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?
Colorful angelfish, fierce-toothed barracuda, sea turtles the size of golf carts…
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.
Microorganisms known as dinoflagellates make the nighttime waters spark, flicker, and flash…
What: Each summer, microorganisms known as dinoflagellates make the nighttime waters around Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge spark, flicker, and flash as kayak paddles, fish, and dolphin stir them up. A Day Away Kayak Tours conducts after-dark, into-the-blue tours through mangrove estuaries rich with marine life.
Where: Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge (also home to Kennedy Space Center)
The tarpon, known as the silver king for its impressive size…
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
At the top of Florida’s West Coast, the shoreline habitat is perfect for collecting bay scallops…
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
Prehistoric-looking gulf sturgeon, wilderness landscapes, and Old Florida river towns…
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
The truly adventuresome and ambitious can through-hike this 1,300-mile 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.
It takes at least eight days to paddle this 99-mile route…
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
Pedal paved routes that trains once steamed along…
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.
Learn more: Check out the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Florida page.
Florida’s trail of lighthouses is an adventure just from below. But the climb up?…
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
For those whose definition of adventure includes pedal-pushing and elbow-bending…
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
You can take the ultimate plunge at locations throughout Florida…
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
If you’re seeking a fresh perspective on the theme parks…
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
An Alaskan bush plane sweeps you above the islands, hammocks, and wetlands…
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.
Florida’s lack of significant elevation doesn’t keep its visitors grounded…
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
Catch some serious air at this famed windsurfing 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
Big pink birds that eat with spoons…
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
The eponymous national wildlife refuge here welcomes herds of manatees…
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
May through July, the Sea Turtle Preservation Society leads nighttime walks…
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
Alligators were often relocated to this lake, where their population is now estimated at 10,000…
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 any lake 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
You’re gonna smile as wide as a dolphin…
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
You’ll find beach shacks, the quintessential Florida dining experience…
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.
Whiskey primers and salt-and-honey tastings. Celebrity chefs plating tapas with wine pairings…
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.
The agritourism scene is exploding in Florida…
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
You can’t throw a rock without hitting a lake, river, or stream in Florida…
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.