Last updated on May 6th, 2020 at 09:24 am
Scenic drives through Florida’s countryside are great ways to escape the house while staying socially distant.
I’m an explorer. To me, there’s little more satisfying than cruising down a country road and enjoy the scenery. I learned it from my father.
Back in the day, when Sunday drives were a routine family outing, my dad loved the back roads through foothills and farmlands of the Hudson Valley, and we would inevitably end up in a cornfield to the radio sounds of Tennessee Ernie Ford and Jim Reeves.
When the cornfield appeared, and it always did, my mom and my brothers would crack up. The barbs and corny corn jokes were flying, without mercy.
Why are cornfields the best listeners? (They’re all ears.)
Not surprisingly, I still love wandering down back roads, and — I’ll admit — a little country music on an afternoon drive works for me, more now than then. My wife and I still crack up when we encounter a cornfield, and we do that more than I’d like to admit.
Perhaps the old normal will become the new normal in these challenging times. Family bonding could be the net effect.
What is corn oil used for? (To stop corn from squeaking.)
Are we there yet?
- Miami Herald: The Keys are not open
- Beaches and parks reopen
- 81 of 175 Florida State Parks have re-opened
- Updates on hiking trails: Florida Trail Association
- Boat Ramp Finder Status: Florida Fish and Wildlife
- Bike riding safety: Consumer Reports
- For the latest CDC guidance on COVID-19, visit this page.
Scenic drives you’ll love for an outdoor escape
The Ormond Scenic Loop. A beautiful stretch of road north of Daytona Beach in an area rich with parks, historic sites and natural beauty. The Ormond Scenic Loop includes spectacular ocean views, scenic low-country marshes and live oaks and Spanish moss form a cathedral ceiling. When the half-dozen state parks along the route reopen, all the better. Start on North Beach Street in Ormond Beach, near the entrance of Tomoka State Park and follow the signs.
The roads of Ocala National Forest. Ocala National Forest is laced with a network of logging roads that take you deep into the lonely woods. The forest’s developed recreation areas, day-use areas, trails, visitor centers and campgrounds are closed, there’s nothing stopping you from driving aimlessly along hundreds of miles of unpaved access roads that criss-cross the forest. Get lost. Have a roadside picnic. Photograph wildlife, a scenic prairie, a hardwood hammock emerging from wetlands. All roads go somewhere (almost), but bring a forest road map and GPS (or compass) just in case: Motor Vehicle Use Map 2020. Most roads have markers that correspond to the map.
The Big Bend Scenic Byway. The Big Bend Scenic Byway links a big national wildlife refuge, three state parks, three historic lighthouses, one of the best beach islands in Florida and picturesque fishing towns. It winds through an area that sees fewer tourists, and offers rustic Old Florida delights at every turn–from black bears to white squirrels. Here are details about the Big Bend Scenic Byway.
Cross Florida on the “Cracker Trail.” Florida cow country stretches from Fort Pierce to Bradenton. There are moss-draped oak trees, a “ghost town” (just a historic marker and a boarded-up mansion on the Kissimmee River), a funky Southern-style vineyard and endless miles of pastureland. A pleasant drive, not stunning, it’s a two-lane rural highway with side roads to nowhere and some interesting stops along SR 98 and SR 64, used every year by the annual Cracker Trail Ride, a re-creation of an 1800s Florida cattle drive. Scenic drive details.
Alligator Alley. An hour or so across, another hour or so back, through the Everglades and Big Cypress National Preserve. There are multiple open recreation areas to pull off the highway to picnic under a pavilion or fish (or both). We were out there this week and saw families picnicking. Some (not all) boat launches are open. On the west end in Collier County, two recreation areas have gates allowing you to hike in the Big Cypress Preserve. Even if you don’t stop, the kids can count the alligators in canals that run parallel to the highway. Legal turnarounds are limited, but halfway across, the Miccosukee gas station and deli are open. You can turn around there. Alligator Alley is an interstate highway (I-75), so rest areas with restrooms are open.
Loop Road. Just off the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41), which also traverses the state, the Loop Road swings deep into the Big Cypress Preserve, past a few isolated homes at each end and through scenic cypress wetlands that will amaze. The cypress swamp is full of wildlife. Pull off to the side of the road, open the windows and enjoy the silence and the views. The 24-mile-long road is slow going. The eastern seven miles are paved, the rest is gravel or dirt. In summer, parts of the road can be under water. Be aware there are no facilities, and everything is closed on the nearby Tamiami Trail. Bring along this handy guide and map by the National Park Service.
State Road 30a. So you’ve always wanted to explore the coastal highway State Road 30a through the planned communities of Seaside, pastel-patterned Watercolor and the funky beachside community of Grayton Beach. Even with beaches and state parks closed, it’s a beautiful drive with views of coastal “dune lakes” and distant beaches. Bring the bicycles and ride the paved multi-use trails along 30a and the streets of Watercolor, or wander onto the off-road trails of nearby Port Washington State Forest.
A few more thoughts:
Take a road less travelled. Instead of hopping on the interstate, grab an old-fashioned roadmap and chart a path to your destination on secondary roads.
Bring your GPS or smart phone. Getting lost can be fun, but you want to find your way back.
Protect yourself when pumping gas. Pump handles and keypads can be contaminated, even when restrictions are lifted. Bring disposable gloves, masks and hand sanitizer. Read this advisory from Consumer Reports.
Forget the scenic Overseas Highway in the Keys. Monroe County has extended its lockdown through May. Non-residents are being turned around at multiple checkpoints.
A good resource for exploring back roads. Plot your own in-state travel adventure with the latest edition of Delorme’s detailed Florida Atlas and Gazetteer. $24 on Amazon.
Be prepared for road construction. In some areas, the state Department of Transportation has accelerated road improvements to take advantage of lighter traffic.
Co-publisher Bonnie Gross contributed to this report.