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Exploring Florida’s State Parks

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By Harley Mentry

Here in Florida it is tough to do outdoor activities during the summer. It gets so hot outside that it can sometimes be unsafe to spend long periods of time outside. The out of nowhere afternoon rain showers are hard to predict. Luckily during the wintertime it is the perfect weather to go outside and be with nature.

Florida has 175 state parks. These parks have all kinds of amenities, beaches, rivers and lakes, springs, camping sites, hiking trails and tons of wildlife. Combined Florida State Parks have 100 miles of beaches, 2000 miles of trails and 7500 RV and camp sites. Camping fees can range from $16 to $42 a night depending on the park. Entrance fees at most parks range from $4 to $10 per vehicle with up to eight people. One of my favorite activities to do once it gets cooler outside is visiting Florida State Parks. I’ve visited a few different parks around the Tampa Bay Area.

The Hillsbourgh River State Park is minutes from downtown Tampa in Thonotosassa, once you enter the park you have no idea you’re so close to hustle and bustle of the city. The park offers its guests a step back in time at Fort Foster, tons of water activities and camping. At the park visitors with a Florida fishing license can enjoy freshwater fishing for bass, bream and catfish, in the designated areas. Visitors can also enjoy canoeing down the river or hiking along the several trails in the park. The Hillsbourgh River offers an unusual natural feature, the river flows over outcroppings of Suwannee limestone causing rapids. Visitors can spot lots of wildlife everything from gopher tortoises, owls, deer, woodpeckers and bobcats.

Myakka River State Park in located in Sarasota about 9 miles east of I-75. Myakka River State Park is over 58 square miles, which is 37,000 acres of wetlands, prairies, hammocks and pinelands. This makes Myakka River State Park the largest state park in Florida. This huge park offers an unlimited list of activist and sites to see. From November to April there is a bird naturalist at the Birdwalk to educate and show visitors the 100 plus birds that call the park home. The park has a flat-bottomed boat tour where riders can see the Upper Myakka Lake for $20. On the 45-60 minutes boat tour visitors can see wildlife up close and learn about the Myakka River State Park. The Myakka trail offers a 38.9-mile hiking loop, late fall winter an early spring is the best time to enjoy the trail. During the summer the trail is extremely hot and heat exhaustion and dehydration are a big concern. During the rainy season the trails become extremely flooded and overgrown. The park offers a 12-mile-long trail designed for horses.  The park has three campgrounds with 90 campsites equip with water and electric hook ups. Now we have the most exciting activity at Myakka River State Park, the canopy walkway. When the canopy walkway was built it was the first public treetop trail in North America. The walkway is 25 feet above the ground and visitors can walk 100 feet through the canopy. If you keep climbing the tower past the walkway you can go up 74 feet and end up above the trees to get a view of the park and the birds of the park.

With there being 175 parks in the state the Florida State park system offers an annual entrance pass. Visitors can purchase an individual pass for $60 which is good for 365 days. This pass is good for a single named passholder, an additional person can accompany the passholder for $2 with some exceptions. The family pass allows up to eight people entering as a group with some exceptions. This pass also has a 33% discount for the Skyway Fishing Pier State Park. The park system also has an awesome program for visitors who love to travel around the state. They offer a passport program, you can buy a passport at some parks and on the Florida state park website. The passport has a page for all 175 state parks, every time you visit a park you can get it stamped at the entrance or visitor center. If you visit every park in the state, you can complete the passport completion form and receive a family annual entrance pass.

Exploring state parks is one of my favorite things to do once the weather starts to cool done. I could write for days about all the people parks our state has to offer. If I had to suggest one park Myakka River State Park is the one park I would suggest. It has so much to offer and the canopy walkway and tower are a beautiful site to see. It’s a beautiful day to get out an explore the gorgeous state we live in!

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