Florida Roundups / Road Trips

5 off-the-beaten-path places to discover in Florida


Over the years, Florida Rambler has taken you to a great many authentic Florida destinations for recreation, relaxation and adventure.

A few of our favorites are Apopka, Everglades City, the Lower Keys, Punta Gorda and the back roads near Daytona Beach — all offering outdoor recreation opportunities of the first degree.

This article includes links to other Florida Rambler articles that provide greater detail on hiking, biking, camping, kayaking, canoeing, places to eat and drink, places to stay and more things to do in Florida.

Apopka

Swimming holes in Rock Spring at Kelly Park

Rock Spring at Kelly Park

There’s really not much to say about Apopka itself, except that it’s in a very good place.

On the edge of the wildly scenic and vast Wekiva Basin, at the end of the West Orange Trail, just 12 miles from historic Mount Dora and less than an hour from Orlando’s attractions, Apopka is really just a small Florida town with a lot of nearby things to do.

Rock Springs Run and the Wekiva River are a paddler’s paradise with 16 miles of continuous pristine, crystal clear spring water that will take you for a meandering ride to the St. John’s River and beyond. Canoes and kayaks are at home in this vast, natural wonderland of birds, bees and subtropical forests. Bring your camera.

Just outside of Apopka is Kelly Park/Rock Spring and Wekiwa Springs State Park, where cool, clear water flows into public swimming ponds at a constant temperature of 72 degrees year-round.

The West Orange Trail, which originates in Apopka, is perhaps the best and most visionary multi-use rail-trail in Florida, extending 99 miles west through woods, around lakes, through pastures and quaint towns.  It is soon to be connected in Apopka to the Seminole-Wekiva Trail.

Or you can ride northwest to Mount Dora, a historic lakeside community famous for its antique shops and art galleries, and it’s annual bicycle festival that celebrates the rolling hills of the countryside and the rail trails that appear everywhere in this neck of the woods.

*** Hotels.com: Hotels in Apopka ***

Related Florida Rambler articles:

Wekiva River Basin: A wild and scenic adventure

Mount Dora Bicycle Festival

Seminole Wekiva Multi-Use Trail

Kelly Park/Rock Spring: Camping, kayaking and swimming cool

Everglades City

Stone crabs from Triad Seafood, Everglades City

Stone crabs from Triad Seafood, Everglades City

The gateway to the Ten Thousand Islands, Everglades City is steeped in history, long-time home to pirates and bootleggers, and a magnet for fishers, explorers and especially paddlers.

In town – don’t blink – are a few venerable lodgings, like the Rod and Gun Club, and great little places to eat the local seafood. Everglades City is the stone-crab capital of Florida, and they celebrate the catch every February with the Everglades Seafood Festival.

Probably the biggest draw here is recreational fishing in the backcountry for redfish, snook, snapper and spotted sea trout. Or paddling to isolated sandy beaches on the outer islands, where you can camp a week or a weekend in total isolation.

Or paddle down the 100-mile Everglades Wilderness Waterway Trail to Cape Sable and immerse yourself in a part of the Everglades that few ever see. Indeed, you cannot drive to these deep and mysterious reaches. You can only come close. And that’s through this little treasure of a town called Everglades City.

*** Hotels.com: Hotels in Everglades City***

Related Florida Rambler articles:

Everglades City Seafood Festival

Stone crabs in Everglades City: Fresh from the source

10,000 Islands: Ride the tide to Indian Key

Beach camping in the wild Ten Thousand Islands

Smallwood’s Store in Chokoluskee

Tamiami Trail: Scenic drive exploring the Everglades

Smallest (and cutest) post office in US: Ochopee

Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys

Snorkeling at Looe Key Reef

Snorkeling at Looe Key Reef

Most folks just breeze through Big Pine to get to Key West, slowing right down for a few miles to protect the unique and endangered Keys deer, but those who stop and smell the sea salts are richly rewarded with some of the best snorkeling in the Keys, great paddling to remote islands and one of the best beaches in all of Florida

The people here are laid back. When they want to get lively, they mosey on down to be entertained by the tourists in Key West.  Or they amble on over to Marathon, across the famous Seven Mile Bridge, to get their shopping done or take in a movie. For the most part, though, they just enjoy this little paradise that the hordes of tourists tend to ignore.

This paradise includes Bahia Honda State Park, at the foot of the Seven Mile Bridge on an island just steps away from Big Pine. Bahia Honda’s beaches are consistently ranked among the best in Florida.

And there’s Looe Key Reef, a marvelous destination just off Big Pine on the Atlantic side where  snorkelers enjoy a shallow-reef experience unequalled in all of Florida. Not even Pennekamp State Park’s reefs are as easy to enjoy, and Looie Key shares the same beauty of underwater life in the Keys.

The islands here run deep, and you can turn off the island-skipping Overseas Highway and drive for miles through untouched mangrove and pine forests to the outer reaches in the Gulf of Mexico, where you can find isolated ramps to launch a boat, canoe or kayak and explore the unknown, unseen and uninhabited islands of the Florida Keys.

