Wednesday, May 29, 2024

The Nature Coast of Florida – 8 Perfect Florida Day Trips

Crystal River is the “Manatee Capital of the World”. Swimming with these lumbering creatures is a popular thing to do in Crystal River.

There is a lot of exquisite scenery in Florida. The tall green forests of northern Florida, the palm-studded coasts in the southwest, the blue waters where the Gulf meets the Atlantic Ocean in the Keys, the magnificence of the St. John’s River in the northeast to the crystal clear springs throughout Florida. All are just amazing sights.

However, if there is one region that convinces you that God is an unequaled artist. It would be the Nature Coast of Florida.

What is the Nature Coast of Florida?

An excellent way to plan 8 Florida day trips is to visit each of the counties of the Nature Coast of Florida.

The Nature Coast is an unofficial region of eight counties along the Big Bend region of Florida’s Gulf Coast down to the Suncoast that begins in Pinellas County. There are no specific boundaries, the Nature Coast scenes of natural features will tell you where you are!

The eight counties in the Nature Coast from north to south include;

  • Wakulla
  • Jefferson
  • Taylor
  • Levy
  • Dixie
  • Citrus
  • Hernando
  • Pasco

Each of these counties is known for its exceptional fishing, natural springs, historical significance, some unspoiled coastal grass flats, and relatively under-developed coastlines that can take you back hundreds of years as the explorers roamed the region. 

We start our day trips in Florida from north to south.

WAKULLA County

Wakulla Springs Swimming Area the nature coast of Florida
Wakulla Springs Swimming Area

In Wakulla County, we have written about the Wakulla State Park and one of the largest springs in the world located a few miles inland form the Gulf Coast. Along the coast, you will find the city of St. Marks. The city’s history goes back to a Spanish fort built in the 1600s.

If you visit St. Marks on the Florida Nature Coast, you must visit the Riverside Cafe. A fun place with a tiki bar built on poles that float up and down with the St. Marks River tides. Make sure they show you the “Hurricane Pole”.

You will find other towns in the region like Panacea, and Sopchoppy, and don’t miss a protrusion into the Gulf called Alligator Point. Don’t sell these small towns short. Each one has character and picture-perfect views.

Most of these towns are on or just off Rt. 98, a Florida coastal federal highway that is also a designated Florida Scenic Highway that seems to need reconstruction after each hurricane.

Our Florida day trips will spend a couple hundred miles on Rt. 98 along the Florida Nature Coast. There are not many highways that have better views for so many miles.

JEFFERSON County

Jefferson County Courthouse in Monticello Florida's Nature Coast
Jefferson County Courthouse in Monticello

On down the road in Jefferson County, which only has a little sliver of land on the Gulf Coast, but has a lot of history in the north part of the county.

The capital of Jefferson County is Monticello.   If your American history classes are recalled, Monticello was the name of Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, thus the name for the county seat!  

Created in 1827, Jefferson County is the only one that runs all the way to the northern border of Florida. The population today (15,000) is just slightly less than it was in 1880!

Jefferson County along the Nature Coast of Florida IS old Florida. There are plenty of signs of history as you travel the back roads and towns in Jefferson County. Check out the Old Spanish Trail that goes through Jefferson County.  This is a road that takes you deep into Florida’s southern past.

TAYLOR County

Deals Oyster House
They Don’t Mind Waiting at Deals

Taylor County Florida is old Florida also. With under 25,000 total people in the county, most of the county is in woodlands, coastal flats and lowlands. Places like Horseshoe Beach are off the beaten path, but beautiful places to build a retreat.

One city in Taylor County seems to be listed on every freeway in the state! They all show the distance to Perry, Florida from wherever you are. There is a collection of major roads that run through Perry including US 98, US 27, US 221 and US 19. Each goes to a different area of Florida.

Perry has one attraction if you visit you will never forget – Deal’s Famous Oyster House.

Deal’s is located about 2 miles west of Perry on US Rt. 98. As my wife states, just look for the most cars in front of an old roadside building! You will find the best old country-style coastal cooking in north Florida!

A few miles south is Steinhatchee, Florida several miles off Rt. 98 along the Steinhatchee River. You can stand outside Roy’s restaurant in Steinhatchee and look across the river to Dixie County, Florida.

Steinhatchee is a Florida village known for fishing, cabins and fresh seafood. The town is on the mouth of the river with the same name as it flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

The Nature Coast of Florida has several rivers that empty into the Gulf.

DIXIE County

Dixie County Wildlife
Dixie county wildlife

Dixie County has a reputation for being the most undeveloped area in the state of Florida.

If you didn’t click on the link in the first line, please reconsider now. The coastline scenes are amazing! Dixie County has endless hiking trails, canoe channels, horseback riding and plenty of river action on the famous Suwannee River.

The Suwannee runs about 250 miles from southern Georgia through Dixie County until it empties into the Gulf. This river has some of the roughest terrains of any river in Florida and the most natural beauty.

