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Scenic drives in Florida: Finding unspoiled beauty on backroads

Last updated on December 30th, 2021 at 05:47 pm

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.

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)

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. Some of these are only a few miles long. Others will take you all day, or even longer.

Florida is rapidly urbanizing and losing its Old Florida charm, but here are several Florida scenic roads you can still enjoy.

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)

Scenic drives in Florida: 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 alternative 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.

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

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.

Nearby Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge offers impressive birding and wildlife viewing. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
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, 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.

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 best scenic drives in Florida (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Scenic drives in Florida: 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.

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.

Scenic drive in Vero Beach: The Jungle Trail

I am always intrigued by old roads and this is one is on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s short — it’s an 8-mile-long hard-packed-sand road runs along the Indian River Lagoon. It was constructed in the 1920s to help transport the citrus crop, for which Indian River County is still famous. The Jungle Trail is ideal for exploring on fat-tire bikes, but you also can drive (very slowly) on it, jog or walk. We started at Wabasso Road on the northern end of Vero Beach where the Disney resort commands the beach, and drove south.

The scenic waterfront trail passes through palm hammocks and coastal wetlands, although much of its eastern edge is now housing developments. There are two wonderful exceptions to that, and they are both worth a stop.

Heading south, you first come to Captain Forster Hammock Preserve, 8610 Jungle Trail. It’s the last stretch of original maritime hammock –a jungly forest of live oaks and ferns.  There are a number of short trails, but the main one is well groomed and shady and extends from Indian River Lagoon to A1A.  One highlight is a green pond with a tiny island with a single bench reached via a little bridge. Captain Forster was an early pioneer and a chimney is all that’s left of his lagoon-front home.

Further south along the Jungle Trail is Jones Pier, 7770 Jungle Trail, where a pioneer cabin is preserved along with the original fruit stand. None of the buildings have been restored or are open, but the pier into the Indian River Lagoon is open to visitors and it’s a great place to pause and enjoy the beauty of this location.

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.

Scenic drives in Florida along the Atlantic on A1A

I’ve saved until last the best-known candidates for top Florida scenic roads — the ones with good views of the Atlantic Ocean.

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 our favorite section is the 30 mile stretch of Florida A1A 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, you 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 all day or several days to explore this stretch of Florida A1A. Details of driving A1A from Ormond Beach to Matanzas Inlet.

We also recommend these pretty sections of A1A:

The historic old Seven Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys near Marathon, Fla., is shown at right, cutting through Pigeon Key, a small island that once housed workers who aided the effort to build Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad. The more 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.

As you cross the many bridges on the highway, you can gaze out and be dazzled in all directions. There are dozens of great places to stop along the way. Our guide to the Overseas Highway takes you mile marker by mile marker through the Keys, highlighting the best places to stop.

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

A note from the editor:

The information in this article was accurate when published but can change without notice. Please confirm details when planning your trip by following the links in this article.

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EDWARD LOUIS DILLARD JR

Thursday 30th of December 2021

Jungle Trail in Vero Beach

Bonnie Gross

Thursday 30th of December 2021

Thank you! Great suggestion. I've added information on the Jungle Trail, which I had written about in a separate article on Vero Beach.

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