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Florida’s Fantastic Flaura & Fauna: 11 Cool Nature Experiences in the Sunshine State

florida-nature
Chloe Nevitt
Written by Chloe Nevitt

The Everglades, tall grass, great weather through the year, and innumerable bodies of water mean that Florida is crawling with natural wonders. While some of these natural areas are trodden down by visitors and tourists, a lot of them are unique and untouched. If you’re planning a trip to the state, be sure to check out these cool outdoor adventures that’ll draw you closer to nature.

Take a Canoe Ride Down the Loxahatchee River

(Image via Flickr CC - americaswildlife)

(Image via Flickr CC – americaswildlife)

The Loxahatchee (try saying that five times fast!) River owes its unusual name to the Seminole Indians who named it after one of the many animals they saw there: lowchow (turtle) and hatchee (river). Today, the river has remained largely untouched and is home to a variety of endangered species, surrounded by extremely diverse flora. Because the river has been named a National Wild and Scenic River, it remains open to boats, kayaks, and canoes. It’s home to manatees, turtles, and alligators, owls, and tortoises — to name just a few. Its lush canopies continue to offer homes for its diverse residents, and those who come out to visit the area are asked to respectfully observe and never interfere. Canoe Outfitters of Florida offers rentals and supervised paddling trips that start from $35.

Walk Around JFK’s Bomb Shelter on Peanut Island

(Image via Flickr CC - drexston)

(Image via Flickr CC – drexston)

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, when tensions between the US and Cuba were at boiling point, Navy Seabees (the US Navy’s Construction Force) built a nuclear fallout shelter for President John F. Kennedy. Built in 1961, this shelter sat on Florida‘s Peanut Island and is operated by the Palm Beach Maritime Museum. Like a Hobbit Hole, the entry to the bunker is very quaint and the interior is very small. Because the bunker is located on an island and is only accessible by boat, nature has slowly taken over the facility over time. The bunker and the island is a spooky, strange place with mossy trees, sunflowers, and wild foliage, but remains an intriguing place to visit.

Flash a Toothy Smile at an Alligator Farm

(Image via Flickr CC - Steve Beger)

(Image via Flickr CC – Steve Beger)

Gators are synonymous with Florida. If we talk about sports, hobbies, or even food, the alligator seems to be woven into various facets of Floridian life. Alligator farms are another one of these unique-to-Florida, one-of-a-kind experiences. The whole spectacle is equal parts education and entertainment: Tourists are allowed to gently handle baby alligators while you will also see a daredevil stick his head in a gator’s open mouth. Generally, the people that run these farms hope that the information they provide will help eliminate the fear and misunderstanding surrounding these impressive predators and teach people to respect them.

Zoom in on Bonsai at the Morikami Museum

(Image via Flickr CC - Robert Pittman)

(Image via Flickr CC – Robert Pittman)

If you’re a little intimidated by big animals, big teeth, and even big trees then the mini-natural experience that’s available at the Morikami Museum will surely blow your mind. The museum showcases its mastery in the centuries-old art of bonsai, and the entire place feels like it jumped out of a Dr. Seuss novel. During some times of the year, the museum even sets up lanterns, transforming the grounds into a walking light show. If the hustle and bustle of a busy vacation is stressing you out, then the Morikami Museum is the best place to connect with nature, work on your inner peace, and appreciate the patience and dedication that was needed to prune and pluck at mighty oaks and maples to miniaturize them. Admission ranges from $9 to $15, closed Mondays.

Swing with the Monkeys at the Monkey Jungle

(Image via Flickr CC - Eric Kilby)

(Image via Flickr CC – Eric Kilby)

Monkeys are one of man’s closest relatives. With inquisitive faces, opposable thumbs, and an endless amount of energy and curiosity, these little critters always impress and amaze. The Monkey Jungle is a wonderful and energetic place where visitors are invited to play with the monkeys, explore their natural habitats, and even feed them handfuls of raisins through little trays. The Monkey Jungle is also home to orangutans, chimps, and various species of birds. Experienced trainers also perform shows with the monkeys at various times during the day, which are educational and a ton of fun.

