The mangrove trails at Weedon Island are the coolest ever

A few months ago, I posted a Friday photo from Weedon Island Preserve, in St. Petersburg. The photo was a few years old, but I revisited the park recently to kayak the trails for probably the tenth time.

There’s lots of great kayaking in Florida, and lots in the Tampa Bay area, but nowhere comes close to Weedon Island.  Watch the video for a good summary:

Weedon is located in on the Tampa Bay side (as opposed to the Gulf side) of St. Petersburg.  Even though it’s been open to the public for the last 80 years, you’d be surprised how many people in the Bay area have never even heard of it.

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Hiking with wild horses on Bolen Bluff!

Bolen Bluff Trail, which is part of the Paynes Prairie trail system, packs a lot into a three-mile trail.

There is easy access to the trailhead (right off US 441 between Gainesville and Micanopy), so it’s great for an afternoon hike.  I had never been, and considering I live only a few minutes away, that seemed like a problem that needed fixin’.

Bolen Bluff trail

The main trail is a 2.6-mile loop, with a bluff about halfway that (supposedly) looks out over the prairie.  From the bluff, there’s an additional half-mile spur that juts out, in straight line, into the prairie.

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Oh deer! A hike through Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve

I wrote recently about the Cedar Key Fishing Pier and the cool, somewhat-isolated, fishing town that it calls home.

I’m sticking with my assertion that kayaking and fishing are the things to do in Cedar Key, but if you’re itching to break in some new trailrunners, there’s a pretty sweet nature preserve nearby.

Thanks to Google Earth for the screen grab

The Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve, despite its forgettably bland name, is a rather interesting little slice of old Florida.  The park is mostly, as its name would imply, scrub and sand.  But it offers a great look at a piece of never-developed coastal Florida, a tragically rare thing nowadays.

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Unusual wildlife on La Chua trail in Paynes Prairie

Earlier this week, tropical storm Betty rumbled over northern Florida, delivering some much-reeded rain to our perennially dry summer coffers.  But then it kept raining and raining and raining.  Some estimates have the rainfall as high as 25-30 inches in parts of north Florida.

Tropical Storm Betty

Tropical Storm Betty dumped more than two feet of water on north Florida.

In Alachua County, a lot of that rainfall drains into Paynes Prairie – a 22,000-acre preserve with a variety of ecosystems and wildlife.

One of the things I’m always looking for are places where you can forget that you’re living in the 21st century, even if only for a moment.  I cherish the moments where I can look out into the horizon and not see any roads, billboards, drugstores or golden arches.  In Paynes Prairie, there’s plenty of moments like that.

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Kayaking Silver River in Ocala, Fla.

You’d be hard pressed to find a more scenic river in central Florida than Silver River.  The slow, meandering current (2-3 knots, according to the park rangers) makes for an easy paddle in either direction, and because it flows through a state park, there is no development along the riverbank, save for one tattered old cabin.

Silver River State Park

Beautiful afternoon for kayaking up Silver River.

There’s a kayak launch inside the state park ($6 per car to enter), and from there, you can explore the 5 ½ mile spring run, before the river eventually joins the Ocklawaha.

It’s a bit of a hike from the parking lot to the river, and motorized vehicles aren’t allowed on the trail.  If you’re traveling alone, with several kayaks or with a heavy canoe, you’ll need a manual trailer to get your gear down to the water.  It’s a long ½ mile with a kayak trailer in tow.  Complicating matters further, the trail to the river is mostly soft sand, and while I didn’t have the pleasure of dragging a trailer through it, I’m guessing it’s a less-than-pleasurable experience, particularly in mid summer.

In light of all that, the park offers canoe rentals for $7 an hour on a first-come-first-served basis.  They’re locked up down by the water, so a key and a paddle is all you’ll have to lug down the river trail.

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