Articles Tagged "hiking trails"

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March
22

 

Florida is a magical state full of hidden gems the average visitor – or even resident, for that matter – knows exist. Everyone knows about Walt Disney World and the glistening sands of South Beach, but for every well-known destination in the Sunshine State there exists at least one under-the-radar spot worth visiting. Join us on this tour of some of the amazing hidden gems in Florida that you should absolutely check out.

Ravine Gardens State Park

There's no shortage of beauty on display at Palatka's Ravine Gardens State Park. The park's namesake ravines can be viewed from suspension bridges – a ripe opportunity for photos. And if you're visiting between December and March, you're in for a real treat: it's blooming season for the hundreds of azaleas, washing the gardens with a dazzling colorscape.

Florida Caverns State Park

Florida isn't exactly known for its caves. After all, most of the state is barely above sea level. And yet we have Florida Caverns State Park, a series of large, connected caverns beckoning visitors to explore. Take a guided tour to experience the chilly underground air, sounds of dripping water, jagged stalactites, and wildlife like bats in these otherworldly depths.

Bok Tower Gardens

Nestled among rolling hills of citrus stands Bok Tower Gardens, a true hidden gem in Central Florida. The titular Singing Tower looms over the gardens and houses one of the world's finest carillons, a percussion instrument consisting of 23 bronze bells in fixed suspension. Performances can be heard ringing throughout the garden daily, adding to the overall contemplative atmosphere.

Beyond the Singing Tower, the park is home to one of the state's most impressive landscape gardens. As you meander through the garden, you'll encounter acres of blooming foliage, lush ferns, palms, and oaks, and even natural Floridian wildlife like threatened gopher tortoises and endangered eastern indigo snakes.

Falling Waters State Park

Here's another one to file under "Things You Didn't Know Florida Had" – waterfalls! Sink Hole Trail leads through huge trees to Falling Waters Sink, a 100-foot-deep, 20-foot-wide cylindrical pit. A small stream drops water 70+ feet into the bottom of the sink, creating the picturesque waterfall. The park even has a bit of a spooky factor: no one truly knows where the water goes once it reaches the bottom of the sink.

Blowing Rocks Preserve

This peaceful barrier island sanctuary is home to the largest Anastasia limestone deposit on the Atlantic coast. High tides and storms cause the sea to fling itself against the rocks, forcing plumes of saltwater as high as 50 feet into the air. It's a sight unlike anything else.

Cedar Key

While the previous entries on this list have been parks and preserves, this entry is an entire city! Located just over an hour south of Gainesville, Cedar Key is a small island city in the Gulf of Mexico. The quaint and quiet town offers a refreshing break from city life both in its city-by-the-sea vibes and the amazing Cedar Key Museum State Park. As a vacation spot, it's under the radar but perfect for a quiet getaway.   

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Weeki Wachee Springs has something no other hidden gem in Florida does: live mermaids! These dazzling sisters of the sea perform classic shows and other underwater feats for captivated audiences each week (though attendance is limited during the pandemic).

Once you've seen the mermaids, enjoy a serene journey into nature with a kayak ride down the spring. Kids will love splashing in the waters of the onsite Buccaneer Bay waterpark, too!

Ocala National Forest

Ocala National Forest attracts plenty of visitors, but outside of locals, the park's praises aren't sung enough. Anything you want to do, you'll find space for it at Ocala National Forest. Go hiking across miles of trails. Kayak or swim in remarkably cool springs. Camp overnight under the twinkling stars. All your outdoors dreams converge here.

July
31

When you think of Gainesville, FL, the first association you probably make is the University of Florida. It makes sense – UF is one of the nation's top public universities, and it just so happens to reside in a pretty small town.

If there's a second association you'd make, though, it should be Gainesville's abundant natural beauty and life. From dense blankets of maples, palms, and oak trees to the miles of swamp and marshlands in and around the city, Gainesville is rich with picturesque Floridian beauty. Even better is how easily accessible it all is! No matter where you are, you'll always be close to some of the state's finest trails and parks. Pack your comfy shoes and immerse yourself in nature with these amazing hiking trails in Gainesville, FL.

La Chua Trail

The La Chua Trail winds through Paynes Prairie, one of Florida's most diverse nature preserves. Often associated with the vast, interminable plains of the west, wild horses and bison roam freely through Paynes Prairie, and the La Chua Trail offers countless opportunities to spot these animals in their natural habitat.

That's not all; along the boardwalk trail and especially on the dike to the watchtower at the end, you'll spot anywhere from one to two dozen alligators sunbathing or floating in the water. If you're spooked by the idea of being so close to gators without any barriers – no fences here, and it's not uncommon to see gators on the actual hiking trail! – La Chua Trail might seem intimidating. Conquer that fear, however, and you'll be treated to an amazing hiking experience.

hiking trails in Gainesville, FL Sunbathing gators at La Chua Trail | Photo: Arkon Soikaew

Sweetwater Wetlands Park

Much like La Chua Trail, Sweetwater Wetlands Park is another great trail for wildlife watchers. Alligators roam freely here, as do the many snakes that make up the area's healthy reptile population. Various birds take up residence in Sweetwater, like coots and limpkins. Sweetwater offers up to 3.5 miles of hiking along various trails, with offshoot paths occurring frequently throughout the area.

Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail

The Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail tells a story as you walk it. Stretched out across 16 miles with passages through Paynes Prairie and many other points of interest, this winding trail reveals old railbeds transformed by time into verdant leisurely trails. As you hike past landmarks like concrete mileage and whistle markers, you'll gain a deeper understanding of the history permeating the area.

Mill Creek Preserve West

Driving along the curtains of pine forests of Mill Creek Preserve is one thing; hiking through them is another experience altogether. Trek through the southernmost American beech forest and marvel at the ancient trees whose limbs have outstretched over the landscape for untold time. Two trails comprise nearly five miles of hiking, giving you the freedom to choose the route that suits you.

Devil's Millhopper

Given its petrifying name, you might think this trail would be a Herculean trial. In fact, the name belongs to the park's defining feature: a 120-foot deep and 500-foot wide sinkhole. The trail here pushes through dense forests of trees before opening up to a set of staircases which spiral down into the sinkhole. The journey ends at an observation deck overlooking the bottom of the sinkhole.

hiking trails in Gainesville, FL The view from the bottom of Devil's Millhopper

Watermelon Pond

Hiking through the wide-open prairies of Watermelon Pond lends a sense of liberating solitude and tranquility that's hard to find. It's one of the drier hikes in the area (an unfortunate side effect of continued development), though you'll be treated to a string of panoramic views of the seemingly boundless prairielands.

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