It’s impossible to visit Florida’s Citrus County, on the Gulf Coast, and not feel inspired to get outside. Maybe you’ve come for the manatees — this is the only place in all of North America where you can legally swim with them, after all — but don’t stop there. You’ve got plenty of other options for adventure by land, by sea, and even by air. From nights under the stars to diving for scallops, here are nine outdoor adventures that prove this unique spot on the Gulf Coast is Florida’s nature playground.
1. Scalloping in the Gulf of Mexico
No doubt you’ll see scallops on restaurant menus up and down the Gulf Coast. But what you won’t see are scallops you’ve harvested yourself — and those always taste better. Scalloping season is June to September, which just so happens to also be the best time to be in the water.
Hire a captain from Crystal River or Homosassa — they’ll provide the gear, keep you safe, and, most importantly, share their local knowledge. Once you’re kicking your way across the warm surface of the gulf waters, peering down into the seagrass, you’ll understand the simple pleasure of seeking, finding, and plucking your future dinner from the sea floor. And once you’ve done the hardest part, bring your catch of the day to Cracker’s Bar, Grill & Tiki on the King’s Bay waterfront and let them cook it for you.
2. Biking the Seven Mile Loop
Looking to cover some serious ground? Gotta get at least two wheels. In town, rent a bike worthy of off-road travel on packed sand and grass, and then head to the Seven Mile Loop on W. State Park Street in Crystal River Preserve State Park.
Chances are you’ll have the place to yourself. Follow the road past the gate for .75 miles until the trail splits. Go right, first passing freshwater wetlands and piney uplands. That leaves the best scenery for last: sweeping views of coastal marshland. Word to the wise? You’ll want to be comfortable, so bring plenty of water and go in winter when it’s not as buggy.
3. Sleeping under the stars at Potts Preserve
Wedged between Tsala Apopka Lake and the Withlacoochee River, Potts Preserve is a camper’s dream — each site has a waterfront view. Park at North Hooty Point Road, where you’ll see a well-trafficked primitive site. Stop here, post up, and enjoy a drink by the lake if you just want a place to escape for the night. The campground is free (yup, you read that right) with a reservation from the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
If you’re looking for more peace and quiet, the best spot is the hardest to get to, of course. The Holly Hill backcountry site requires a hike along the River Trail. Bring all your stuff — it’s far enough that you won’t want to make the trip more than once. The area has plenty of flat ground, a good view of the river, and no development in sight, so don’t forget to pack your star chart.
4. Zipping through the pines at Tree Top Adventure at Faith Haven
Tree Top Adventure at Faith Haven may be the best adrenaline rush in Citrus County. The 24-element, seven-zip course requires a combination of strength, confidence, perseverance, and a little help from the dedicated instructors. Obstacles — zip lines, climbing walls, lily pad platforms — are doable for anyone from your nephew to grandma. A run-through of the course is reasonably priced ($35/person) and takes just about two hours.
You should also spare a night out on the town for the most adventurous tour, a “Moonlight Zzzzip.” Check the schedule to see when they’re happening and to reserve your spot.
5. Kayaking into Gum Slough
The woods and swamp across the Withlacoochee River from the aforementioned Potts Preserve lies one of the best-kept paddling secrets in Florida. Slip a kayak or canoe into Gum Slough (pronounced “slew”) from your campsite on North Hooty Point Road and head into the almost maze-like river, or park and launch at the end of nearby Turner Camp Road. The channel braids at high water, so do your best to keep track of your location. Aim to make it all the way to the source, nearly four miles upstream. It’s a long day, especially if you stop to swim, but it’s worth every minute.
6. Tossing the disc at Whispering Pines City Park
Whispering Pines City Park is smack dab in the middle of Inverness. The forested green space has all the expected amenities, plus a stout 18-hole disc golf course — the kind of golf where you might bogey just as much as you would in regular golf, but you can do it in flip flops. The course ambles throughout the sandhills, requiring throws uphill, downhill, and between dense trees. Although considered a technical disc golf course, the first nine holes are a fun challenge and a good walk.
7. Exploring the Citrus Hiking Trail
There may not be mountains in Florida, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a challenging hike. At 46 miles, the orange-and-yellow-blazed Citrus Hiking Trail is one of the longest and most difficult loop treks in the state. All in all, the trail takes experienced hikers three or four days, and it’s almost completely dry (which means you’ll need to carry all your water or stash water at road crossings).
Jump on the loop just south of Inverness near Holder Mine Recreation Area and head counterclockwise, keeping an eye out for wildlife as the trail meanders through open longleaf pine savanna. Eventually, you’ll reach rocky tread underfoot — cool, dark sinkholes with fern-covered entrances pockmark the woods here. Stop and explore the unique geology when the trail leads you right into the cave-strewn Lizzie Hart Sink at the southern part of the loop.
8. Fishing the flats on Crystal River
If your only experience fishing is watching a bobber float untouched on a murky neighborhood pond, you’re in for a treat. The clear, shallow ribbons of water twisting up the Crystal River marsh have become a go-to backcountry fishing destination for good reasons, namely: great scenery and plenty of hungry fish.
Go with a guide in spring to take advantage of the schooling redfish. You’ll catch the fishing bug when you see dozens of fins thrashing across the surface of the water. Pull back and place the cast right in front of a lunker. They call that sight fishing, and it’s just as exciting as it sounds — you won’t have any trouble smiling for the camera when you land the big one.
9. Going you-pick style at Bette’s Blues Blueberry Farm
Fruit farms do well in the Florida sun — especially blueberries. Most years, Bette’s Blues Blueberry Farm starts to see berries ripe for the picking from April to June. Each year brings its own set of agricultural challenges, though, so call ahead to make sure they’re open for business that particular day.
And remember, you don’t have to be a farmer — you just have to play the part while you’re there. The farm provides the basket, and you pick the fruit. Expect your haul to cost around $3-4 dollars per pound, with the full basket running you about $12. If you don’t like blueberries, don’t worry. Spring is a good time to pick your own blackberries (they’re thornless!) or peaches, too. Whatever your taste, you can find it here.