St. Sebastian River Preserve State Park located at 1000 Buffer Preserve Drive in Fellsmere. Bring a pair of binoculars while standing at the viewing area and watch the endangered Scrub Jay the only bird native to Florida. Hike the three trails, go horseback riding or take a bicycle ride on the 17 miles of trails. Before hiking the trails, pick up the pamphlets inside the visitor center.
Observe the threatened and endangered wildlife at a distance throughout the park. Visit the park from November 1 to April 1 to observe the Manatees at the observation deck.
A diorama and poster displays throughout the visitor center describes the many ecosystems and the different threatened and protected species that survive in their habitats. The threatened Diamondback Terrapin found mostly in brackish water in the eastern and southern United States. The Gopher Tortoise a protected species that live up to 60 years in the wild and can live up 100 years in captivity.
In the late 19th and early part of the twentieth century, early settlers arrived in Fellsmere on the Fellsmere Railroad and stayed at the Fellsmere Inn. People homesteaded and started successful citrus, turpentine businesses and cattle ranches. Inside the park, some remnants of the businesses still exist. Free entrance to the visitor center and park, donations accepted. Hours of operation located on the website.
Wild horses and Buffalo graze on the prairie located at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park at 100 Savannah Road in Micanopy. Named after King Payne the Seminole Chief and dedicated a National Natural Landmark. Climb the 50-foot observation tower stopping halfway and looking outward to watch the animals as they graze. Be aware of wildlife crossings as you drive down the road to the Visitor Center.
Walk along the paved trails that surround the Visitor Center or hike through the many trails surrounded by different species of plants and animals. Bring a picnic lunch and sit on the ledge behind the Visitor Center while looking out at the prairie.
Watch a film in the Visitor Center about the prairie and the different species of wildlife. A timeline of early tribes, early settlers, and places. The Bobcat is elusive and alligators that live in marshes and other freshwater environments of Florida over 1 million strong.
Browse in the gift shop for t-shirts, and postcards. Books on eco-trips in Florida, Florida’s Indians, birds and snakes. Drive along a byway; visit a small town in “Best Backroads of Florida.”
I recommend the park but call the Visitor Center for hours of operation. Park hours and admission prices on the website.
Formerly inhabited by the Timuca Indians Tomoka State Park located at 2099 N. Beach Street in Ormond Beach. The Tomoka River over nineteen miles in length home to Manatees, Bottlenose Dolphins, alligators and to seven species of birds.
Surrounded by broadleaf trees the 1-mile trail offers plenty of shade. Read the interpretative plaques as you walk along the trail and be amazed at the many different usages of the trees. When arriving at the clearing visit the site of Nocoroco the former Timuca Indian village. A sculpture dedicated to “Chief Tomokie” the Timuca Indian Chief by Fred Dana Marsh.
Rent a canoe, kayak or paddleboard at the Tomoka Outpost and explore the thirteen miles of canoe trails. Sit in a rocking chair by the water’s edge, feel the gentle breeze while watching the boats launch. I recommend the park, a lot of natural beauty. Hours of operation and admission prices on the website.
Myakka River State Park includes 37,000 acres located at 13208 State Road 72 in Sarasota created by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression. Enjoy the 7-mile scenic park drive and admire the abundance of trees and plants. Stop at the Myakka River Bridge and look down at the alligators basking in the afternoon sun, a good photo opportunity.
Pick up a park map at the ranger station before hiking or biking the trails. Bring a camera or a pair of binoculars while hiking you may encounter different species of animals. Before launching your canoe or kayak on the Upper Myakka Lake or Myakka River stop by the visitor center and pick up a brochure of the birds of Myakka River State Park. Spend the night in an historic log cabin built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Take a leisurely ride on a tram that has been in operation for 50 years as the guide takes you through the Oak and Palm Hammock and dry prairie. Describing tasty Hearts of Palm known by Southerners as swamp cabbage as a delicacy from the Sabal Palm. The Scottish people early settlers to Sarasota brought their flower the Scottish Thistle the national symbol of Scotland. Our guide describes the early pioneers who took the bark from a Willow Tree made tea and used it as a pain reliever. Listen to the story about the Cow hunters but don’t call them cowboys who took six months to drive their cattle up the St. Johns River to Cowford. Cowford renamed Jacksonville after Andrew Jackson.
