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Waterscapes dominate Florida, bringing with them so many incredible adventure options: boating, diving, fishing, board sports. But to grasp the full scope of the state’s outdoors, you also need to think outside the H2O. Here, adventure expands into the forest and marsh, into big cities and small towns, along inland trails and past local farms, even up into those near-constantly sunny skies.

One definition of Florida adventure isn’t enough, which is why we’re presenting five ways to see the best this wild state has to offer. Which one speaks to you?

This post is proudly produced in partnership with VISIT FLORIDA.

On the water

With three coastlines and many mighty rivers, springs, streams, and estuaries to “wet” your appetite for playing in the water, Florida defines aquatic adventures with terms like bottom time, bioluminescence, and the silver king. Do it right, and you’ll get acquainted with all three.

Diving the Florida Keys

Colorful angelfish, fierce-toothed barracuda, sea turtles the size of golf carts…

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Diving the Florida Keys

What: Colorful angelfish, fierce-toothed barracuda, sea turtles the size of golf carts, and coral reefs in high-def color — the underwater world of the Keys makes topside look pale. Outfitters and certification courses from Key Largo to Key West grant bucket wishes and provide life-altering experiences. (Or, of course, with snorkeling you can just have at ‘er!)

Where: The Florida Keys Dive Center in Key Largo is an obvious starting point.

Learn more: 10 Great Spots for Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in Florida

Diving the Florida Keys

Colorful angelfish, fierce-toothed barracuda, sea turtles the size of golf carts…

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Diving the Florida Keys

What: Colorful angelfish, fierce-toothed barracuda, sea turtles the size of golf carts, and coral reefs in high-def color — the underwater world of the Keys makes topside look pale. Outfitters and certification courses from Key Largo to Key West grant bucket wishes and provide life-altering experiences. (Or, of course, with snorkeling you can just have at ‘er!)

Where: The Florida Keys Dive Center in Key Largo is an obvious starting point.

Learn more: 10 Great Spots for Snorkeling and Scuba Diving in Florida

Tarpon fishing in Boca Grande

The tarpon, known as the silver king for its impressive size…

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Tarpon fishing in Boca Grande

What: The tarpon, known as the silver king for its impressive size and bling-y scales, is the prize catch of Southwest Florida. Boca Grande is known as the “tarpon fishing capital of the world,” and its deep pass and wealth of fishing charter captains send folks into a fishing frenzy come spring. There are many other species — like snook, redfish, and speckled sea trout — to target here as well.

Where: Boca Grande, on Gasparilla Island, steals the headlines, but you can hook a tarpon in coastal spots from Homosassa all the way around to Stuart.

Learn more: Top Tarpon Fishing in Florida

Snorkeling for scallops in Steinhatchee

At the top of Florida’s West Coast, the shoreline habitat is perfect for collecting bay scallops…

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Snorkeling for scallops in Steinhatchee

What: At the top of Florida’s West Coast, shoreline habitat turns marshy and perfect for collecting bay scallops. A number of charters in small-town, Old-Florida Steinhatchee will take you snorkeling for the tasty blue-eyed shellfish. And in recent years, the harvests have been unparalleled.

Where: Crystal River, Steinhatchee, Port St. Joe, and Cape San Blas

Learn more: Scalloping in Steinhatchee: Best Place to Scallop in Florida

Houseboating the Suwannee River

Prehistoric-looking gulf sturgeon, wilderness landscapes, and Old Florida river towns…

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Houseboating the Suwannee River

What: Prehistoric-looking gulf sturgeon, wilderness landscapes, and Old Florida river towns make this chug-a-lug along the storied Suwannee a trip back in time. Instead of paddling, all you have to do is glide.

Where: Suwannee Houseboats at Miller’s Marina in Suwannee, or Suwannee River Tours in Chiefland

Learn more: Along the River: The Suwannee

Photos provided by: Visit Florida, Visit Florida, Michael Seeley, Pete Markham, Florida Fish and Wildlife, Ebyabe

On the trail

Hiking trails of all lengths traverse Florida’s bountiful green spaces and public lands, from the Everglades to Apalachicola National Forest. But they aren’t the only kind of trail — follow these five for adventures from paddling to beer tasting.

Hiking the Florida National Scenic Trail

The truly adventuresome and ambitious can through-hike this 1,300-mile trail…

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Hiking the Florida National Scenic Trail

What: The truly adventuresome and ambitious can through-hike the 1,300-mile trail from the Everglades to Pensacola’s Gulf Islands National Seashore. The Florida Trail Association’s website also lists “Grab-and-Go” day and short backpacking trips — odds are you’re closer to one than you think, regardless of where in the state you’re visiting.

Where: The Florida National Scenic Trail, throughout the state

Learn more: Check out the Forest Service’s Florida National Scenic Trail page for more details.

Paddling the Everglades’ Wilderness Waterway

It takes at least eight days to paddle this 99-mile route…

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Paddling the Everglades’ Wilderness Waterway

What: It takes at least eight days to paddle this 99-mile route from Everglades National Park’s Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City to Flamingo on mainland Florida’s southern tip. Of course, you should probably heed the park’s recommendation to with a shorter adventure. Grab a map to plot out overnight campsites along the way on island beaches and under thatched “chickee huts” (permits required).

