The beach town of Marco Island is all manicured and modern, but here are four adventures into the wild and authentic Florida that are within a quick drive. You can wade across a lagoon to a wild beach or have lunch in a funky fishing town or stroll on a boardwalk into a beautiful old growth cypress swamp.
Kayak, Canoe, Paddle Trails
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park has reopened with its iconic mermaid show and water park. The gorgeous spring-fed river is also open for kayak and SUP rentals, although the route from the park has been shortened.
The Manatee River is wild, natural and serene in its eastern section. Just a half hour from downtown Bradenton, the Upper Manatee Paddling Trail is another world. Your trip can include a stop at a preserve where a pioneer cemetery marks the site of an early town.
The Gulf coast along Charlotte Harbor has miles of wild shoreline, making it a wonderland of wildlife and natural beauty and ideal for sea kayaking.
This out-of-the-way destination reminds us of artsy waterfront towns like Key West and Cedar Key. West of Fort Myers, Matlacha is a colorful collection of little wooden houses surrounded by good saltwater-kayak trails. Artists love this funky little village.
This wild island on the Gulf coast is never crowded — it’s too hard to get there. For those who drive to Pineland on Pine Island and then take the hour-long ferry to the state park, the rewards are many: Nine miles of perfect beaches, shaded jungle-like trails and wildlife that includes osprey nests, dolphins, stringrays and all sorts of bird and sea life.
Peanut Island, reached only by boat in Riviera Beach, has clear turquoise water full of visible sea life. It’s great for a picnic at the beach — even camping. It’s an exceptional county park.
There are few parks in Florida with as much to offer as Pinellas County’s Fort DeSoto Park. And no park in the state, not even Everglades National Park, attracts as many visitors.
A Virginia Key kayak outing offers an amazing combo – views of the Miami skyline rising out of Biscayne Bay in one direction, mangrove lagoons with shore birds in the other. An extra treat: It’s the best way to see the old Miami Marine Stadium.
Juniper just might be the most pristine spring-fed river in Florida. It’s also stunningly beautiful. On a hot day, the 72-degree water and shaded run help keep you comfortable.