Episode 81 – Best of the Gulf Coast Florida State parks

Honeymoon Island Causeway Florida

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Some of the best Florida state parks are located on the Gulf Coast of Florida. The Gulf of Mexico is on the West Coast of Florida. The Sunshine State is known for its outdoor experiences. Florida’s state parks have miles of trails, historic sites, picnic areas, white sand beaches, wildlife viewing, and endless activities for the entire family. Overnight stays in a campground, swimming in the clear waters of the pristine beaches, horseback riding; pack a lunch, and grab some picnic tables. Follow us as we check out the popular activities and adventures to be found in the Gulf Coast Florida State Parks.

Note: this episode was recorded before Hurricane Ian. Please check with the individual state parks in regards to current operating status

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Product and Locations Mentions

Naples

We start off in the largest state park Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. Located next to Cypress National Preserve, just southeast of Naples, the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve is near the Florida Panther, Nat’l Wildlife Refuge. It used to be home to massive logging operations, which is part of why it ended up as a preserve and state park to prevent too much deforestation. The Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk brings you to the largest bald cypress swamp in the world. Cypress trees are a marvel to be seen. Launch a canoe from the East River Canoe Launch. With easy access to scenic rivers, winding through brackish waters, and several small lakes and canopied mangrove forests tunnels before widening into a tidal river. You can also take a great adventure on a guided tour throughout Fakahatchee Strand Preserve to highlight the “Amazon of the North”.

Collier Seminole State Park is a great place that is 7,271-acre that lies partly within the great mangrove swamp of South Florida, one of the largest mangrove swamps in the world. For many people, hiking through nature offers the opportunity to get away from it all and enjoy being outside without the distractions of technology, traffic, and other time wasters.

At Collier Seminole State Park in Naples, Florida, there are plenty of opportunities to hike and experience history as well as nature. With trails that run along both sides of the park’s namesake river as well as hiking and biking trails throughout the park, you’re sure to find something that sparks your interest when you visit this Southwest Florida destination. There is a wide variety of different trails ranging from easy and short, to moderate and long. The most popular trail is the Blackwater Creek Trail which will take about 2-3 hours for a roundtrip hike. For those who are looking for something more challenging, try the North Loop Trail which will take about 5-7 hours for a roundtrip hike.

For history buffs, The park is the site of a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark, the last existing Bay City Walking Dredge. Built in 1924, it was used to build the Tamiami Trail Highway through the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp linking Tampa and Miami. Experience the park’s amazing wildlife on miles of nature trails. Camping sites and picnic pavilions make this a great overnight stay or day trip.

Fort Myers

Lover’s Key State Park is one of those stunning stretches of white sandy beaches that also happens to be a state park. Located in Fort Myers Beach, it was once only reachable by boat. It was going to be home to luxury condos but now is sugar sand beaches and mangroves. It resembles a resort area where you can rent umbrellas, but also bikes, kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards. But it isn’t just about beautiful beaches and warm waters. The park also has over five miles of multi-use trails, including the Black Island Trail. You can travel by foot or by bicycle to experience almost total seclusion and see some of the park’s amazing wildlife. Just a few years into the trail you will discover a stunning butterfly garden. Find yourself surrounded by all its natural beauty. Lover’s Key Guided eco tour is a must!

North of Lover’s Key and Fort Myers Beach is Cayo Costa State Park. This area protects the Charlotte Harbor Estuary and provides visitors with a majestic piece of nine miles of untouched sand. Only a $2 per person entry fee and is accessible only by boat or kayak. You will also find primitive camping, fishing, and scuba diving activities. Hop on the fairy at Cayo Costa State Park and stay at a campsite overnight or just enjoy a nice, secluded day!

Take a sunset sail in Fort Myers to see the best of these beaches.

Central Gulf Coast

Near Sarasota, you will discover Myakka River State Park which flows through 58 square miles of one of Florida’s oldest and largest parks. It sets the scene for what early explorers and Native Americans may have witnessed. You will also find limpkins and osprey piercing the air while alligators and turtles sun lazily on logs and riverbanks. Flowing through a vast expanse of unspoiled wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands, this place is perfect for nature lovers. Explore miles of trails and backroads by water and land.

