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12+ scenic drives: Beauty on Florida’s back roads

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We dont have mountains and most of our roads have no excuse to curve, but Florida still has scenery worth viewing through your windshield.

The trick to finding scenic drives in Florida is to find the undeveloped backroads and appreciate scenery that is often subtle rather than dramatic.

Map of Florida scenic drives. (Florida Rambler)
Map of Florida scenic drives. (Florida Rambler)

Some of these scenic back roads can be used as alternatives to interstate highways. Others are good for folks with mobility issues who take scenic drives as a way to enjoy nature. Some are only a few miles long. Others take a full day or longer.

Florida is rapidly urbanizing and losing its ‘Old Florida’ charm, but there several Florida scenic roads you can still enjoy.

SCENIC DRIVES IN SOUTH FLORIDA

Scenic drives Florida: Old Florida views are a feature along the Indian River Lagoon. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Scenic drives Florida: Old Florida views are a feature along the Indian River Lagoon. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Indian River Lagoon from Stuart to Fort Pierce

The long, wide Indian River Lagoon leaves a sliver of land for hundreds of miles along Floridas Atlantic Coast. Naturally, we are drawn to the beach and scenic State Road A1A.

But the other side of the river is worth exploring, too.  And because the lagoon is wide enough to discourage the building of lots of bridges, the western shore is a different world from the beach communities. Youll find an Old Florida flavor here, especially on the 20-mile scenic drive between Stuart and Fort Pierce.

Scenic drives Florida: Along the Indian River Lagoon from Stuart to Fort Pierce. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Scenic drives Florida: Along the Indian River Lagoon from Stuart to Fort Pierce. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Jensen Beach and Fort Pierce both have attractive waterfront downtowns, and there are a few parks and museums to explore along the way. Heres a guide with more details about this scenic road along the Indian River Lagoon.

As you head north of Stuart, this route becomes the the Indian River Lagoon National Scenic Byway.


The Cracker Trail across rural Florida

This is Florida cow country, stretching 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 the beautiful Highland Hammock State Park.

Scenic drives Florida: Rural beauty along the Cracker Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Scenic drives Florida: Rural beauty along the Cracker Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

I would call this route pleasant rather than stunning; just a two-lane rural highway with some interesting stops along the way. It follows SR 98 and SR 64 and is the route used every year by the annual Cracker Trail Ride, a re-creation on horses and wagons of an 1800s Florida cattle drive.

Here are details on this scenic drive through cow country.

An alternative drive is US 27 north from Sebring and drive the 40-mile long Ridge Scenic Highway, which extends to Haines City, and includes rolling hills as you drive atop of the Lake Wales Ridge.


Scenic drives Florida: Strangler fig along Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk along the Tamiami Trail, just beyond Big Cypress Preserve. (Photo: David Blasco)
Scenic drives Florida: Strangler fig along Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk along the Tamiami Trail, just beyond Big Cypress Preserve. (Photo: David Blasco)

Through the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail

When it comes to scenic drives, Florida has something unique: The Everglades — because there are no other Everglades in the world.

You can drive to the Gulf Coast on Alligator Alley and get there faster, but the Tamiami Trail gets you closer to the Everglades, and there are several worthwhile stops along the way.

If you have time, stop at the Shark Valley entrance to Everglades National Park, nature photographer Clyde Butchers gallery, several Everglades boardwalks and picnic areas and the worlds smallest post office.

From South Florida, do this as a day trip and return via Alligator Alley (I-75). 

Here are details on the Tamiami Trail scenic drive.


Scenic drives Florida: Driving through Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge offers impressive birding and wildlife viewing. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Scenic drives Florida: Driving through Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge offers impressive birding and wildlife viewing. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Into the Everglades on Loop Road

Loop Road can be experienced in conjunction with the Tamiami Trail (above), but because of the rustic nature of the road, it takes several hours.

Loop Road is a 24-mile-long two-lane road that more or less parallels Tamiami Trail through the Everglades. The eastern seven miles are paved and after that, its gravel or dirt. In the summer, parts of the road can be under water.

