Big Shoals rapids earn a Class III Whitewater classification, attracting thrill-seeking canoe and kayak enthusiasts. Over 28 miles of wooded trails provide opportunities for hiking, biking, horseback riding and wildlife viewing. Visitors who wish to view the Big Shoals rapids should park at the Big Shoals parking area and hike approximately 1 mile on the Big Shoals hiking trail (Yellow Blaze trail). There is no vehicle access to either the Big Shoals or Little Shoals rapids. The best way to access Little Shoals rapids is the enter the park through the Little Shoals entrance, drive down road 1 and turn right on road 6. Drive to the end of road 6 where you will park your vehicle and hike approximately 1/2 mile down the Mossy Ravine trail (Blue Blaze trail) until you see the sign for Little Shoals. The Woodpecker Trail, a 3.4-mile long multipurpose paved trail, connects the Little Shoals and Big Shoals entrances to the park. The river offers excellent opportunities for freshwater fishing. A picnic pavilion that seats up to 40 people is available at the Little Shoals entrance.
Located on one of Northeast Florida's unique sea islands, Big Talbot Island State Park is primarily a natural preserve providing a premier location for nature study, bird-watching, and photography. Explore the diverse island habitats by hiking Blackrock Trail to the shoreline, Big Pine Trail to the marsh or Old Kings Highway and Jones Cut through the maritime forest.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is the home of a historic lighthouse built in 1825 and reconstructed in 1846, and is the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County. Visitors come to the park to sunbathe, swim and picnic on more than one mile of sandy Atlantic beachfront, currently ranked #10 on the list of "Top 10 Beaches in America" by Dr. Stephen Leatherman, aka 'Dr. Beach.' Biking and kayaking are popular activities. Anglers can throw in their lines from the seawall along Biscayne Bay for some of the best shoreline fishing in the region. Guided tours of the lighthouse and lighthouse keeper´s cottage are given twice daily, Thursdays through Mondays. Two restaurants, Lighthouse Café and Boater's Grill, offer authentic Cuban cuisine, or picnickers can reserve a pavilion and fire up their own grill. Bicycles, beach chairs, and umbrellas can be rented. Overnight boat camping is allowed in No Name Harbor; a primitive campsite is available for organized youth groups.
A favorite destination for canoeists and kayakers, Blackwater River State Park offers opportunities for a variety of outdoor activities. The river is one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in the nation, making this park a popular place for swimming, fishing, camping, and paddling. Shaded campsites are just a short walk from the river and a picnic pavilion overlooks the river. Nature enthusiasts will enjoy strolling along trails through the more than 600 acres of undisturbed natural communities. In 1980 the park was certified as a Registered State Natural Feature for its exceptional illustration of Florida's natural history. One of the largest and oldest Atlantic white cedars stands among the many that line the river and, in 1982, it was recognized as a Florida Champion tree.
Blue Spring is scheduled to close to all water activities in mid November. Starting Thursday, November 10th, we will begin phasing in closures. The swimming area will be closed first, because of the early arrival of manatees. River temperatures have been at or below 68 degrees for several days now, and with high water levels, manatees are using the entire spring run.
Bulow Creek protects nearly 5,600 acres, more than 1,500 of which are submerged lands. The highlight of Bulow Creek is one of the largest remaining stands of southern live oak forest along Florida's east coast. The reigning tree is the Fairchild Oak, one of the largest live oak trees in the South. For more than 400 years it has been a silent witness to human activities along Bulow Creek, including the destruction of the neighboring Bulow Plantation during the Second Seminole War in 1836. Several trails allow hikers to explore the interior of the park, where visitors can see white-tailed deer, barred owls and raccoons. The Bulow Woods Trail, nearly seven miles long, takes hikers to Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park. Visitors can picnic in a shady pavilion or at a table on the lawn within view of the Fairchild Oak.
The 150 acres of Bulow Plantation Ruins stand as a monument to the rise and fall of sugar plantations in East Florida. In 1836, the Second Seminole War swept away the prosperous Bulow Plantation where the Bulow family grew sugar cane, cotton, rice and indigo. Ruins of the former plantation, a sugar mill, a unique spring house, several wells and the crumbling foundations of the plantation house and slave cabins show how volatile the Florida frontier was in the early 19th century. Today, a scenic walking trail leads visitors to the sugar mill ruins, listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. The park has picnic facilities and an interpretive center that tells the plantation's history. A boat ramp provides access for canoes and small powerboats to scenic Bulow Creek, a designated state canoe trail. Anglers can fish from the dock or a boat.
As one of the few completely natural islands along Florida´s Gulf Coast, Caladesi´s white sand beaches were rated America's Best Beach in 2008. Beach lovers can enjoy swimming, sunbathing and beachcombing. Saltwater anglers can cast a line from their boats or surf fish. Nature enthusiasts can spot wildlife while hiking the three mile nature trail through the island´s interior or paddling a three mile kayak trail through the mangroves and bay. Picnic tables and shelters are located near the beach, and picnic pavilions can be reserved for a fee. The park has a marina with electric and water hookups, as well as a snack bar and gift shop. The park is accessible by boat or ferry. Ferry service is provided by the Caladesi Island Ferry (727) 734-1501 and departs from Honeymoon Island State Park.