Inside the Visitor Center, watch a movie about the construction of the park by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Wetlands encompass half of the park. Marshes, Forested Wetlands, Rivers and Lakes all part of the ecosystem. Life size mounts of Ducks, Wading Birds and the Panther an endangered species all found inside the center.
Bring a picnic lunch, sit at one of the picnic tables, relax and look out at the Upper Myakka Lake. Stop at the gift shop and browse the many items for purchase. Sealife sculptures created with sand and clay by Kevin Rowley, artist and sculptor.
Myakka River State Park one of the oldest state parks. I recommend visiting the park so much to see and do. Visit the website for fees and hours of operation.
Drive down the road under a canopy of trees stopping for Gopher Tortoises at the crossing on the way to O’Leno State Park located at 410 SE O’Leno Park Road in High Springs. The site originally a town named Leno established in the mid-1860s. The town prospered until the railroad went around the town. By the 1890s, it became a ghost town.
Library and Museum
Step inside the museum and read about the early years of the men in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The location originally purchased as a forestry training camp. In the early 1930s, the camp became a state park one of the original nine parks built by the CCC.
A small nature center that houses the King and Red Snakes, both non-venomous and the Logger-head Musk Turtle. Two Gopher Tortoises eyeing each other in the turtle pen. A Mounted Florida Bobcat, Barred Owl and an Armadillo. The Florida Bobcat remains elusive, the Barred Owl found during twilight hours. While hiking in the woods you might come across an Armadillo.
Relax along the river’s edge and admire the Magnolia and Cypress Trees. Walk along the boardwalk to the suspension bridge stopping in the middle of the bridge to take photos looking out at the Santa Fe River. The bridge built by the men of the CCC. Hike on one of the many trails through pine forests and hardwood hammocks.
Have a picnic or a barbecue. A playground for children and a designated swimming area. I recommend the park, a lot to see and do. Fees and hours of operation on the website.
Rent a canoe, kayak or a tube; swim in the springs on the Rainbow River in Rainbow Springs State Park formerly a tourist attraction from the 1930s to the 1970s located at 19158 SW 81st Place in Dunnellon. Rainbow Springs designated a registered natural landmark exemplifying the natural history of the United States.
Walk along the path to the end of the boardwalk and admire the beauty of the river. Stand on a boardwalk and listen to the rippling sounds of the water in the creek below or sit on a bench and listen to the sounds of the waterfalls while enjoying the lush surroundings. The rock formation and the water recirculated to create Rainbow Falls came from the river.
Stop and read the interpretive exhibit about the creation of the gardens. Lilies, Azaleas, Camellias and other native plants make up the gardens. Native plants used to create the Butterfly Garden. Golden Rod a yellow flowering plant that provides nectar for 9 species of butterflies. Fire Bush a shrub that attracts the Zebra Longwing and Gulf Fritillary Butterflies. Sand Cordgrass grows 3 to 4 feet tall and considered drought tolerant.
Three trails to explore each under two miles in length. Have a picnic on one of the tables at the Visitor Center. I recommend the park, many activities to discover. Hours of operation and fees on the website.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park located at 4140 Suncoast Boulevard in Homosassa. Dr. Ray White, marine veterinarian instrumental in establishing the wildlife park for injured and rehab-ilitated Manatees.
Board the tram from the visitor center to the wildlife park or take a pontoon boat and cruise along the river watching an alligator bask in the sun and enjoying the scenery along the way. Inside the visitor center, a photography exhibit from the 1800s an early history of Homosassa Springs to the 2000s a new century begins.
Step down to the underwater observatory and view some of the twelve different species of fish that inhabit Homosassa River. Walk around the outside of the observatory and watch some of the birds that inhabit the park. From November through March, the Manatees arrive for the warmer waters. Stand at the river overlook and try to spot them.