All year, the Loop Road teems with wildlife — alligators, birds, otters, deer, even the rarely seen Florida panther. Its part of the Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge. 

There are a few places to stop and hike, and several scenes that are a photographers delight, including the decaying remains of Pinecrest, which looks like a ghost town but still has a handful of inhabitants.

Heres a detailed guide to driving scenic Loop Road.


seven mile bridge
Scenic drives Florida: The historic old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys is shown at right, cutting through Pigeon Key. The modern span, completed in 1982, is at left. (Photo by Andy Newman/Florida Keys News Bureau)

The Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys

The drive down the Keys is unique in that it combines both ocean and gulf views, with lots of wildlife sightings, tiki bars, interesting roadside stops and an only-in-the-Florida-Keys ambiance.

Most guidebooks agree: the Overseas Highway is Florida’s premier scenic highway.

As you cross the many bridges on the highway, you can gaze out and be dazzled in all directions.

Our guide to the Overseas Highway takes you mile marker by mile marker through the Keys, highlighting the best places to stop.


State Road A1A in South Florida

A1A hugs the Atlantic Coast from Amelia Island to Miami, but some sections are better than others. The prettiest parts of A1A no surprise here are the least populated sections.

You can do these individual sections in a couple of hours, or take a day or two to explore them all.

hillsboro lighthouse
Start your A1A drive at sunrise with this view of the Hillsboro Lighthouse.

A1A: Pompano Beach to Delray Beach

Leaving Pompano Beach, you cross over a classic drawbridge over the scenic cove at Hillsboro Inlet with a bird’s-eye view of the Hillsboro Lighthouse, then roll through four miles of amazing tree canopy along Hillsboro Beach’s millionaire row. Mega mansions line the beach on one side, and the scenic Intracoastal Waterway on the other. Then a taste of ‘Old Florida’ in Deerfield Beach, a string of beachfront parks and ocean views in Boca Raton to Delray Beach, where you will undoubtedly want to stop for lunch at Boston’s.

A1A: Hutchinson Island from Stuart to Fort Pierce

This is one of our favorite stretches of State Road A1A, largely because of the no-build zones north and south of Florida Power and Light’s St. Lucie (Nuclear) Power Plant. There are dozens of pocket parks with access to pristine beaches, which can turn a two-hour drive into an all-day adventure. Read more.

Horseback riding on Hutchinson Island
Horseback riding at Frederick Douglass Beach Park on Hutchinson Island. (Photo by Bob Rountree)

A1A: Fort Pierce to Vero Beach

This is a low-key drive with little development and plenty to see. Once you cross the bridge from Fort Pierce, your first stop should be the Navy Seal Museum. Next up is Avalon State Park, where Navy Seals trained during World War II. Just up the road, visit Round Island Riverside Park, where you can launch a kayak on a largely undeveloped section of the Indian River.


SCENIC DRIVES IN NORTH FLORIDA

Florida A1A and a pristine beach in Flagler County. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Scenic drives Florida: A1A in Flagler County features pristine beach views and more. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

State Road A1A in Flagler County

Another of our favorite sections of A1A, which has many beautiful sections along the Atlantic Coast, is the 30-mile stretch between Ormond Beach and Matanzas Inlet. For beauty and history and its lack of dense development, it is unsurpassed.   

Here, you can drive 20-some miles without a traffic light and find nearly empty beaches with free parking. As you head north, enter a canopy of magnificent live oak trees that is a route through a Florida you probably thought was gone forever.

Beyond the scenic beauty, though, this area has so many interesting state parks and historic sites that you can take days to explore this stretch of Florida A1A. Read more.


The Ormond Scenic Loop

One of the most beautiful stretches of road anywhere in Florida is north of Daytona Beach in an area rich with parks and historic sites and overlaps with the stretch of A1A identified above.

The Ormond Scenic Loop includes spectacular ocean views as well as sections where the live oaks and Spanish moss form a cathedral ceiling.

