We just spent three amazing days on Florida’s Nature Coast. Specifically, in Spring Hill, FL right down the road from the famed Weeki Wachee mermaids. The area is often referred to as “Old Florida” because the attractions have been here long before Disney. Sadly, my husband had to work on this trip, so I went out exploring on my own.
Day 1: Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
On the first day, I drove 24 miles up the road to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. This park has been a tourist attraction since the early 1900s, when trains stopped to let passengers off to walk the short trail to the first-magnitude spring. The tracks ran alongside what is now Fishbowl Drive. While passengers enjoyed a view of Homosassa Spring and its myriad of fresh and saltwater fish, the train’s crew were busy loading their freight of fish, crabs, cedar and spring water aboard the Mullet Train.
I parked at the main visitor center and started my visit with a leisurely pontoon boat ride down Pepper Creek to the Wildlife Park. Then I enjoyed a 1.4 mile walk on an elevated boardwalk through the wildlife park. It offered a great view of native wildlife, including two Florida panthers, bears, bobcats, deer, alligators, and a wide variety of wading birds, birds of prey, and songbirds. One of the best parts of the park was the volunteers. They were all so friendly and willing to share their knowledge of the animals and area. The park also has a reptile house that provides close-up viewing of native snakes and other reptiles. I have to admit it made me a little nervous to venture off the beaten path on future hikes around the state!
Around one side of the park is where you see the actual springs. You can view fish and often, manatees, from the underwater observatory in the main spring. Right outside the park, I saw folks snorkeling with the manatees on private charters. It was a lovely, peaceful day, about 75 degrees, with no crowds. I sat on a bench and enjoyed people/nature watching.
Day 2: Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
On my second day, I spent the morning at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, and the afternoon kayaking on the Weeki Wachee river. Weeki Wachee Spring is the deepest naturally-formed spring in North America, with over 100 million gallons of crystal-clear water a day.
While designated as a State Park, it was not what I was expecting. Rather than nature trails, and picnic areas, the park offers a glimpse into the charms of old Florida’s heritage with an underwater amphitheater where the famous mermaids perform. The show varies, but during my visit they acted out the story of The Little Mermaid. The mermaids stay under water the entire time and use free-flowing air tubes for oxygen. The park also offers a Wilderness River Cruise, which explores the first mile of the Week Wachee River and an Animal Encounter with features some of Florida’s native creatures. There were no crowds when I visited. I arrived at 9am and was ready for my Kayak trip launch at 11 am.
There are several kayak rental companies in the area. I used the one located at Weeki Wachee Springs. They all launch at the same place, and pick you up at the end of 5 mile paddle at Rogers Park. Most of the route is a slow moving downstream current that takes little effort. There are numerous places to stop and swim along the way once you leave the state park. I even saw a few places with ropes swings in the trees. I decided to enjoy some solitude, and picked an empty beach, pulled up my kayak, swam a little, and ate my lunch. There were some points with a couple of sharp turns where it got a little tricky. I had a bit of a mishap that you can read about in my post about what not to do while kayaking. I was lucky enough to see a manatee on my trip down the river!
Day 3: Pine Island Beach Park, Bayport Point, and Nature Coast Botanical Gardens
Since this was my last day, I got up early and took my picnic breakfast to Pine Island Beach Park. It’s a small man-made beach on the Gulf of Mexico. I had read that the parking lot fills up early, and they weren’t kidding. I got there around 9am and the lot was full by the time I left at noon. It only costs $5 to park, and the park has restrooms, a few pavilions with grills and picnic tables, a snack bar, soda vending machines, and a playground.
After leaving the beach, I drove 4 miles over to Bayport Point. Located at the mouth of the Weeki Wachee River, Bayport was first settled in the 1850’s as a shipping point for cotton and food supplies. The town gained some notoriety during the Civil War when local blockade runners did very well in getting around the Union fleets that were blockading the larger ports along Florida’s coasts. At Bayport Point, there is a cute little park with access to the gulf via two paved boat ramps. It has covered benches where you can sit and watch the birds and boats while enjoying the awesome Florida weather.
In the afternoon I went to the Nature Coast Botanical Gardens. I love gardens, and try to visit as many as I can. This is mostly likely because I have a black thumb! I can’t grown anything to save my life. This is quaint garden is nestled in a residential neighborhood. It’s 3.5 acres have been transformed into an oasis of beauty and serenity. It has 22 themed areas to include a rose garden, a wildflower garden, and a poinsettia garden to name a few. The last one was my favorite because you never really see poinsettias outside of the Christmas holidays.
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Larry & BarBara Crawford says
Great article Julie, thanks! BB & I look forward to discovering Florida.
Glad you enjoyed it! Be sure to let us know if we’re there at the same time.
Mary Gaines says
Husband and I are rv newbies. We are looking forward to visiting this part of Forida. You make it sound very inviting. Thanks for the tips.
Glad you liked the article. It really is a nice part of Florida any time of year.