Last updated on October 12th, 2023 at 12:06 pm
Are you seeking an escape from the bustling crowds of Florida’s theme parks and city life? Look no further than the pristine Nature Coast, a haven for nature lovers and adventurers alike. Situated in the north-central region of the state, the Nature Coast offers an array of natural beauty, wildlife attractions, and charming coastal towns where you’ll find an abundance of activities to fill three spectacular days.
To help plan your unforgettable Nature Coast getaway, we’ve selected three must-visit highlights that showcase the region’s magnificence and make your stay an experience to cherish.
Day 1: Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State 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 was busy loading their freight of fish, crabs, cedar, and spring water aboard the Mullet Train.
Start your day by parking at the main visitor center and enjoy a leisurely pontoon boat ride down Pepper Creek to the Wildlife Park. Once you’re on the main grounds enjoy a 1.4-mile walk on an elevated boardwalk to view the native wildlife, including two Florida panthers, bears, bobcats, deer, alligators, and a wide variety of wading birds, birds of prey, and songbirds.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions as you go. One of the best parts of the park is the volunteers. They are 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. Take time to just sit on a bench and enjoy people/nature watching.
Day 2: Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Next, head to Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, a quintessential Old Florida attraction that’s been enchanting visitors since the 1940s. 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 like most you’ll visit. 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 our visit, they acted out the story of The Little Mermaid. The mermaids stay underwater the entire time and use free-flowing air tubes for oxygen.
Other highlights include:
- 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.
- Buccaneer Bay, the park’s on-site water park caters to visitors of all ages, complete with water slides, a lazy river, and swimming areas.
- Kayak rentals to explore the serene Weeki Wachee River while spotting wildlife like turtles, manatees, and an array of birds.
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 the 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 rope 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
Pine Island Beach Park is 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 9 am 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, drive 4 miles to Bayport Point. Located at the mouth of the Weeki Wachee River, Bayport was first settled in the 1850s 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.
Finally, wrap up your day at the Nature Coast Botanical Gardens, a quaint garden nestled in a residential neighborhood. Its 3.5 acres have been transformed into an oasis of beauty and serenity. It has 22 themed areas including 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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