While Florida is loaded with spotlight-grabbing attractions like Walt Disney World, Universal Studios, South Beach and Busch Gardens, there are countless outdoor jewels that also add to the state’s allure.
One such example is Destin, a town that boasts the largest fishing fleet in the state and has been nicknamed “the luckiest fishing village in the world.” Located on Florida’s Emerald Coast in the state’s panhandle, Destin provides world-class fishing and is a perfect location for anglers to catch snapper, king mackerel, grouper and triggerfish. As prosperous as Destin’s waters are, it is merely one reason Florida has been dubbed the fishing capital of the world.
Florida features more than 12,000 miles of rivers, streams and canals and more than 7,700 lakes covering 3 million total acres, many of those spots brimming with fish. Thus, it is no surprise anglers spend almost 60 million days fishing each year in the state and the sport is a $7.5 billion business.
Other superb angling spots include Islamorada, a village located on six of the Florida Keys that offers a diverse array of saltwater gamefish; Clewiston, a city in Central Florida that features hefty largemouth bass; and Cedar Key, an enclave hidden on Florida’s Gulf Coast that is renowned for its redfish.
Clearly, Florida has a pre-eminent fishing scene, but its waters are also ideal for scads of other activities. Be it swimming, boating, snorkeling or kayaking, the state offers various sanguine locales that aren’t overrun.
Bahia Honda State Park is a scenic destination on a virtually uninhabited island in the Florida Keys that encompasses more than 500 acres and provides some of the best snorkeling and kayaking in the country. The park’s 2.5-mile natural white sand beach attracts swimmers of all skill level and kayakers and snorkelers can catch a glimpse of reef fish, rays, barracuda and even small nurse sharks. Another locale that will appeal to water enthusiasts is Molasses Reef, located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. The reef is a popular destination for scuba divers and snorkelers thanks to an area filled with remnants of sunken ships as well as a thriving ecosystem replete with eels, parrotfish and angelfish.
Caladesi Island State Park, located on Caladesi Island in the Gulf of Mexico, is another fabulous snorkeling, boating and kayaking location. Formed in 1921 by a hurricane, the island is famed for its unspoiled beach and provides visitors with pristine views of shore birds and sea turtles. Another kayaking hotspot is Coldwater Creek in the Florida panhandle. This 19-mile paddling trail in Milton has been deemed the “Canoe Capital of Florida” thanks to its spring-fed creek filled with clear, shallow water. The creek possesses some of the swiftest currents in the state (topping out at faster than 3 miles per hour), giving kayakers a vigorous workout.
For a unique experience, paddlers can take part in a bioluminescence kayaking tour on the glowing waters of the Indian River Lagoon. Located on the Atlantic Coast an hour from Orlando, it is the most biodiverse lagoon ecosystem in the Northern Hemisphere and is home to more than 10,000 species of plants and animals. Also, it is one of the few points on the planet that offers bioluminescence in nature. Kayakers looking to witness one of nature’s most exclusive phenomenon can take evening tours on the lagoon. As they paddle, visitors will get an eyeful of dinoflagellate plankton and comb jellies that light up the waters with brilliant blue and green neon hues, better resembling a space odyssey than any earthly terrain.
Those who prefer to remain landlocked will also find plenty of room to stretch their legs as Florida offers more than 34 million acres of public and private land, including 5.8 million acres of wildlife management areas. One of the finest of these is the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, a 2,000-mile self-guided highway route that connects 510 birding and wildlife viewing sites throughout the state. A birdwatching utopia, many of Florida’s 514 species can be found along the trail that stretches from the coastline to the northernmost forests while the panhandle section extends from the Alabama border in Perdido Key to the Tallahassee area.
Another striking territory is the 1,400-mile Florida Trail, which begins at Big Cypress National preserve in Southwest Florida and ends at Fort Pickens on Santa Rose Island in Northwest Florida. As one of only 11 National Scenic Trails in the country, the trek is teeming with swamps, forests, prairies, springs and a host of wildlife including black bears, alligators, cattle, sea turtles and bald eagles. Ocala National Forest is another spectacular hiking locale, as it spans more than 607 square miles of Central Florida and boasts a diverse terrain from sand pine flatlands to prairie wetlands. The forest is known for having more than 600 natural lakes and ponds, numerous hiking trails and a challenging 22-mile bicycle trail that appeals to hardy mountain bikers. Sporting a variety of wildlife, the forest features alligators, wild boar, bats, bobcats and the state’s highest concentration of the Florida black bear.
A Golfing Utopia
Florida is the country’s most popular golfing state as it boasts more than 1,100 golf courses, the most in the United States. Florida lays claim to an impressive array of golf facilities and hosts numerous championship golfing events, making it a key industry contributor to the state’s economy. With an economic impact of $16.5 billion per year and its golf industry employing more than 170,000 workers-the most of any state-the sport’s influence on Florida is colossal.
With so many golfers taking up space on links, one might consider the task of finding an excellent golf course that isn’t teeming with humanity a difficult one. In truth though, Florida is replete with underpublicized gems. For instance, Camp Creek Golf Club in Panama City Beach resides on an immaculate portion of North Florida land and is spotted with palm trees and lush foliage, while RedTail Golf Club in Sorrento offers guests a spectacular 18-hole course on 480 exquisite acres. Not to be outdone, Juliette Falls in Dunnellon, is one of the finest courses in the state, featuring manmade ponds, waterfalls and rock formations on a naturally rolling terrain.
Whether on land or in the water, Florida’s 67 counties, 282 cities, 109 towns and 19 villages offer a combination of sporting entertainment and natural charm that is unrivaled.