Camp Helen is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico on three sides, and by Lake Powell, one of the largest coastal dune lakes in Florida. Prehistoric middens and mounds indicate that humans inhabited the area more than 4,000 years ago. From 1945 until 1987 Camp Helen was a company resort for the employees of an Alabama textile mill. Some of those buildings have now been restored. The 180-acre park is for day use only. Activities include swimming, beachcombing, nature study, hiking and both freshwater and saltwater fishing.
With nine miles of beautiful beaches and acres of pine forests, oak-palm hammocks and mangrove swamps, this barrier island park is a Gulf Coast paradise. Cayo Costa is accessible only by private boat or ferry. Visitors may see manatees and pods of dolphins in the waters around the 2,426 acre park, as well as a spectacular assortment of birds. On the island, visitors can swim or snorkel in the surf, enjoy the sun and picnic in the shade. Keep your eyes peeled as you stroll along the beach, especially during the winter months. The nature trails that crisscross the island provide opportunities for hiking and off-road bicycling. Saltwater anglers can fish from their boats or throw a line out into the surf. An amphitheater provides educational programs about the island's ecology and history. For overnight stays, the park offers primitive cabins and tent camping. The ferry, Tropic Star of Pine Island, departs from Jug Creek Marina in Bokeelia and requires reservations.
Picturesque Cedar Key, on Florida's Gulf Coast, was a thriving port city and railroad connection during the 19th century. The museum contains exhibits that depict its colorful history during that era. Part of the collection has sea shells and Indian artifacts collected by Saint Clair Whitman, the founder of the first museum in Cedar Key. Whitman's house is located at the park and has been restored to reflect life in the 1920s. A short nature trail gives visitors the opportunity to see wildlife and birds, as well as native vegetation. Small gray squirrels, doves, mockingbirds, blue jays, woodpeckers and green tree frogs can be seen on the museum grounds and along the walking trail.
Salt marshes on the Gulf of Mexico give way to a succession of swamps, hardwood forests, pine flatwoods and scrub, providing splendid opportunities for nature study and wildlife observation. The scrub is dominated by species such as sand live oak, myrtle oak and Chapman's oak, along with rusty lyonia and saw palmetto. Hikers and off-road bicyclists who want to experience a mosaic of Florida habitats will find it on the miles of trails that wind through the park. The shallow waters and numerous creeks near the salt marshes are ideal for canoeing and kayaking. Rental canoes and kayaks are available in the city of Cedar Key.
Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park is comprised of 42,000 acres and protects 70 miles of shoreline along Charlotte Harbor in Charlotte and Lee Counties. Visitors can take advantage of opportunities to hike, fish, paddle and observe wildlife in the park's many natural communities, including mangrove forests, marshes, scrub habitats and pine flatwoods. Most of the park is shallow water fringed by mangroves, providing amazing opportunities to view wading birds, manatees, dolphins and other wildlife. The park is best accessed by kayak or canoe. Portions of two paddle trail systems wind through the park. Hikers and bird-watchers can access Charlotte Harbor's upland areas at pedestrian walkthroughs available in each section of the park and explore the wildlife found along three marked trails. Visitors can also enjoy the resources provided by the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center (CHEC) located in the park. CHEC is a non-profit group that offers a visitor's center, environmental education programs, interpretive guided hikes and six miles of marked trails. More information can be found at www.checflorida.org. Visitors are welcome to explore other areas of the Preserve, unless posted as closed, but should be aware that these areas are a remote and primitive wilderness. Visitors should take a compass, a map and sufficient water for their trip. No restrooms or drinking water are available.
Experience the natural beauty and wildlife of the Everglades, as well as a forest of tropical trees at Collier-Seminole State Park. The 7,271-acre park lies partly within the great mangrove swamp of southern Florida, one of the largest mangrove swamps in the world. Collier-Seminole also contains one of the three original stands of the rare royal palm in Florida. The park is the site of a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, the last existing Bay City Walking Dredge. Built in 1924, it was used to build the Tamiami Trail Highway (U.S. 41) through the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp, linking Tampa and Miami and opening southwest Florida to travelers. Visitors to Collier-Seminole have the opportunity to explore the park's wilderness in many ways, including hiking, bicycling or canoeing. Collier-Seminole provides canoe rentals, as well as a boat ramp with access to the Blackwater River, where anglers can fish for both saltwater and freshwater fishing. Collier-Seminole offers full-facility, primitive and youth camping. The picnic areas have pavilions and grills for use on a first-come, first-served basis.
Colt Creek was purchased from the Overstreet Family in May of 2006. This 5,067 acre park nestled within the Green Swamp Wilderness Area and named after one of the tributaries that flows through the property was opened to the public on January 20, 2007. For over 60 years this property was managed as a cattle ranch by the Overstreet family. Past activities on the land included lime rock mining, timber harvesting, citrus production and turpentining. Comprised mainly of pine flatwoods, cypress domes and open pasture land, this piece of pristine wilderness is home to many animal species including the American Bald Eagle, Sherman's Fox Squirrel, gopher tortoise, white-tailed deer, wild turkey and bobcat. The park is currently equipped with a lime rock entrance road, grass parking area, wheelchair accessible restroom, informational kiosk, picnic pavilion and several picnic tables and grills. Visitors are invited to fish, picnic and hike or ride their horses on over 12 miles of trails and enjoy nature study at its finest.