Flutter Around with the Butterflies in Coconut Creek

(Image via Flickr CC - Lisa Jacobs)

(Image via Flickr CC – Lisa Jacobs)

Like little rainbows that fit in the palm of your hand, butterflies are nature’s most colorful creatures. Butterfly World, located in Coconut Creek is an enormous paradise filled with stunning birds and butterflies that amaze and greet visitors from around the world. The explosion of colors, from bird feathers and butterfly wings to the flowers they perch on, is a treat for the eyes. Watching these wispy insects flutter around your head will really make you feel like you’re walking in a dream.

Lose Yourself on the Gulf Islands 

(Image via Flickr CC - faungg)

(Image via Flickr CC – faungg’s photos)

Ridiculously inexpensive, extremely peaceful, and almost perfectly preserved, the Gulf Islands are a natural treasure. In particular, the Gulf Islands National Seashore is filled with untouched dunes and natural beaches, unsullied by the bustle of Florida visitors. Admission to the area includes a visit to the Fort Pickens Museum, which was built in 1834 to defend Pensacola Bay. Nestled in the middle of this peaceful oasis, the museum exudes the same level of calm serenity. The area is great for fishing, biking, and camping and has amazing things to see depending on the season. Different birds have different nesting seasons, and the area is known to be home to pelicans, gulls, and warblers. For those looking for the opposite of South Beach, this is the place to go.

Take a Ride Down Ocala’s Ziplines

(Image via Flickr CC - Experience Kissimmee)

(Image via Flickr CC – Experience Kissimmee)

If crawling through trees, rushing by canopies, and feeling like you’re on top of the world is your thing, then the zipline experiences in Ocala will be the most fun you’ve had in a while. The tour goes through miles and miles of Florida’s canopies with views that usually only birds are lucky enough to get. The guides take safety very seriously and state-of-the-art equipment is always used to ensure that visitors are strapped in tight. The tour focus on local wildlife, history, and nature, and the guides are quick to point out any interesting plants or animals you might see. With lines and bridges going across lakes and cliffs, the tour is unforgettably scenic.

Connect with Wildlife on a Safari Tour

(Image via Flickr CC - traveljunction)

(Image via Flickr CC – traveljunction)

Because of Florida’s temperate climate, a lot of invasive species can survive in its marshes, lakes, and swamps. While this can be problematic for some ecosystems, this climate has created a thriving business for outdoor zoos. Previously, visitors would’ve needed to jump on a plane to get a glimpse of a zebra, giraffe, or lion, but now they don’t have too. These outdoor safaris offer visitors the ability to drive through miles and miles of land that’s populated by free-roaming animals. Watching a gorilla, lion, or ostrich just casually stroll up next to your car, less than an inch away, is perhaps one of the most exciting things you can do in Florida. Operating for a wild 50 years, Lion County Safari is Florida’s only drive-through safari. Prices range from $26 to $35, and toddlers (ages 0-2) get in for free!

See the Unseen on a Balloon Ride

(Image via Flickr CC - highlander411)

(Image via Flickr CC – highlander411)

For those who want to go above and beyond Florida’s lush canopies, taking a hot air balloon tour will let you take it alllll in. The colorful dots of other balloons around you, combined with a dazzling sunset and endless amounts of fresh air can be enjoyed with a loved one, friend, significant other, or even alone. Orlando Balloon Rides has you covered with morning sunrise flights, and even though they can be a bit pricey ($195 to $225), just remember that from far up in the sky, all your problems on the ground will feel very, very small.

Kayak with Manatees in Orlando

(Image via Flickr CC - Visit Citrus)

(Image via Flickr CC – Visit Citrus)

Affectionately dubbed sea cows, manatees are the large, lethargic, herbivorous animals that can be found floating in rivers and lakes all around Florida. If you’ve ever wanted to get close to one of these fascinating creatures, a kayak tour around Crystal River will do the trick. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, you can also dismount and spend some time swimming with the manatees, but like most interactions with nature, it’s best to keep your hands to yourself. Crystal River Kayak Company offers a range of tours, with prices starting from $55.

Have you been on a great nature tour in Florida? Do you have a favorite secret getaway? Let us know what it is in the comments below!

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About the author

Chloe Nevitt

Chloe Nevitt

Lover of cheese. Trash panda enthusiast. Avid nap-taker and fridge-hunter. Occasionally writes and sometimes travels. Responds to "Chloe" and "Generous Overlord."

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