Where: Everglades National Park

Learn more: The Wilderness Waterway

Biking Florida’s Rails-to-Trails

Pedal paved routes that trains once steamed along…

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Biking Florida’s Rails-to-Trails

What: Pedal paved routes that trains once steamed. There are dozens of trails throughout the state, ranging from the 6.5-mile, beach-bound Gasparilla Island Trail; to the 35-mile, urban Pinellas Trail in the St. Petersburg area, to the 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail through state forest and country towns in Northwest Florida.

Where: Statewide

Learn more: Check out the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Florida page.

Climbing the East Coast’s Lighthouse Trail

Florida’s trail of lighthouses is an adventure just from below. But the climb up?…

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Climbing the East Coast’s Lighthouse Trail

What: From the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse in the northeast to Jupiter Inlet, Miami, and Key West, Florida’s trail of lighthouses is an adventure just from below. But the climb up? That’s what’ll upgrade your adventure — with Instagrammable coastal views. Not to mention the upgrade to your glutes.

Where: The Lighthouse Trail

Learn more: Explore Florida’s Lighthouses

Biking and sipping along the Tampa Bay Ale Trail

For those whose definition of adventure includes pedal-pushing and elbow-bending…

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Biking and sipping along the Tampa Bay Ale Trail

What: For those whose definition of adventure includes pedal-pushing and elbow-bending, this trail features stops at 47 craft breweries in the Tampa-St. Pete area (okay, maybe don’t do them all in one day). Warning: Pack the sunscreen, and be ready to come home with a bad case of beer-elbow. Worth it? You bet.

Where: Tampa Bay and the surrounding region

Learn more: The Tampa Bay Ale Trail

In the air

Thanks to its year-round flying-friendly skies, Florida offers all kinds of different options for getting airborne. Here are five ideas for a sky-high adventure, spanning the spectrum of extremity — from flightseeing excursions to straight up jumping out of a plane.

Skydiving above the Sunshine State

You can take the ultimate plunge at locations throughout Florida…

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Skydiving above the Sunshine State

What: You can take the ultimate plunge at tons of locations throughout Florida, all of which will conduct the necessary training and pair you with an instructor for your leap of faith. On the East Coast, try Skydive Sebastian or Miami Skydiving Center; outside of Tampa, look to Skydive City/Z-Hills.

Where: Tampa, Sebastian, DeLand, Sarasota, and Zephyrhills, to name a few

Learn more: 14,000 Feet of Freedom: Skydiving Above Lake Okeechobee

Hot-air Ballooning in Orlando

If you’re seeking a fresh perspective on the theme parks…

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Hot-air Ballooning in Orlando

What: If you’re seeking a fresh (and breezy and uncrowded) perspective on the theme parks, try looking down. No waiting in line for these fiery early-morning takeoffs, often accompanied by champagne…sometimes even by a breakfast buffet!

Where: The Orlando area

Learn more: How to Do Florida: Hot-Air Ballooning

Flightseeing in the Everglades

An Alaskan bush plane sweeps you above the islands, hammocks, and wetlands…

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Flightseeing in the Everglades

What: An Alaskan bush plane sweeps you above the islands, hammocks, and wetlands of the vast, wildlife-filled Everglades National Park, Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge, and Big Cypress National Preserve. Consider it recon for the next day’s water-based adventures.

Where: Everglades National Park and surrounds

Learn more: Check out Everglades Area Tours.

Hang gliding in the Florida breeze

Florida’s lack of significant elevation doesn’t keep its visitors grounded…

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Hang gliding in the Florida breeze

What: Florida’s lack of significant elevation doesn’t keep its visitors grounded; it only makes operators more resourceful. Wallaby Ranch in Central Florida is one that uses aero-towing — that is, you and your hang glider are hauled into mid-air behind an airplane — to provide the wind beneath your wings. And then? You’re on your (tandem) own.

Where: Wallaby Ranch, near Orlando

Learn more: Hang Gliding in Florida at Wallaby Ranch

Kite surfing on St. Augustine Beach

Catch some serious air at this famed windsurfing beach…

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Kite surfing on St. Augustine Beach

What: Catch some serious air at this famed windsurfing beach. Operators like Ocean Extreme Sports provide lessons and gear to help you master (well, let’s say tackle) this epic sport. And you thought you had done all there was to do in sun and sand.

Where: St. Augustine Beach

Learn more: An Introduction to Kitesurfing in Florida

Photos provided by: Rusty Clark, Visit Florida, Highlander411, Wallaby Ranch, Photo YourSpace

With the wildlife

Roseate spoonbills, manatees, leatherback sea turtles, alligators, river otters, and more — Florida wildlife is the stuff of Animal Planet meets Dr. Seuss. Here are some of the best places to get up close and personal (or, as close as a healthy respect for nature allows).