Barred and Great Horned Owls, Crested Caracara a threatened species, and Large Wading Birds can be found throughout the Wildlife Walk. Educational programs and Wildlife Encounters. Walk the 1.2-mile Pepper Creek Trail. Entrance fees and hours of operation on the website.
Dade Battlefield Historic State Park designated a National Historic Landmark located at 7200 County Road 603 in Bushnell. An eighty-acre park surrounded by Sabal Palms, Southern Red Cedars, and Live Oak Trees. Enjoy a picnic under a pavilion or relax in a gazebo. A replica of a six-pounder cannon on display. A monument dedicated to J.C.B. Koonce who was instrumental in establishing the Dade Battlefield Memorial.
Stop by the visitor center and see a film about the Dade Battle that occurred on December 28, 1835. Major Dade, Captain Gardiner of the U.S. Army fought the Seminoles led by Chiefs Micanopy, Jumper and Alligator. Every year a reenactment of the battle occurs during the time of the battle. A historical timeline of events inside the visitor center about the Seminoles from 1800 to the Seminole War of 1835 and the aftermath.
Walk a section of the Fort King Military Trail stopping to read the plagues along the way or walk the Pine Flatwoods Trail. Display cabinets filled with Seminole crafts. Palmetto Palm Weaving, books, and t-shirts for sale. Admission and hours of operation on the website.
Wekiwa Springs State Park a 7,000-acre park located at 1800 Wekiwa Circle in Apopka. Have a picnic on one of the tables or rent a pavilion. Walk along the wooden boardwalk to the concession store where canoes and kayaks are for rent. Bring a bathing suit and swim in the springs or sunbathe on the shore.
Stop at the interpretive exhibit and read about The Red-Eared Slider a semiaquatic turtle, Hydrilla an aquatic plant and The Sailfin Catfish all alien invaders. Pollution a serious threat to the springs at another interpretive exhibit. A 3-legged tortoise lost his leg in a fight with a dog explained by a volunteer at the nature center. View the mounted Florida Black Bear, Barred Owl, Sherman Fox Squirrel and Great Blue Heron encased in glass. All of these animals reside throughout the park.
Bring a bicycle and ride the 7.75-mile trail. Pick up a trail map and walk the Sand Lake and East-West trails both under 2 miles. Bring along a hat and bug spray. Admission and hours of operation located on the website.
Dudley Farm Historic State Park located at 18730 W. Newberry Road in Newberry. Watch a film about 3 generations of the Dudley Family inside the Visitor Center. The cracker house formerly the home of the Hodge Family related to the Dudley family by marriage.
Photographs of the Dudley family, exhibits depicting early life on the farm, the second and third generations, reconstruction after the civil war and the next fifty years. Myrtle the youngest of the twelve children and the last remaining sibling donated twenty-four acres, family heirlooms and the eighteen buildings to the Park Service in 1983.
We started our self-guided tour walking along the pathway stopping to watch the cows grazing in the pasture. The kitchen a separate building roped off but you can look in. The farmhouse set up as if people still lived in the house. An ironing board set up ready for clothes to be ironed. Canning jars, dishes, cups and saucers and vases on the shelves and a table set up for family meals. A parlor with a fireplace and family photographs on the mantel. Lace curtains and doilies on a rocking chair.
A park staff employee drove up in a golf cart and offered to take us around the farm. She pointed out the general store that served as a post office. She gave us a detailed history of each building and told us that volunteers run the farm as a working farm. She pointed out the old Gainesville Road and the different fruit trees that include Fig, Peach, Orange, Walnut and Pecan. A sugar cane festival that demonstrates boiling and crushing of the cane held the first Saturday in December, Vendors invited to show their wares that include cooking and rope making.
The staff is very knowledgeable. I recommend visiting the Dudley Farm, go back in time and see how life was for the people on a 19th century farm. Admission and hours of operation on the website.