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Backroads & scenic drives in Florida: Finding unspoiled beauty beyond the beaches

Last updated on April 23rd, 2020 at 09:56 am

Scenic drives in Florida include one along the Indian River Lagoon. The House of Refuge on Hutchinson Island overlooks the ocean on one side and this view of the Indian River Lagoon in the other.

Scenic drives in Florida include one along the Indian River Lagoon. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

We don’t have mountains and most of our roads have no excuse to curve, but Florida still has scenery that is worthy of viewing through your windshield.

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

Some of these scenic backroads 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.

Here are several Florida scenic roads we’ve enjoyed:

Scenic drive in Florida aong the Indian River Lagoon

Old Florida views are a feature of this Florida scenic drive along the Indian River Lagoon. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Along the Indian River Lagoon from Stuart to Fort Pierce. The long, wide lagoon leaves a sliver of land for hundreds of miles along Florida’s Atlantic Coast. Naturally, we are drawn to the beach and scenic A1A. But the other side of the Indian River Lagoon 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.  You’ll find an Old Florida flavor here, especially on the 20-mile scenic drive between Stuart and Fort Pierce.

Jensen Beach and Fort Pierce both have attractive water-front downtowns and there are a few parks and museums to explore along the way.  Here’s 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.

Scenic drive along the Cracker Trail.

Florida scenic drive along the Cracker Trail. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Across Florida on the Cracker Trail. 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.

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.

A nearby addition or alterantive is to take US 27 north at Sebring and drive the 40-mile long Ridge Scenic Highway, which extends to Haines City, and includes rolling hills as the rides the top of the Lake Wales Ridge.

Two Everglades outings make good scenic drives in Florida

Tamiami Trail Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk (Photo :dchriso via flickr)

The jungly view along Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, located along the scenic section of Tamiami Trail. (Photo by Dchriso via Flickr.)

Through the Everglades on the Tamiami Trail.  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, famous nature photographer Clyde Butcher’s gallery, several Everglades boardwalks and picnic areas and the world’s smallest post office. From Broward or Palm Beach, you can even do this as a day trip with a return via Alligator Alley.  Here are details on the Tamiami Trail scenic drive.

Into the Everglades on Loop Road.  This can be done in conjunction with the Tamiami Trail, but because of the rustic nature of the road, it takes several hours.

Loop Road is a 24-mile-long two-lane road that parallels Tamiami Trail through the Everglades. The eastern seven miles are paved and after that, it’s gravel or dirt. In the summer, parts of the road can be under water. All year, the place teems with wildlife – alligators, birds, otters, deer, even the rarely seen Florida panther. It’s part of the Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge.  There are a few places to stop and take a hike and several scenes that are a photographer’s delight, including the decaying remains of Pinecrest, which looks like a ghost town but still has a handful of inhabitants.

Here’s  more about the scenic Loop Road.

Florida scenic drive: Ormond Scenic Loop Road. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Florida scenic drive: Ormond Scenic Loop Road. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Scenic drives in Northern Florida

Around 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, historic sites and natural beauty. The Ormond Scenic Loop includes spectacular ocean views as well as sections where the live oaks and Spanish moss form a cathedral ceiling. Here’s more about the Ormond Scenic Loop.

Harvey’s Historic Truck Display is a field of rusting antique cars and trucks that people love to photograph. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Harvey’s Historic Truck Display is a field of rusting antique cars and trucks along the Big Bend Scenic Byway, one of Florida’s best scenic drives. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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.

The Ormond Scenic Loop connects to the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway, which traverses Ocala National Forest, passing through pinelands and wetlands and passing such Florida treasures Silver Springs State Park and Juniper Springs. Here’s more info on that route.

A little further north, 45 miles of interconnected roads wind through countryside just south of Gainesville, past great stops like MicanopyPaynes Prairie State Park and Cross Creek. It’s called the Old Florida Heritage Highway.

Most popular scenic highways in Florida: Along the Atlantic

I’ve saved until last the best-known candidates for top Florida scenic roads — the ones with good views of the Atlantic Ocean. There two are natural stand-outs:

A1A. A1A hugs the Atlantic Coast from Amelia Island to Miami, but some sections pass through commercial districts full of traffic, fast-food restaurants and big-box stores. The prettiest parts of A1A – no surprise here – are the least populated sections. We’ve driven the whole stretch and recommend, from the south to north:

The Overseas Highway through the Florida Keys. This drive is unique in that it combines both ocean and gulf views. As you cross the many bridges on the highway, you can gaze out and be dazzled in all directions. Here’s our mile-marker guide to the Overseas Highway.

Did we miss your favorite Florida scenic drive? Please use the comment field below to suggest additions to this guide or tips for travelers.




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