Be forewarned, the high prices in Key West are driving others to find this special string of islands, so visit soon and hit the tiki bars before it’s too late!

*** Hotels.com: Hotels in Big Pine Key ***

Related Florida Rambler articles:

Paradise Found: Things to do in the Lower Keys

Key West camping: Try these tropical hideaways

Classic Keys cabins are good kayaking base

Celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Overseas Railroad

Florida Keys Road Trip: Print this Mile Marker Guide

Florida Keys: Spotting Key deer still a thrill

Ride your bike on the old Seven Mile Bridge

No Name Pub is funky Florida at its best

Best tiki bars are required stops

Punta Gorda

Punta Gorda Fishermans Village

Punta Gorda Fishermans Village

Who knew?

On a coast chock full of prime destinations, quiet little Punta Gorda stands alone on Charlotte Harbor, the confluence of the wild and scenic Myakka and Peace rivers, yet at the epicenter of everything Southwest Florida has to offer.  It’s just a small town with a population mix of natives and northern transplants seeking respite from the snowbirds that jam nearby Port Charlotte, Boca Grande, Venice, Sarasota and Fort Myers.

And that’s just it!   Punta Gorda is undiscovered — well, almost – and it has so much to offer. Fishermen’s Village is the town center with shops, boutiques and restaurants on a wharf hovering over Charlotte Harbor.  The downtown is cleanly laid out, where Victorian homes mix pleasantly with new Florida ranch homes on quiet, tree-lined side streets.

Not far away, you’ll find easy access to the paddle trails in Gasparilla Sound and the beaches of Boca Grande.

Less than 20 miles to the northeast is Arcadia, where paddling the slow-flowing Peace River is the prime industry (other than agriculture). Less than 20 miles northwest is Venice with its great beaches, bike trails and Myakka River paddling.  Less than 20 miles south is Fort Myers, gateway to the popular resort islands of Sanibel and Captiva, and paddling the Blueway in Estero Bay or Pine Island South.

Punta Gorda is surrounded by goodness.

*** Hotels.com: Hotels in Punta Gorda ***

Related Florida Rambler articles:

Punta Gorda reborn: Full of natural beauty, historic charm

Kayak Gasparilla Sound for dolphin, white pelicans

Peace River Seafood: Cracker cabin is a real crab shack

Venice Shark’s Tooth Festival

Peace River paddle

Calusa River Blueway to archaeological island

Hidden Gem: Oscar Scherer State Park

Legacy Trail and Venetian Waterway Park

Daytona Beach

Florida scenic drives: The Scenic Loop and Trail in Ormond Beach, Florida

Scenic Loop and Trail in Ormand Beach, Florida

Not so offbeat, or is it?

Daytona Beach is best known for the International Speedway and the World’s Most Famous Beach, where you can drive for miles at the ocean’s edge on hard-packed sand that once hosted race cars. Things really get fired up in late February and early March with the Daytona 500, Bike Weeks and Spring Break.

Everything is “World Famous” in this Atlantic coast town, from the World Famous pizza to the World Famous hot dogs and the World Famous fishing pier. Reminds you of Coney Island.

But Daytona has a not-so-famous side — yet quite worldly — on the back roads that lead to whale watching in an old Florida beach town, Flagler Beach, and a drive through the old oak hammocks of the Ormond Scenic Loop. Bikers welcome.

To the south is the quaint seaside town of New Smyrna Beach, gateway to the pristine and lonely beaches of Canaveral National Seashore and the wilderness known as Mosquito Lagoon. And not 50 miles away is the Kennedy Space Center, which has dominated the space race for decades.

Or go west to the oddly north-flowing St. John’s River, where you can paddle to your heart’s content, or even rent a houseboat to explore a river that was once a major transportation corridor linking Central Florida’s orange groves and winter vegetable farms to the railroads and ships at Jacksonville that carried the valued produce to the populous northeast.

*** Hotels.com: Hotels in Daytona Beach ***

Related Florida Rambler articles:

Flagler Beach: Escape to a real Florida beach town

Whale watching in Florida: Winter thrill on the northeast coast

Road Trip: Ormond Scenic Loop

Ultimate Road Trip: Driving on the beach

Canaveral National Seashore

JB’s Fish Camp: Running with the crabs

Video: Exploring the St. John’s River

Blue Spring: Chill Out

Princess Place Preserve: Magical site; great story

Fort Matanzas, a fascinating fort you visit by free boat ride.

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, historic gardens plus unusual conquina-rock beach

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2 Comments

  1. Punta Gorda sounds interesting. My parents live in Florida and I am always looking for new adventures in the state. I’ll bookmark this for this summer when I visit. Thanks for a great site.

  2. florida-keys-vacation.com says:

    Particularly enjoyed your comments on the Lower Keys! You painted an idyllic picture of a charming area.

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