Few places on earth are home to the diverse landscape and wildlife you’ll find here in Florida. Before summer’s end, get back to nature with one of the Sunshine State’s many eco tours.
A visit to Forever Florida in St. Cloud might lead you to believe you’re far from civilization. The 4,700-acre nature preserve and “eco-ranch” has all the flora and fauna you can imagine including wetlands, forests, streams, alligators, deer, black bears, hundreds of bird species and the endangered Florida panther. Experience it all by horseback, coach, zip line or on the new, one-of-a-kind Cypress FlyCycleTM. Described as“a reclined bicycle safely suspended from steel cables,” it offers the security and ease of a bicycle with the thrill and vantage point of a zip line, high above the wilderness. You might even soar over “George,” the 13-foot alligator who’s been a 60-plus-year fixture here. However you choose to explore the wilderness of Forever Florida, a meal at Cypress Restaurant and a souvenir from the Marketplace will complete your adventure. Safari tours run 7 days a week and overnight programs are available. Reservations are required. Visit www.foreverflorida.com or call toll-free 866-85-4EVER.
For an in-depth look at a swamp that contains nine ecosystems, there’s no place like the Everglades, designated a World Heritage Site in 1979. Covering 2,500 square miles, Everglades National Park
is the third largest national park in the lower United States, providing abundant opportunities for camping, hiking, bird watching and canoeing. In fact, the Everglades are visited by 1,000,000 people each year, many hoping to catch a glimpse of the more than 30 threatened wildlife species that call this natural paradise home. Enjoy a guided tour by tram or boat, or explore on your own by bicycle. Ranger-led programs are available year-round and the park’s visitor centers are open 365 days. Hours vary by location (there are five entrances and visitor centers). For directions and information, go to www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm.
Miami-Dade Parks offer a full roster of “EcoAdventures,” ranging from kayaking by moonlight to snorkeling off Key Biscayne. The Parks Department operates six area Nature Centers: Arch Creek Park, Greynolds Park Boathouse, A.D. Barnes Sense of Wonder Nature Center, Bill Sadowski Park, Castellow Hammock Park and Crandon Park. Each boasts something unique for nature-lovers like daily kayak/snorkel outings at Crandon Park, a butterfly garden at Castellow Hammock Park and Native American artifacts at Arch Creek Park. Find out about group tours, camping, picnicking and other programs at www.miamidade.gov/parks.
Some of the state’s most beautiful sights are located in the heart of the state, and Central Florida Nature Adventures allows you to soak them all in by kayak. On crystal-clear lakes and rivers, you’ll see towering Cypress trees and all types of wildlife: Exotic birds, magnificent manatees, and a host of fish, raccoons, turtles and other creatures. Whether you’re a “birder,” “paddler,” photographer or simply a nature-lover, you’ll appreciate the 10 programs, as well as the ability to customize a tour. Get details at www.paddlinginflorida.com.
In the weeks ahead, take time to admire Florida’s innate beauty. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or covet the serenity of the outdoors, a Sunshine State adventure is a natural choice for fun.