Last updated on May 5th, 2021 at 01:04 pm
Whether a Sunday drive or weekend getaway, Florida offer many escapes that entertain. Here are a few of our favorite road trips:
Tamiami Trail through the Everglades
The Tamiami Trail runs 264 miles from Miami to Tampa, but it’s the scenic stretch through the Everglades that is worth your weekend getaway.
This old road was carved out of the swamp in the early 20th Century with dredges, one of which has been preserved for your enjoyment at Collier-Seminole State Park near Marco Island.
One of your first stops should be Shark Valley, where you can hike, ride a bicycle or a tram along a paved deep into Everglades National Park to view an abundance of wildlife that makes these wetlands their home.
Bicycle rentals and tram tour tickets are available at the Shark Valley Visitor Center.
If you’ve got the time, take a side trip on the old Loop Road, a 26-mile backwater highway with a colorful history. This is a great detour if you’re into wildlife photography.
Your reward at the end of the Loop Road is a visit to wildlife photographer Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery, whose large-format photographs are renowned for capturing the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp on film with truly artistic beauty.
While you’re in the neighborhood, stop at the the nation’s smallest post office in Ochopee and dine at Joanie’s Blue Crab Café, where you can dine on frog legs, alligator and catfish. No worries. Tastes just like chicken.
Moving on down the road, you’ll pass through more of the Big Cypress Preserve and come to a fork in the road, actually an intersection, where you can go south into Everglades City and Chokoloskee Island, go north to the 2,000-foot boardwalk at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, or go straight to Collier-Seminole State Park, where you can camp and see the dredge that built the Trail.
The Cracker Trail through Cow Country
So, what is a Florida Cracker?
There is disputed history to consider, but the generally accepted usage refers to the early cowboys who worked the range in the central part of the state during the 1800s and early 1900s.
Florida cowboys did not use lassos, like their western counterparts, nor did they use the reata of the Mexican vaquero.
Rather, the Florida cowboys used a cow whip and dogs to herd cattle, and their ponies were small by comparison to the majestic steeds of the Wild West .
You could hear them coming, whips a-cracking, as these “cow hunters” moved herds through the rich grasslands of Central Florida – and along the “Cracker Trail.”
Relive some of that rich history with a 120-mile drive across the state from Fort Pierce through Sebring to Bradenton (or the reverse). Follow State Road 68 west until your reach U.S. 98 near Basinger, and follow 98 until you encounter County Road 64 in Avon Park, a few miles north of Sebring.
You’ll see ranch upon ranch along this route, with cows aplenty, and a few side trips on back roads will help capture the flavor of this historic route. Keep your eyes peeled for signs marking trailheads for hiking.
- At the crossing of the Kissimmee River, you can hike along the trail and view the 120-year-old Lockette Estate, which is closed to the public but whose buildings can be viewed from the river trail.
- Highland Hammocks State Park in Sebring. If you’re looking for an overnight place to camp, choose this campground under a dense canopy of live oak. Great nature trails for hiking and biking.
- Lake Kissimmee State Park, west of Sebring. Another great camping destination, but the main attraction (other than fishing) is a re-creation of an 1876-era cow camp. And if you visit on weekends from Oct. 1 through May 1, you just might encounter a genuine Florida “cow hunter” telling tales around the campfire.
- Cracker Trail Museum in Zolpho Springs is a collection of old buildings and artifacts from the cow hunter era.
Florida Keys Overseas Highway
The Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys is one of the most scenic drives in America, and you’ll see why when you skirt from island to island for more than 100 miles through a subtropical paradise.
The highlight of the drive is the stunning Seven Mile Bridge, which spans the ocean from Marathon to Big Pine Key.
Snorkelers gravitate to the coral reefs at John Pennekamp State Park on Key Largo or Looe Reef off Big Pine Key.
Paddlers, whether in a kayak, canoe or on a paddleboard, have a wealth of opportunities to slip into the sea almost anywhere from Blackwater Sound to the Saddlebunch Keys.
And it seems as if there’s a seafood shack every few miles serving fresh local fish.
Islamorada bills itself as the sportfishing capital of the world, but you can find fish – and fishing charters — anywhere in the Keys.
It’s easy to figure out where you are – mile markers measure the distance from the Key West (Mile Marker “0”)
Along the way, check into the Islamorada Fish Company Restaurant and Tiki Bar in Islamorada (MM 81), then go next door to Worldwide Sportsman, where you can climb aboard a classic Keys wood fishing vessel and shop for outdoors gear.
A note from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning your trip by following the applicable links in this article.
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 12 years ago.