Travel Guide to Florida

2013 Travel Guide to Florida

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ECOTOURISM Hikers in Everglades National Park FEATURED LINKS CENTRAL EAST Archie Carr National Wildlife Reserve Blue Spring State Park Friends of Sebastian Inlet State Park, Inc. Lyonia Preserve Manatee Observation & Education Center Merritt Island National Wildlife Reserve Pelican Island National Wildlife Reserve Sebastian Inlet State Park Space Coast Birding & Wildlife Festival RANCH ADVENTURES Florida's ranchers have opened their doors to invite guests to see the connections between working the landscape and preserving native wildlife. One of the earliest to do so, Florida EcoSafaris, is based at Crescent J Ranch west of Melbourne in Central East Florida. Take a swamp buggy ride, explore the vast open spaces on horseback or ride a zip line through the canopy at their Forever Florida preserve. Northeast of Fort Myers in Southwest Florida, the Telegraph Swamp is a vast mosaic 76 2013 TRAVEL GUIDE TO FLORIDA of cypress strands and open prairies. Explore these wild spaces, where Florida panthers hide and sandhill cranes roam, on a guided swamp buggy tour at Babcock Wilderness Adventures, centered on a working cattle ranch. St. Johns River Cruises CENTRAL Bill's Airboat Adventures Florida EcoSafaris at Forever Florida BACKPACKER'S DELIGHT During the winter months, backpacking season in Florida is at its peak, and there are thousands of miles of trails from which to choose. Stretching from the Big Cypress Swamp in Southwest Florida to Pensacola Beach in the Panhandle, the 1,400-mile Florida National Scenic Trail attracts hikers from around the world to experience its extreme diversity, from the sparkling sands of Pensacola Beach to the vast prairies of Central Florida. A 60-plus-mile segment in the Ocala National Forest in Central Florida is the most popular section, leading past beauty spots such as Juniper Springs and Alexander Springs. Near Pensacola, a 43-mile section follows the Blackwater River and its tributaries through Blackwater River State Forest, with its rolling hills and shady pine forests. Nearly 60 miles of the trail follow the bluffs of the Suwannee River, offering places to camp on sandy shores and rugged climbs in and out of ravines. Hiking in Florida differs from the rest of the United States: trails are best enjoyed from October through April, when insect hordes diminish and temperatures are cooler. Flatter terrain does not mean easier walking, since soil composition differs tremendously, and includes both soft sand and slippery muck. It can freeze during Florida's winters, so be prepared with suitable clothing and gear when backpacking. FL Ocala National Forest Orlando Wetlands Park Premier Boat Tours Tiger Creek Preserve unitedstates/florida/placesweprotect/ tiger-creek-preserve.xml CENTRAL WEST Bird's Underwater Inc. Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Reserve Crystal River Manatee Tours Crystal River National Wildlife Reserve Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park Operation Migration NORTH CENTRAL FLORIDA St. Marks National Wildlife Reserve Suwannee River Wilderness Trail NORTHWEST Holmes Creek Canoe Livery PHOTO: GEORGE BURBA/SHUTTERSTOCK In Central Florida near Lakeland, Circle B Bar Ranch has its own "Alligator Alley," where hikers need to be alert to alligators sunning. Orlando Wetlands Park is a prime location for gators and migratory birds. With comfortable boardwalk strolls for families, both Green Cay Wetlands and Wakodahatchee Wetlands are oases of nature near West Palm Beach in Southeast Florida. Need more distance from these toothsome reptiles? An airboat ride may be just your speed. Not all airboat rides are created equal—some focus on thrills rather than education—so go with a guide who's knowledgeable about wildlife. Billie Swamp Safari, on the Big Cypress Seminole Reservation in Southeast Florida, showcases native fauna from their airboats, as does Big O Airboat Tours, treating you to an unparalleled panorama along one of America's largest lakes, Lake Okeechobee. In Central Florida, Bill's Airboat Adventures offers an up-close look at the St. Johns River with a knowledgeable guide who'll tailor the tour to your interests.

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