has always been famous for miles of sandy beaches and warm
sunshine, but beyond the coast endless opportunities abound
for the explorer with countless types of wildlife species to
visit, observe and appreciate. Whether you choose to view Florida
wildlife in a natural environment such as a state park, or
from behind a fence in a zoo, there are captivating options
for all visitors.
Florida boasts 160 state parks covering the state from the
Panhandle to the Keys. Myakka River, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve
and Collier-Seminole State Parks are among the best to observe
wildlife in their natural setting. Located on Florida’s
west coast near Sarasota, Myakka River State Park is one of
the oldest and largest state parks and protects one of the
state’s most diverse natural areas. The Myakka is designated
as a Florida Wild and Scenic River and flows through 58 square
miles of wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands. Visitors
can spot wildlife from a boardwalk that stretches out over
the Upper Myakka Lake, and then enjoy the view from the Canopy
Walkway, a suspension bridge that hovers in the treetops.
Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, also known as “the
Amazon of North America,” is a sanctuary for wildlife.
A visit to this Southwest Florida state park will allow one
to see Florida panthers pursue white-tailed deer from the uplands
across the wetlands. Visitors might also spot bald eagles,
Florida black bears and Eastern indigo snakes. Everglades minks
and diamondback terrapins can still be found at Fakahatchee
Strand Preserve State Park and a portion of the Fakahatchee
Strand north of Interstate 75 is the Florida Panther National
Wildlife Refuge. In addition, the resident and migratory bird
life is stunning and attracts many enthusiastic visitors. Collier-Seminole
State Park, also located in Southwest Florida, features a wealth
of vegetation and wildlife characteristic of the Everglades.
This park offers several opportunities to view wildlife through
nature, bike and canoe trails. Challenge yourself on the 6.5-mile
hiking trail that winds through pine flat woods and cypress
swamp, or stroll along the nearly mile-long self-guided nature
trail featuring a boardwalk system and observation platform
overlooking the salt marsh. Don’t be surprised if you
see alligators, raccoons, osprey, white ibis, or other wading
birds on a quest through the wild at this park. If your expectation
for excitement has still not been met after these trails, additional
exhibits of plants and wildlife await at the park's Interpretive
If observing wildlife this close and personal is just a little
too close for comfort, Florida offers options to view these
creatures from a distance. An alternative to the great outdoors
is Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, ranked by Child magazine as
the “number-one family-friendly zoo” in the United
States. Lowry Park Zoo boasts natural outdoor exhibits on 56
acres for more than 1,800 animals from Florida and similar
habitats. The zoo also offers an eco-tour down the Hillsborough
River. The tour will take wildlife enthusiasts on a boat ride
adventure where they might see gopher, tortoises, hawks, herons,
manatees and dozens of other animals that call the Hillsborough
River home. Whether you choose to roam free among the wild,
exploring nature in a state park, or still want to appreciate
Florida’s wild side but prefer to keep your distance,
Florida has something to offer everyone.
Photos and Story from www.VISITFLORIDA.org.
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