Emerald green grass. Glistening blue water. Caramel-coloured beaches. Swampland teeming with plant and animal life.
Florida is a mecca for outdoor adventurers. From the summit of Britton Hill to the Southernmost Point Buoy, the options throughout the State are nearly limitless. Wondering where to begin? This guide separates outdoor experience by activity, so you can delve into your favourite pastime or try something new. No matter what you choose, the fresh Atlantic air is sure to reinvigorate your lungs as you work up a sweat enjoying Florida’s great outdoors.
Florida: for hikers
Although Florida is not the most mountainous state, it is chock-full of picturesque hikes, ideal for novice hikers or explorers looking for length rather than incline.
The Florida Trail crosses the entire state. One of America’s 11 national scenic trails, the 2,100-kilometer- long route stretches from the Gulf Islands Seashore in the north to Big Cypress National Preserve in the south. While thru-hikes are possible, most adventurers opt to split-up the trail into sections.
Suwannee River State Park is a swampy section that meanders along the banks of the river. Trails often cross smaller streams, so come prepared to get wet. Five river camps provide rustic accommodation.
Little Big Econ State Forest is hailed as one of the most rugged patches of the Florida Trail, teeming with wildlife and stubby palm trees. Wild coffee and cinnamon fern grow alongside the trail. Watch out for turtles and alligators.
If you’re not looking to get lost in the forest, Fort Pickens might pique your interest. Tread for 52-kilometers through important historical sites and leave footprints in the sand along the Gulf of Mexico. This is the only section of the Florida Trail that passes over the beach.
Florida: for cyclists
If nothing else, Florida’s flat topography is good for one thing: cycling.
The nearly 445 kilometers Coast-to-Coast Connector passes through Central Florida, connecting the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean from St. Petersburg to Titusville. The paved, multi-use trail currently includes the popular West Orange Trail and Pinellas Trail.
If you’re looking for a coastal cruise, head to Anna Maria Island, where cycling is the locals’ top choice of transportation. Daytona Beach, South Beach and Key West are also popular places to soak in ocean views from the seat of your bicycle.
For mountain bikers, riders can cruise over packed sand and wooden bridges in Markham Park, while Alafia River State Park appeals to intermediate to highly advanced mountain bikers with 23-kilometers of single-track and great facilities.
Florida: for anglers
From snapper to spotted sea trout and even sharks, there’s a diversity of fish to fry in Florida.
Anglers will be drawn to the Florida Keys for blue water fishing, natural reefs along the Atlantic coast for shallow catches and Lake Okeechobee for freshwater fish, specifically bass.
Anglers can cast a line from most beaches and piers. Deep sea and saltwater flat charters offer family-friendly excursions, and fishing resorts along the coast cater to vacationing anglers.
Florida outdoors: for thrill-seekers
Florida’s gorgeous coast is a graveyard for shipwrecks. Sunken ships covered in fuzzy algae and rusted remnants entice scuba divers craving an eerie exploration. One of the most spectacular dives is the USS Spiegel Grove. It was purposely sunk on live television May 17, 2002 as the world’s largest artificial reef.
If you don’t want to dive beneath the deep blue sea, how about diving out of an airplane and swimming through the clear blue sky? Skydive Sebastian’s dropzone is directly over Central Florida’s coastline, granting breathtaking views from the clouds. You can take it step further and get certified to skydive independently, rather than tandem.
Soar through the trees like a flying squirrel at Forever Florida. The “7 Zips” course includes (you guessed it) seven zip lines and three sky bridges to tackle over the course of two hours. There are also starlight and moonlight adventures from which to choose.
Florida outdoors: for wildlife-lovers
Florida is teeming with wildlife. Although animal tourism thrives in Florida, we think wildlife is best experienced in its natural habitat.
Visitors can find more than 150,000 species of plants and animals at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, including manatees, sea turtles and armadillos. Established in 1963 with the help of NASA, the refuge provides habitat and protection for animals native to the area.
Birders flock to hotspots along the Great Florida Birding Trail, such as Everglades National Park and J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. You might spot Piping plovers, Roseate spoonbills and Grey kingbirds, to name a few.
Alligators lurk in southern Florida’s waterways. Lakes, swamps, canals, ponds – even water obstacles on golf courses draw them in. Your best shot at seeing a ‘gator is in Everglades National Park in winter.
If you’re really lucky, you might catch a glimpse of Florida’s infamous beast, akin to Bigfoot: the skunk ape. Said to stomp through swamps in Florida, the creature is named for his supposedly repulsive odor. At least you’ll smell him before you see him…
Florida outdoors: for watersport-lovers
There’s an immaculate underwater world in the Florida Keys that is best discovered on a snorkeling trip. Take a boat tour to the Sea Garden Reef in Key Largo or explore closer to shore at Bathtub Reef Park or Red Reef Park.
Kayaks and canoes dot the water around Florida’s rivers, lakes, streams and coastline. Ichetucknee Springs State Park has some of the state’s clearest waters, edged by limestone banks and Cyprus trees. Holmes Creek is a remote, 55-kilometer stream with sandy banks and some tricky sections. The water is nearly translucent, so bring along your snorkeling gear.
Surfers catch waves at Cocoa Beach, Jacksonville, Crescent Beach and Daytona Beach. Beginners can take surfing lessons while laid-back viewers drink in the surf culture. Even if you don’t want to “hang ten” yourself, watching the pros ride the barrels is a gnarly experience, dude.
Have you explored Florida's great outdoors?
Where'd you go? What did you do?