With all the attention to Florida’s water crisis, red tide, sea life massacres and the continuing releases coming out of Lake Okeechobee, lest we forget the extent of the treasures readily accessible and afforded us by our National Park Service and the State of Florida. The following includes hidden treasures and well known but oft over looked for being too familiar places listed from south to north.
Southern Florida (read: the entire state south of Tampa), includes one of the greatest treasures of United States, the Everglades. An international treasure as well – a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, a Wetland of International Importance, and a specially protected area under the Cartagena Treaty.
The Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, is an expansive area of land in south Florida consisting of 1.5 million acres of wetland. To the untrained eye it’s not exactly spectacular to look at, however when you come to understand what its existence means, it becomes a truly extraordinary sight to see.
Since the park covers such a large area of south Florida, planning is a must. There are three entrances to Everglades National Park and they are not connected to one another. They can be accessed through different areas of south Florida and with the parks various visitor centers and picnic areas, this can easily be made a wonderful full day excursion.
Want to learn more about the everglades before you visit? These are two exceptional books on the topic: The Everglades: River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas and The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise by Michael Grunwald.
Not far from the eastern entrance of the Everglades is the entrance to the Florida Keys, starting with Key Largo. Read this Life with Moxie piece to get more ideas about Key Largo which makes for a wonderful weekend away when you’ve planned ahead.
Heading just south of Key Largo, we come across another extraordinary treasure, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park where you can find lurking beneath the surface none other than Christ of the Abyss. Technically just outside of the park, “Christ of the Abyss” rests at a depth of approximately 25 feet at a site called the Key Largo Dry Rocks in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The first undersea park in the U.S., Pennekamp offers everything from phenomenal diving to glass bottom boat tours as well as camping and concessions.
Continuing south through the Keys, on past Islamorada and Marathon, we come across Bahia Honda. The park, encompassing over 500 acres and an offshore island offers some of the best snorkeling and beachcombing in Florida. The perfect quiet getaway for the entire family.
Tours from Bahia Honda are also available to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary where a diversity of fish congregate including parrots and surgeonfish on the north side; barracudas and jacks on top of the reef; grunts, butterflyfish, and angelfish on the reef crest.
There are so many truly wonderful experiences to be had in the keys, yet most of us are unaware of them. If looking to do a weekend or a week, here is a great list of ideas to be aware of so you can take advantage of all the hidden treasures- The Florida Keys Bucket List: 100 Offbeat Adventures From Key Largo To Key West by David Sloan.
Heading north now, the watery treasures lend themselves more towards well-kept inland secrets including underground caves and glorious natural springs. There are an incredible amount of natural springs all over northern Florida, here is a master map of all of them for perspective.
Equidistant between Orlando and Daytona Beach is Blue Springs State Park offering all the manatee viewing experiences you could ever imagine. Manatees visit the park when the temperatures drop, so plan on going during the winter months. If you need a manatee fill immediately, here’s a manatee cam for your viewing pleasure.
Just north of Ocala is The Devil’s Den cave in Williston, FL, a great example of a hidden treasure. It was formed by a karst window, creating a window on the world access to an underground river. The cave expands below water level (a shape described as an “inverted mushroom”) to up to 200 feet (61 m) across and according to their website, this underground spring inside a dry cave has been home to many extinct animal fossils dating back to the Pleistocene Age, which are on display at The University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History.
In North Florida, just off I-75 nearly to Lake City you’ll find Ichetucknee Springs State Park. A pristine spring fed river with assorted swimming holes offering tubing, canoes, kayaks and more. Truly a taste of an old fashion summer time in Florida with prime time being May through September. Park is open outside that window with limited services, such as concessions. Within the park is a specific gem for scuba divers, the Blue Hole. Located within one of the spring fed pools is the Blue hole.
According to tfn.net “The spring pool is about 75 by 120 feet wide. Water flows powerfully from a cylindrical limestone shaft near the center of the pool. The shaft is about 12 feet in diameter and 6 feet below the surface. It extends down 15 feet before opening into an underwater chamber with a depth of around 35 feet. There is a cavern system associated with the spring. Water in the spring is clear and can be an intense blue. The rest of the pool area is covered in eel grass and about 6 feet deep. Cypress trees encircle the spring, which is also fed by the run of Cedar Head Spring, which flows into the Blue Hole Spring from the north.”
For the scuba divers among us there are two inland treasure worth mention. Just to the east of Ichetucknee Springs, is Peacock Springs State Park, a cave divers playground. According to the website “cave divers travel from all over the world to explore nearly 33,000 feet of surveyed underwater passages at Peacock Springs. This park features one of the longest underwater cave systems in the continental United States. Only divers who show proof of their scuba certification are permitted to explore the underwater caverns.
Around the springs, four major plant communities are represented in the mature forest stands. An award-winning nature trail leads visitors on a path tracing the twisting tunnels of the caves far below their feet, educating hikers along the way. Swimming in Peacock Springs and Orange Grove Sink are popular activities during the summer. Grills and pavilions are available for picnicking.”
Next is Ginnie Springs, also right near Ichetucknee Springs in northern Florida is another diving treasure. Technically, a perfect classic swimming hole for tubbing, etc., however nestled well below is what Jacques Cousteau, himself marveled at, claiming “visibility forever.” Certified cave divers have access to over 30,000 feet of passageway within just one of the systems. Diving is available for open water certified for some areas to cave certified for others that can involve up to three tanks. An extraordinary opportunity that most of us have likely never heard of.
Feeling less deep-sea-adventure-diver and more perfectly-happy-viewing-from-the-boat? Here are two locations that have great guided tour opportunities.
Immediately east of Ocala is Silver Springs State Park, well known for their glass-bottom tours. In operation since the time of steamship travel to Florida, this enormous spring and the adjacent area offer a wonderful experience for learning about of local ecosystem including the primeval forests, sandhills and historic structures.
Wakulla Springs, the world’s largest and deepest fresh water spring is located just a few miles south of Tallahassee. Manatee’s, alligators and a more densely populate the spring and surrounding ancient cypress forest. The Historic lodge boast is own legendary stories and the boat tours are a wildlife photographer and bird lovers dream.
Most all of these locations are part of the park system at some level and offer a variety of different traditional park opportunities from camping, tubbing, picnic areas to concessions, trails and rentals. Click through to each of their websites to plan your visit as rain levels, renovations and even water temperatures will alter the opportunities available at each of the locations.
Water is the driving force of all nature – Leonardo da Vinci
Until we as a society can understand, value and respect the importance of water, we will fail to protect it. By seeking out these treasured opportunities, to be part of nature in its most uncontrol state, to learn and want to understand, only then will we feel compelled to make a difference.
Traveling- it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller– Ibn Battuta
So please, travel to water, because no one needs the story told more than one without a voice.
Enjoy, learn and make a difference- That’s Life with Moxie!
Have ideas you’d like to add? Need more suggestions? Or want to share your experience? Let me know!
Julie Koester is CEO of Life with Moxie, a Lifestyle Revolution Company www.lifewithmoxie.com, CEO of Moxie Creed www.moxiecreed.com, skincare beyond chemistry. You can reach her at Julie@lifewithmoxie.com
Passionate Living by Design, That’s Life with Moxie
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