The Ormond Scenic Loop Trail links Bulow Creek State Park to three other state parks while leading you on a gorgeous route under a canopy of trees. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
The Ormond Scenic Loop Trail links Bulow Creek State Park to three other state parks while leading you on a gorgeous route under a canopy of trees. It’s one of the most scenic drives in Florida (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

The Ormond Scenic Loop is 30-plus miles and takes you through beautiful forests, along waterways and creeks alive with native birds, and along the Atlantic Ocean, with spectacular beach and dune views. There are historic sites, hiking trails, parks, beaches and unspoiled scenery the whole way. 

It doesnt take long to make the drive, but you can easily spend all day at it if you stop along the way and you should. With its minimal commercial development and its many historic sites, its a day in Old Florida.

Heres more about the Ormond Scenic Loop.


Ocean Islands Trail: Amelia Island to Mayport

So much to see! So much to do!

You’ve heard about the ‘sea islands’ in Georgia and South Carolina, but did you know those sea islands extend into North Florida?

The Ocean Islands Trail begins in historic Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island and continues 40 miles south along State Road A1A, through the Talbot Islands and Fort George Island to the Mayport Ferry, which crosses the St. Johns River into Jacksonville.

Along the way, you’ll enjoy unmatched ocean views, especially in the Talbot Islands, multiple historic points of interest and a half-dozen picturesque state parks, not to mention multiple state and federal preserves.

At the end of your adventure, stop at the Sandollar Restaurant for a sunset dinner on their deck.

Read more about camping in the Talbot Islands and Huguenot Park. See stories about the Kingsley Plantation on Fort George Island and the Timucuan National Preserve and Fort Caroline National Monument.


Scenic drives in Ocala National Forest

The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway connects Silver Springs and Ormond Beach, running through the communities of Forest Corners, Mill Dam, and Astor along SR 40, and Salt Springs and Altoona along SR 19, all within Ocala National Forest.

While it was designated as a National Scenic Byway, the road is straight and the scenery is not dramatic. Indeed, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see a bear!

But not far away, within Ocala National Forest, is a network of logging roads that take you deep into the lonely woods. You can drive hundreds of miles of unpaved access roads that criss-cross the forest.

And there are definitely bears there.

Ocala National Forest bear
Bear wanders onto one of Ocala National Forest’s logging roads, most of which are accessible to the public for exploring the forest. (Ocala NF photo)

These roads are ideal for meandering and perhaps stopping to have a roadside picnic, photograph wildlife, pause at a scenic prairie or admire a hardwood hammock emerging from wetlands.

Bring a forest road map and GPS (or compass) and use this useful guide Motor Vehicle Use Map 2020. Most roads have markers that correspond to the map.

Just outside the forest, 45 miles of interconnected roads wind through countryside south of Gainesville, past great stops like MicanopyPaynes Prairie State Park and Cross CreekIts called the Old Florida Heritage Highway.


SCENIC DRIVES IN FLORIDA PANHANDLE

Big Bend Scenic Byway

The Big Bend Scenic Byway links a large national wildlife refuge, three state parks, three historic lighthouses, one of the best beach islands in Florida and picturesque fishing towns.

Hitting the highlights of the Big Bend Coastal Byway. (See interactive map at bottom for detail.)
Hitting the highlights of the Big Bend Coastal Byway.

It winds through an area that sees fewer tourists, and offers rustic Old Florida delights at every turn — from black bears to white squirrels. This area is also a major crossroads for migrating Monarch butterflies in October.

One of six federally designated scenic byways in the state, Big Bend parallels Floridas Gulf Coast below Tallahassee.

The ‘don’t miss’ section of the Big Bend Scenic Byway is US 98 between Bald Point State Park and Apalachicola, then out to St. George Island, hugging the coastline for 40 beautiful miles. Read More.


Scenic 30A in the Panhandle

Scenic drives Florida: Scenic 30A in the Panhandle
Scenic drives Florida: Dune lakes along Scenic 30A in the Panhandle.

The coastal highway State Road 30a passes by the charming planned communities of Seaside, pastel-patterned Watercolor and the funky beachside community of Grayton Beach.

It’s a beautiful drive with views of coastal “dune lakes” and distant beaches. There are three state parks near this road, all worth exploring:


Did we miss your favorite Florida scenic drive?

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