Southern Florida backroads road trip
I love Florida (where I live), and I love exploring. I love road trips, and I love nature. So this weekend at the SheCon conference when I heard about the Chevrolet Drive Green Challenge — asking bloggers what they would do with a Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid for a week — I knew that I’d have to respond with a driving tour of my favorite backroads areas of southern Florida. The Tahoe Hybrid is perfect for natural areas because it’s less polluting. If you’re thinking about a Florida trip or want to get acquainted with some of Florida’s more-natural or lesser-known areas, check out my grand plan!
Big Cypress National Preserve
Day One. I’d gather my family and head west along the Tamiami Trail. The Tamiami Trail was named for the two cities that it connects — Tampa and Miami. There are wonderful natural areas along this road, along with Miccosukee tribe settlements. My family would visit the Shark Valley Visitor Center of Everglades National Park (take the tram tour, or bike along the 16-mile paved path through the grasslands full of gators). Then we’d take the bumpy, unpaved and wild Loop Road (which the Tahoe could handle) in Big Cypress National Preserve to Sweetwater Strand, one of our favorite places to see gators and listen to birds. Farther down Tamiami Trail still within Big Cypress is a beautiful picnic area with a boardwalk — a great place for lunch. My family would make a stop at famed photographer Clyde Butcher’s Big Cypress Gallery and Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park (if the mosquitoes weren’t too bad), then pass the smallest post office in the United States and head south to Everglades City, where we’d stay in one of the nice inns there after watching the sun set on Florida Bay.
Day Three. My family would play at the beach on Sanibel and look for shells, doing the “Sanibel stoop.” We’d take the driving tour through the main tract of J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, where in the past we’ve spotted a yellow rat snake, horseshoe crabs and lots of bird species like black-necked stilts and magnificent frigatebirds. The wildlife refuge is one of the nation’s birdwatching hotspots. The island shops and restaurants would be fun to explore during the afternoon, and then we’d take a sunset cruise in the Gulf of Mexico and see some of the other barrier islands. And we’d stay another night.
Day Four. Reluctantly, my family would leave Sanibel in the morning. But we’d head east through Florida panther territory for a side trip to Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest. This is pretty, open country (not much like a tree-thick forest) and a great place to drive through to see the lay of the land. Maybe we’d see an endangered Everglades snail kite soaring over the slough or a rare crested caracara looking for prey. Driving northeast toward the Gulf again, we’d visit Myakka River State Park outside of Sarasota. Myakka is one of my favorite all-around state parks. My family would love to ride the Gator Gal (dubbed the world’s largest airboat) on the lake and climb the Canopy Walkway. Then we’d camp in our tent or stay the night in one of the park’s cabins.
Day Five. There are some really nice trails in Myakka, and so much to see in the park. But eventually, we’d leave the Myakka River area and drive east to the Peace River. Both rivers flow into the Gulf of Mexico. My family would have to stop at the Canoe Outpost to do a paddling trip down the river. Many people get out of their canoes along the way to look for fossils — and my husband and I have taken this trip twice and seen some amazing fossils other people have discovered, including jaw bone from a mastodon. We’ve also seen some of the biggest alligators on this stretch of the river! After our paddling trip, my family would drive east to Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. We’ve spotted a couple of different kinds of snakes here, and alligators too. But the best thing we’ve seen at this park in the past is the beautiful night sky. Because the park is far from the light pollution of the coastal cities, Kissimmee Prairie is a favorite for stargazers and astronomy groups. So my family would have to camp here for the night and hope for a clear, dark sky.
All images are my own.