By Diane Small
Most people associate Florida with theme parks and beach vacations. It is hardly surprising given the abundance of these activities, but the Sunshine State has a lot more to offer, including stunning state parks and a dramatic coastline. If you love the Great Outdoors, you won’t be short of things to do on vacation.
Florida is quite rightly known as the Sunshine State and although it does get a bit cooler over winter, it is rarely cold, which makes Florida a top vacation destination for outdoors enthusiasts. There are lots of fun adventures waiting for you, so if you are thinking of booking villas in Florida and would like a few suggestions on how you can best enjoy the surrounding wildlife and nature, check out the following outdoor activities to enjoy in Florida.
1. Take a Guided Kayak Tour
Kayaking is a sport that anyone can try. You don’t need any previous experience if you take a guided tour, as your tour guide will give you a full safety briefing and explain what to do if something goes wrong. A morning spent paddling around is incredibly relaxing. The Dora Canals in Central Florida are a top location for guided kayak tours. Book a tandem kayak with a friend or partner and share the experience. There are alligators lurking in the water but don’t worry – you’re perfectly safe! All you need to concentrate on is spotting birds and learning more about the unique ecosystems in Florida’s waterways and swamps.
There are many other places that are great for kayaking: visit the Everglades National Park and paddle through the many waterways. You’ll almost certainly see alligators and crocodiles, but if you are lucky, you might also spot a shy and elusive manatee.
2. Go Cycling
Florida is a cyclist’s dream. There are dozens of off-road cycling trails for keen cycling enthusiasts, and all of the state’s National Parks have trails for cyclists and hikers. The Everglades has a 43-mile network of cycling trails that follow old logging roads and farm tracks. You can take your own bicycle, or hire one once you arrive at your vacation destination. If you feel like a challenge, you could even plan a tour of the whole state on two wheels. There is no better way to see the state’s wildlife up close and personal – but you can also tour other areas by bike, like Disneyland or Universal Studios: just leave your car at Orlando airport parking, hire a bike on site (or take your own), and off you go!
3. Diving & Snorkelling
Of all the outdoor activities to enjoy in Florida, these are perhaps the most popular! The Florida Keys are the top destination for snorkelling. The Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary is a prime location, thanks to the amazing coral reef formations. The water is clean and clear, and there’s a diverse array of marine life close to the shore. Head over to Pigeon Key and check out the remains of the old Seven Mile Bridge. At John D. MacArthur Beach State Park, look for sea turtles and stingrays living around the worm rock reef. At Sebastian Inlet State Park next to Melbourne Beach, there is a sheltered inlet to explore where dolphins and manatee sometimes roam.
There are also some great dive sites off the Florida coast. The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo is just as popular with scuba divers as it is with snorkellers. Go down to Pensacola and explore the wreck of the USS Oriskany, a huge artificial reef. The Devil’s Den in Williston is a magnificent prehistoric spring, whose water is a constant 22 degrees Celsius, so it’s like diving in a warm bath. You can dive down 50 feet and explore the swim throughs. The Spiegel Grove off Key Largo is hugely popular with scuba divers. It’s home to numerous fish and other creatures. The Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg is another popular wreck dive site – it’s nearly 10-stories high and still has a weather balloon hangar attached to the stern.
4. Go Horseback Riding
Exploring the Florida coast on horseback is a unique experience. Head over to Amelia Island and book a horseback riding trek. You can ride on the beach at sunset or sunrise if you visit Cape San Blas, and some horseback riding treks let you go swimming in the ocean on horseback.
5. Paddle Boarding
If you haven’t tried this sport yet, you are missing out! If you’re a novice, head over to Weeki Wachee and book a Stand Up Paddle Board lesson with an experienced instructor. Once you get the hang of this relaxing past-time – and it really isn’t as difficult as you think – you will be set free on the water. Look out for the beautiful manatees and enjoy paddling around under your own steam. This activity is perfect for families and couples.
6. Go Hiking in Florida
Florida has thousands of miles of hiking trails through some of the most dramatic scenery in the US. The famous Florida National Scenic Trail winds its way from the Gulf Islands, all the way to the Big Cypress National Preserve. If you have time and a lot of stamina, you can cover the full 1,300 miles from start to finish. Luckily, you don’t need to do all of it. The trail is split into bite-sized sections for people of all abilities to explore.
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