Many think Florida only consists of beaches, bustling cities, and theme parks, but there’s so much more to explore in the Sunshine State. Bending around the Gulf of Mexico, Florida’s Nature Coast offers a wealth of natural wonders and exciting outdoor adventures. This sweeping region consists of eight counties, but the 352area alone has numerous activities from tree hopping to scuba diving. Discover this fascinating but often overlooked part of the state with our list of 10 things to do on Florida’s Nature Coast.
A part of the Florida Greenways and Trail System, the Withlacoochee State Trail is 46 miles long and covers Citrus, Hernando, and Pasco counties. It’s also one of Florida’s longest paved rail trails, so you can go walking, cycling, and horseback riding here.
The Withlacoochee State Trail is great for all skill and fitness levels as it has generally flat terrain and many access points so you can enjoy this easy trail for as long or short as you want. Its National Recreation Trail status also means that you’ll see plants and wildlife native to Florida’s Nature Coast along the way.
Established to protect the endangered West Indian manatee in 1983, the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is an ideal place to see manatees as well as other wildlife. The refuge also offers other activities like fishing, daily manatee talks, guided tours, educational programs, and boating and paddling. The Visitor Center also has a manatee theatre and exhibits relating to manatees and the refuge.
Manatee season at the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge begins mid-November and ends in late March, so you’ll get the most out of your trip here by visiting during the winter and spring months. The refuge is accessible by water only, but you can bring or rent your own vessel or take a guided tour to get to the refuge.
With its abundance of crystal-clear springs, Crystal River is a popular diving area on the Nature Coast as well as the only place in Florida where you can swim with manatees. Not surprisingly, there are numerous diving companies that will take you to explore the waters and see these gentle giants up-close.
Voted number-one Manatee Tour Company on TripAdvisor, Fun 2 Dive in Crystal River offers several different tours depending on your budget and desired experience, and the cost per person includes all snorkeling gear and a wetsuit. If you’re not into diving, they also offer kayak and stand-up paddleboard rentals.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park also allows you to see manatees in a unique way from the park’s underwater observatory in the main spring. You can see other wildlife in the park as well like black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, American alligators, American crocodiles, river otters, and different species of birds that inhabit Florida’s Nature Coast.
In addition to wildlife viewing, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park has picnic areas, nature studies, ranger programs, and a discovery center with interactive learning experiences about the environment. Monkey Island is also a popular attraction unique to this park, and kids will especially enjoy seeing the mischievous spider monkeys.
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The Chinsegut Conservation Center is another place where you can see wildlife as its home to creatures like gopher turtles, white-tailed deer, bobcats, sandhill cranes, and turkeys. You can spot them on your own while walking the trails or participating in one of the center’s wildlife programs and hikes accompanied by experts to become more familiar with Florida’s Nature Coast.
There are also outdoors skills programs offered September through May covering different skills like backpacking, animal tracking, archery, photography, and compass navigation. Whether you want to learn something new or simply enjoy the great outdoors, the Chinsegut Conservation Center is definitely worth a visit.
If you’re looking for thrills on Florida’s Nature Coast, head over to TreeUmph! in Brooksville and tackle a series of courses mid-air between tall Live oaks and pine trees. With nearly 40 acres of 130 obstacles and ziplines, this adventure park has five different courses with varying intensities plus a ground-level course for young kids.
In addition to offering a fun workout amid gorgeous green trees, reservations and sales manager Kelsey McColl says, “TreeUmph! provides the unique opportunity to leave fear, inhibitions, and differences behind as climbers take to the trees for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.” For this reason, TreeUmph! is also a great bonding experience for families, friends, and couples.
Famous for their remarkable underwater mermaid shows, Weeki Wachee Springs has been a popular roadside attraction on Florida’s Nature Coast since 1947. The park also hosts nature shows were you can see birds of prey as well as reptiles like snakes and baby alligators.
There are plenty of other things to do while you’re at Weeki Wachee Springs like enjoying a boat tour where you might spot a manatee, exploring the springs yourself by renting a kayak or paddleboard, and cooling off at Buccaneer Bay, the state’s only spring-fed water park. Far less expensive than parks in Tampa and Orlando, Weeki Wachee Springs is an affordable vacation destination as there are also hotels, restaurants, and shopping nearby.
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Nearby on the Weeki Wachee River, Rogers Park is a small three-acre area where you can swim, canoe, fish, watch birds, and go boating as well as picnic and play volleyball. The park also has showers where you can wash off, a playground for the kids, and barbecue grills if you want to fire up some hot dogs or burgers.
Seasonal lifeguards keep an eye on everyone, but if you’re also on the lookout, you may spot a manatee! You can try to find one from the water or sand or get a better view by standing on the park’s observation deck.
Situated on the Gulf of Mexico, Alfred McKethan Pine Island Beach Park saves you the long drive to Clearwater and St. Petersburg beaches. This beach park is lesser-known and also spans three acres like Rogers Park, so you can enjoy a day at the beach without the crowds. This place is also great for kids because the water is shallow for a good stretch before it drops off to a deeper level, and there’s also a playground for them to enjoy, too.
In addition to swimming and playing in the sand, you can picnic, watch birds, and play volleyball while you’re at Alfred McKethan Pine Island Beach Park. The beach park also has convenient amenities like their concessions stand and showers so you can wash off all that sand when you’re ready to leave. If you stay at the beach park until dusk, you can end your day by watching the sun set, one of the most beautiful sights on Florida’s Nature Coast.
See how the first trailblazers of Florida’s Nature Coast lived by visiting Pioneer Florida Museum and Village in the small, sleepy town of Dade City. The museum has all kinds of artifacts like photos, farm equipment, and a wide variety of tools as well as a train depot, steam engine, one-room schoolhouse, church, historic house, general store, and barn with tractors, wagons, and buggies.
Get an even better glimpse into the past by booking a group tour where a knowledgeable guide explains the artifacts, buildings, and daily life of Florida’s pioneers. Tickets are $4 for school-age children and $7 for adults and seniors, so bring the whole family to appreciate the area’s history.
There are plenty of things to do on Florida’s Nature Coast, so get out and discover this unique natural wonder while having fun, too.
Cover photo courtesy of TreeUmph!