Nine Days in South Florida

While northwest Florida introduced us to crystal clear streams and next-level birding, south Florida got really wild! From gators lounging mere feet away on trails to the nightlife in Miami, south Florida is rich in diverse wildlife!

On our first day, we headed towards the Tampa area from Orlando where we had spent the previous night. En route, we found a wonderful trail run on the Acorn Hammock Trail among live oaks dripping with Spanish Moss. I had to stop mid-run to take this picture of a few acorns enjoying a hammock :).

Next, we continued onward to our campground, selected for it’s convenient location near the Hillsborough Fairgrounds where we had registered for a race.

We immediately headed into town to visit the Florida Aquarium. Though pricey, we really enjoyed seeing much of the wildlife we’d seen in person in our northwest Florida adventures and learning more about them. 

That evening, we decided to treat ourselves with a dinner on the town at the Columbia Cafe, right on the Tampa Riverwalk. It was delicious!

On our second day, we headed for the coast. One of our Boondockers Welcome hosts had raved about the paddle between Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island and we were eager to give it a go! However, when we reached the coast, there were wind advisories, so we opted instead to explore Honeymoon Island State Park.

The park has a 3 mile beach along which you can see incredible wildlife. At the north end, we had the place all to ourselves!

 

The visitor’s center also boasts great information and helpful rangers.

In the afternoon, we drove south to explore the St. Petersburg area, where we visited the Sunken Gardens. The small, dense botanical garden was developed inside a drained lake. It is popular for weddings and events.

 

On our third day, we woke SUPER early for a BIG RACE DAY! We planned our visit to this area because we had registered for the Tactical Titan 4, a 5K race with 30 obstacles. We actually registered as volunteers so ran for free but had to arrive by 6am to help set up and register the other racers.

The race was tough, but we got through it…mostly!

After the race, we showered and packed up but before leaving town, we stopped in at the International Independent Showmen’s Museum, only open on weekends for limited hours so we felt kind of lucky! The museum is a collection of carnival paraphernalia from the heyday of traveling circuses and the like. A very cool slice of history!

 

On our fourth day, it rained and rained and rained! We had planned a day of outdoor activities, but found some great alternates instead!

First, we enjoyed breakfast with an old friend in Sarasota (and enjoyed ourselves so much that we forgot to take pictures!)

Afterwards, we visited the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, the homes of the famous inventor/businessmen Thomas Edison and Henry Ford. The two were great friends and loved to explore the wilds of Florida. Edison, was obsessed with developing rubber in the US and used the property to grow and research plants from which he could efficiently extract it. 

   

There is a quality audio tour that will take you around the property, though no where does the museum comment on all the inventions that Edison stole from others…

Next, we visited the kooky Koreshan National Historic Site, the historic property of the Koreshan religious cult, founded by Dr. Cyrus R. Teed who believed that he had been instructed to found a celibate community and that he would be resurrected after death…

  

That night, we drove on towards the Everglades hoping for better weather the following day, camping overnight at the Skunk Ape HQ, where a man has been searching for the Florida version of the Sasquatch for 30 years…yes, South Florida is interesting!

On our fifth day, we visited the nearby Ochopee Post Office, the smallest post office in the US and mailed some postcards out! The cute little shack hosts one of the most pleasant postal workers we’ve ever met!

 

Then, we drove east towards the Everglades National Park Shark Valley Visitor’s Center, from which you can ride on the 15 mile Everglades Self-Guided Bike Tour.

Bikes are available to rent, but we had our own and headed out for adventure! At first, I was very scared of the proximity of the dozens of gators along this path but soon adjusted and easily dodged them with my bike (though I was definitely paranoid about running over a talk on accident). 

 

Aside from gators, we also saw innumerable birds, including my first roseate spoonbill!

That night we camped at the Long Pine Key Campground, one of the two Everglades National Park rustic campgrounds. 

On our sixth day, we continued deeper into the south west corner of the park to kayak the infamous Hell’s Bay Kayak Trail. We knew we didn’t have enough time to paddle all the way into the bay and back, but wanted to experience what everyone talked about as a “must do” activity.

They named the bay because it’s apparently “hell” to get into and “hell” to get out…and we agree! It was very challenging to maneuver our kayaks through the windy sharp turns of the path, despite being well marked with PVC pipes all along the way. Aside from the difficulty of the kayaking, it smelled like sulfur and there was no wildlife. So, eh…

On our way out of the park, however; there was a bright spot: a visit to the famous Robert is Here Fruit Stand! This stand boasts some of the strangest fruit you could even imagine. We hadn’t heard of half of them. They are also known for their milkshakes, but the line was so long, we passed. But we did get our mango cut up for us by Robert himself!

That afternoon, we drove into Miami to visit with an old friend. We spent time catching up and then explored the nightlife of the artsy Wynwood area, known for its amazing murals!

That night we drove on to Ft. Lauderdale, where we had plans to see more friends the next day.

On our seventh day, we were excited to explore the area near the Ft. Lauderdale KOA we were staying and weren’t disappointed! Near the entrance is a little path along a canal that we ran on around to a park next door called Vista View Park, which boasts “mountain” biking trails and an outdoor fitness center. 

 

The park is also home to some adorable burrowing owls!

In the afternoon, we spent time catching up on laundry and chores then met up with some old friends down the road for a wonderful dinner! It’s been truly delightful to catch up with so many people on our journey, especially here in south Florida!

On our eighth day, we wanted to full experience the Ft. Lauderdale area so we headed out for an early ride along the Linear Park Trail, a park that follows one of the main canals in the city, offering cyclists a great opportunity for safe riding. It also goes right by the KOA! We even saw iguanas right along the canal!

 

Next, we packed up and headed to the coast to walk along the Ft. Lauderdale Beaches. It was pleasant, but not particularly our scene (hotels and tourists), so we only made it a quick stop.

 

We were very excited about our next stop, as it was a Harvest Host location at Bedner’s Farm Fresh Market. We love it when we can stay at farms and buy local food to enjoy!

The best part about staying at the farm is that it was right next to the Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, where we rode our bikes and enjoyed viewing some pretty spectacular wildlife!

 

On our ninth and final day in south Florida, we continued north towards Lake Okeechobee, the tenth largest lake in the US! We had made reservations to stay at the nearby free Dupuis Campground

From the campground, we decided to ride our bikes to the lake and ride on the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail (LOST). It was really pleasant along the lake, though the highway biking was less fun. We did about 25 miles, but the LOST trail goes all the way around the lake for 109 miles!

 

Next, we’ll be heading into northeast Florida where we expect to see and experience even more thrilling adventures. Stay tuned for the corresponding Youtube video for our South Florida adventures!

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