Werner Boyce is interesting because the springs that are in the area have large salt deposits on the rocks. During the civil war, salt works were set up on this property. There is a tidal waterfall just past Salt Spring that you can see during low tide and the Springs Trail shows the various salt springs and sinks. The history is immersive with interpretive displays throughout the park. It is a birder’s paradise with several viewing stands located throughout the springs. You will also find eagle trails where you might find bald eagles, roseate spoonbills, the elusive black rail, hawks, wading birds, shorebirds, and migratory songbirds galore.

Weeki Wachee

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is almost like an amusement park and is celebrating 75 years in 2022. This park has it all from quintessential roadside attractions and mermaid performances. 400-seat auditorium hosting Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. Tail Mail from the mermaids. If you have a child under 17, they can write a letter to their favorite mermaid and get an autographed picture along with a videotaped response. Enjoy the water park side of Buccaneer Bay which has water slides that drop you into the freshwater springs and plenty of water fun to be had. Float in the natural river that flows around the swimming area. A really cool fact is In 2007 they found new passages in the springs cave system and it’s now confirmed as the deepest freshwater cave system in the US.

Homosassa

Homosassa is an incredibly popular spot in Florida. It is also known as Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. It has been ranked as the best state park in the whole state park. Take a boat from the parking area to the springs. Perhaps the thing Homasassa is best known for is the manatee. Hundreds of manatees live here. Try to catch a ranger talk and a feeding session with the manatees with their educational programs.

The park also has a wildlife park for rehab and rescue. It is Florida’s only wildlife park that works with the Florida Fish and Wildlife to rehabilitate black bears and release them back into the wild. An astounding number of fresh and saltwater fish still congregate in the natural spring bowl — large jacks, snapper, snook, and others. There is the Underwater Observatory which is an underwater structure allowing visitors to “walk underwater” beneath the spring’s surface to watch the various fish and manatees swim about. Animals that are unable to survive in the wild alone live here to keep them protected and allow them to thrive. You will discover such animals as animals such as alligators, black bears, red wolves, Key deer, flamingos, whooping cranes, and the oldest hippopotamus. When you visit the park, it’s easy to see why so many people love it so much.

A visit to this park will show you just how rewarding nature can be, but you’ll have to follow the right steps to make sure you maximize your experience there.

Manatee under water, what you might see in a Gulf Coast State Park in FloridaPhoto by Koji Kamei on Pexels

Crystal River

Crystal River Preserve is a historian’s dream. Located almost within the Crystal River Preserve is the Archaeological park where you can see the history of the pre-Columbian burial mounds and evidence of ceremonial sites for Native Americans. There are learning items made of copper that were found this far south. Copper mines are typically located in the northern Michigan Upper Peninsula, so trading or traveling brought copper items to this area. Explore the preserve during the day and enjoy a night under the stars.

The manatee area is a must-see. The observation platform at the park is a great place to observe manatees in their natural habitat. The platform overlooks a natural spring that’s a perfect spot for manatees to congregate and enjoy the warm water. You’ll have to take the boardwalk from the visitor center, so you can walk around and get up close to these wonderful animals.

Get even more up close with one of the many Crystal River tours.

Crystal River Archaeological State Park features an impressive collection of artifacts from the Crystal River Mound Site, The site was active from 1000 until about 1450 AD and is one of the largest mound sites in Florida. offers visitors various opportunities to learn more about the area’s history, from rare shipwrecks to native peoples and what they left behind. This piece will explore the park’s history, excavations, and even how modern treasure hunters continue to pursue their own versions of buried treasure at the park today. Indian middens are piles of discarded items, such as clam shells and animal bones, left behind by Native Americans. The middens at CRP are estimated to be around 3,000 years old. This park gives us a deep look into the stories of the past.

Florida Product of the Week

This week’s Featured product is Florida Pure Sea Salt. Hand-harvested sea salt made in small batches produces a clean fine tasting salt with 80 mineral elements. Flavors include lime-infused, rosemary-infused, maple bacon-infused, and even salted butter. You can order for as little as $11 a bottle, but I recommend the sunshine sample pack for $28.

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