5 Florida Destinations That Are Off The Beaten Path
If your idea of vacation means truly getting away, we have five Florida gems that are off the beaten path.
CAMP for Visit Florida
1. Caladesi Island near Clearwater, FL
Photo by Spark for VISIT FLORIDA
Caladesi Island is one of the few remaining uninhabited barrier islands in Florida. Accessible only by ferry or private boat, Caladesi consistently ranks as one of America’s best beaches. Formed during a 1921 hurricane, the island is a long strip of soft white sand, pristine blue water, and warm breezes in the palm trees. Basically, paradise. There are some amenities like bathhouses and picnic tables, plus a cafe that also rents beach chairs and umbrellas, but for the most part it’s untouched. Pack a lunch and plenty of sunscreen for a beautiful day at the beach.
2. Ocala National Forest Ocala, FL
Photo by VISIT FLORIDA for VISIT FLORIDA
Set in the center of Florida, Ocala National Forest is over 600 square miles of sandy flatlands, prairie wetlands, and palm tree oases. There are hiking trails, campsites, and scenic drives, but best of all are the natural springs! Alexander Springs, Juniper Springs, and Silver Glen Springs are the most popular, with clear, refreshing water for a day of swimming. There are also lakes for kayaking and fishing, like Lake George and Beakman Lake. And being in the middle of a nature preserve means lots of wildlife, including manatees in the winter months.
3. Falling Waters State Park near Chipley, FL
Photo by Russell Mick for VISIT FLORIDA
There are lots of reasons to visit Falling Waters, but the best reason of all is the… well, falling waters. Florida’s highest waterfall cascades into a 100-foot sinkhole, covering the surrounding area with a cool mist and the thunder of the falls. But the 171-acre park has lots more to see, including hiking trails, campsites, natural springs, a lake with white sand beaches, and massive sinkholes more than 20 million years old.
4. Florida Caverns State Park near Marianna, FL
Photo by Dorothy Thames for VISIT FLORIDA
Just a 30-minute drive from Falling Waters is another natural phenomenon: Florida Caverns State Park, one of the few Florida parks with dry caves and the only park to offer tours through 38 million-year-old formations. The 45-minute tour takes you past various stalagmites, stalactites, rimstone pools, and “soda straws” lining the caverns. (Bonus: The cave is a refreshing 65°F even on the warmest day!) For those who prefer life above ground, there are limestone karst formations and above-ground caves for exploring, as well as trails for hiking and Blue Hole Spring for a cooling swim.
5. Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge Crystal River, FL
Photo by Paradise Media for VISIT FLORIDA
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the only place in the world where you can legally swim with manatees. Join a guided tour to see the gentle giants in the warm waters of Three Sisters Springs, where they take refuge in the winter months. (But they love to hang out in the summer, too!) For those who prefer dry land, there are boardwalks along the springs to observe the manatees in their natural habitat, along with hiking and biking trails through the 80-acre nature preserve, and plenty of restaurants in the area.
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