Birding in the Dry Tortugas

Big pink birds that eat with spoons…

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Birding in the Dry Tortugas

What: Big pink birds that eat with spoons — fanciful description, truly impressive animal. Spot roseate spoonbills in Dry Tortugas National Park, south of Key West, along with rare finds such as the masked booby, brown noddy, sooty tern, and — during migration “fall-outs” — a rainbow of warbler species.

Where: Dry Tortugas National Park

Learn more: The Florida Keys: Dry Tortugas National Park

Snorkeling with manatees around Crystal River

The eponymous national wildlife refuge here welcomes herds of manatees…

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Snorkeling with manatees around Crystal River

What: The eponymous national wildlife refuge here welcomes herds of manatees escaping cold winter waters in the open Gulf. Several outfitters will put you in the water to swim with — and one-hand pet — these huge-but-gentle, potato-shaped creatures. If you’re lucky, you might even get a hug. Just make sure to know and practice your “manatee manners.”

Where: Crystal River, Florida

Learn more: How to Swim with Manatees in Crystal River

Watching nesting sea turtles on Melbourne Beach

May through July, the Sea Turtle Preservation Society leads nighttime walks…

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Watching nesting sea turtles on Melbourne Beach

What: May through July, the Sea Turtle Preservation Society on Florida’s Space Coast leads nighttime walks (about half a mile) to quietly observe the ancient ritual of turtles digging nests in the sand and depositing their ping-pong-sized eggs. It’s one of those natural spectacles that everyone should witness at least once.

Where: Melbourne Beach

Learn more: Where to See Nesting Sea Turtles in Florida

Airboating with Gators on Lake Jesup

Alligators were often relocated to this lake, where their population is now estimated at 10,000…

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Airboating with Gators on Lake Jesup

What: Back during Orlando’s early development, alligators were often relocated to this lake, where their population is now estimated at 10,000. (For the record, that’s the largest concentration of gators in anylake in the U.S.) Black Hammock Fish Camp in Oviedo zips passengers around the lake to see the tyrannosaur-ish creatures, along with thousands of birds.

Where: Lake Jesup

Learn more: Black Hammock Adventures in Oviedo

Swimming with dolphins in the Keys

You’re gonna smile as wide as a dolphin…

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Swimming with dolphins in the Keys

What: You’re gonna smile as wide as a dolphin during the encounters that aquariums in the Keys set up for you. For the ultimate, sign up as trainer for a day. The kids will hardly believe their luck.

Where: Multiple locations, including the Miami Seaquarium

Learn more: Miami Seaquarium Dolphin Experience

At the table

Adventures in dining happen in the great outdoors throughout the state, throughout the year. From farm-to-table experiences to al fresco festivals, they impart a true flavor of Florida and will further broaden your definition of “adventure.”

Dining at beach shacks

You’ll find beach shacks, the quintessential Florida dining experience…

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Dining at beach shacks

What: You’ll find beach shacks, the quintessential Florida dining experience, scattered wherever there’s shoreline. Eat with your toes in the sand at High Tides at Snack Jack in Flagler Beach, or at Doc’s Beach House in Bonita Springs — but that’s just the first two that spring to mind from a very, very long list.

Where: Likely just a few minutes from where you are

Learn more: Options are everywhere, but here’s a super-comprehensive list of all the beachside noms in Flagler Beach.

Checking out food & drink festivals

Whiskey primers and salt-and-honey tastings. Celebrity chefs plating tapas with wine pairings…

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Checking out food & drink festivals

What: Whiskey primers and salt-and-honey tastings. Celebrity chefs plating tapas with wine pairings. Bacon and bourbon. Craft beer and burger bashes. Bluegrass and blueberries. Florida festivals are all about wicked combos, wickedly good food, and having a wickedly awesome time. And, yes, all of the above are 100% real and 100% happening.

Where: All throughout the state, all year long

Learn more: Check out the calendar of events over at VISIT FLORIDA’s website.

Tasting the best of farm-to-table fresh

The agritourism scene is exploding in Florida…

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Tasting the best of farm-to-table fresh

What: The agritourism scene is exploding in Florida, which means so too is the farm-to-table movement. Organic farms offer — quite literally — outdoor farm-to-table meals, and super-fresh restaurants span the state. Check out Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink in Miami’s Design District or Red Fish Blue Fish in Pensacola Beach to get started at the top of the heap.

Where: Throughout the state

Learn more: Farm-to-table dining in Florida

Indulging in the seafood scene

You can’t throw a rock without hitting a lake, river, or stream in Florida…

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Indulging in the seafood scene

What: You shouldn’t plan an itinerary that doesn’t leave plenty of room for enjoying this Florida currency. From Goodland’s wacky Mullet Festival to Key West Lobsterfest, seafood gets its due with piles of briny treats and lots of local color.

Where: Jupiter, Fort Pierce, Key West, Naples…you name it

Learn more: Come winter (and spring and fall), you’ll have dozens and dozens to choose from.


This post is proudly produced in partnership with VISIT FLORIDA.
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