Upcoming fall festivals and nearby adventures in north Florida

It’s fall, y’all.

On Sunday morning, I ambled my way over to the Micanopy Fall Festival, which was a great deal larger and more interesting than I had expected.  Lots of food, crafts, music, animals and presidential signage.

I saw a few things I had never seen before – like ceiling fan blade covers – and succumbed to the irresistable temptation to buy bread from people who bake it in outdoor ovens.  (I got a loaf of rosemary sourdough that, I kid you not, I ate in its entirety within 24 hours.)Micanopy Fall Festival sign

But more importantly, it made me think about how you can use fall festivals as a good spring-board for more adventurous activities.  That’s one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday, as I did with Micanopy’s Independence Day festival and a mid-afternoon hike through nearby Longleaf Flatwoods.

This week, the weather in north Florida is perfect.  Highs around 80, lows in the upper 50s, sunny and calm.  There’s no reason not to be outside, exploring small towns and the lesser known activities around them.  There’s several upcoming festivals in central Florida, and I’ve saved you some time and made your fall to-do list.  Beneath each festival is my recommendation for how to spend the rest of the day – hikes, paddles, trails, and hang gliding (yes, hang gliding).

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Mosquitoes dine on poor hiker at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve

I’ve been putting off reviewing this trail for a while now, mainly because of my problematic experience with the park, but alas, the time has come.

I hiked the trails at Longleaf Flatwoods Reserve back on July 4, in between the parade and firework spectacular in nearby Micanopy.  It wasn’t really a planned part of the day, more of a let’s-check-and-see-if-there’s-any-hiking-while-we’re-here kind of event.  The reserve was easy to find, and it has several miles of trails for hikers, bikers and equestrians.

There’s certainly some good things to say about the reserve – it’s easy to get to, it’s quiet, it’s free.  But dear heavens, the hiking is not enjoyable at all.

I’ll start by saying that the trail starts and ends at a single parking lot, and there’s a nice variety of loops that connect, so you can hike for as short as 1.5 miles or as long as 7 miles without repeating a trail, provided the trails aren’t flooded.

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A small-town Independence Day in Micanopy, Fla.

Typically, I spend my Independence Days in the St. Petersburg area, which is a really unique place for a firework holiday.  St. Petersburg (and the rest of Pinellas County) is surrounded on 3 1/2 sides by beaches, all of which are lined with hotels, condos and restaurants – and all of which hope to attract tourists and residents with big fireworks displays.

So, every year on the Fourth of July, the whole county lights up with major, professional firework displays.  You can sit on any dock, or drive down any street, and enjoy a 360-degree light show.  It’s pretty cool.

Central Florida is different.  There’s no water from which to shoot off high explosives, cities are far more spread out and there’s always the danger of starting wildfires with an errant boom.

Fountain along NE 1st Street, the main road in Micanopy

But this year, I decided to celebrate the nation’s birthday in the little town of Micanopy, which is as charming to visit at as it is to say (me-CAN-opee).  It’s a town with about 700 people, four restaurants, seven antique shops, a church, a museum, a hair salon and a firehouse.  They appear pretty serious about their antiques.  Even places that aren’t antique shops, like the cafe and the bakery, are also antique shops.  That’s pretty much the contents of the whole town, but you get the feeling that the folks living there wouldn’t want it any other way.  I’ve been a few times, and it really is your quintessential sleepy Southern town – the time of place where you overhear kids talking about “Old Man Jackson,” as I did on Wednesday.

On Independence Day, the whole town turns out for their annual parade.  The parade was surprisingly large, given the population, so I’d guess that about 1/4 of the Micanopians were in the parade, while the other 3/4 looked on.

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