With a population of just under 17,000 people, there are plenty of vast open forests, river basins and wetlands to explore. If you are a backcountry fisherman, you will enjoy these surroundings.

Several parks are in Dixie County including the Steinhatchee Wildlife Management Area that have hiking trails that will challenge the most avid hiker.

Of all the counties along the Nature Coast of Florida, Dixie County has the most underdeveloped lands that offer visitors plenty of chances for interaction with wildlife in their natural habitat. Bird watchers will find species they don’t easily find anywhere else.

LEVY County

Nature Coast of Florida Fanning Springs
One of the big attractions in the Nature Coast is stunning Fanning Springs in Levy County

As you leave Dixie County heading south on US Rt. 98, be ready to stop at Fanning Springs State Park just over the county line in Levy County.

We have chronicled several of Florida’s bounty of springs like Silver Springs, Wakulla Springs and others, but Fanning Springs is known for the beautiful crystal clear water flowing into the Suwannee River basin. The clarity of the water is unmatched!

Another major attraction in Levy County is Cedar Key. Our previous post about the abundant oysters and clam farms around Cedar Key makes it a great Florida day trip. A night overlooking the bay could give you a different perspective of the coastal town.

You cannot go wrong with chartering a fishing captain for some excellent flats fishing in Cedar Key. Gulf offshore fishing is big in this area also.

Don’t forget to try some aqua-farmed oysters at Steamers Clam Bar & Grill – the view is awesome also!

If you choose to spend the day in Cedar Key, stop at the Cedar Key Historical Society Museum for an interesting look at the area. 

As you head south in Levy County, you will see a turn-off sign for Yankeetown just before Inglis, Florida at the county border. Yankeetown is another small village with a BIG fishing problem and that would be common in this area except for the fact the Withlacoochee River empties into the Gulf here.

If you travel anywhere in central Florida, you will eventually come across the Withlacoochee! It travels west, south, then north, and then west again from its headwaters in Polk County, not far from Orlando!

Historians could tell many tales about the Withlacoochee as a factor in conflicts with Native Americans and Spanish explorers as well as the attempts of the young United States trying to take control of Florida in the early 1800s. That is material for another Florida day trip post.

CITRUS County

Swimming With Manatees Crystal River

Swimming With Manatees Crystal River

Just across the Withlacoochee River in Citrus County. The Florida Travel Blog has many posts about attractions in this central Florida county.

The largest city and county seat is Inverness, Florida. Inverness has several freshwater lakes that are surrounded by communities that love water-based activities. Fishing in Henderson Lake seems to be the thing to do.

The second largest city in Citrus County is Crystal River. This is one of our top destinations for a Florida day trip. One of the reasons Crystal River is so popular is its designation as the Manatee Capital of the World!

Crump's Landing, Homosassa Springs
Crump’s Landing, Homosassa Springs

Crystal River is on the river of the same name, with a spring called Three Sisters Springs. Crystal River is the destination for thousands of annual shallow-water scallop hunters from all over Florida when the season starts in July.

Crystal River has also gone through a renovation period that brought in a steak house, Kane’s Cattle Company, and an upscale bar St. John’s Tavern, both in the old town part of Crystal River. See the whole selection of restaurants in Crystal River.

Just south of Crystal River is Homosassa Springs, actually in Hernando County, but considered part of the Crystal River area.

This old Florida fishing village is much the same as it was 50 years ago. They do have one of the best freshwater Tiki bars called Crump’s Landing. And we can’t forget about a huge regional attraction Monkey Island. Enjoy watching the spider monkeys going through their daily routine while having lunch at The Florida Cracker restaurant.

We have written many articles about a Florida day trip to Crystal River. We recommend you visit this post for complete details.

Hernando County

In about 1840 Fort DeSoto was established to protect civilians from the Indians. Today, Brooksville, the largest city in Hernando County, stands on that spot.

Brooksville became a significant trading post and overnight spot for people traveling to Tampa. Later Brooksville was the center of the turpentine trade.

Weeki Wachee Springs park the nature coast of florida
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

The most famous attraction in Hernando County is Weeki Wachee Springs.  Since 1947 underwater shows featuring live mermaids have entertained millions of people. Visitors from all over the state as well as international travelers make their way to Weeki Wachee for the daily shows.

Many television shows and movies have been made at Weeki Wachee. Stars from all entertainment genres have visited the park. Names like Elvis Presley, Larry the Cable Guy, Don Knotts and the famous movie star and swimmer Esther Williams have enjoyed the park.

Not far from Weeki Watchee is Hernando Beach. This small community of waterfront homes seems far removed from the busy road in front of the park a few miles away. While in the area, Bayport is a must-visit for historians. The port was a major place to ship goods in colonial times.

While Weeki Wachee steals the show for attractions, Brooksville hosts the Hernando Heritage Museum and Railroad Depot Museum.

Brooksville also has one of our favorite restaurants. The Florida Cracker Kitchen offers traditional Florida food in with a modern twist. Make this a definite stop on your Florida day trip.

Pasco County

Just a couple miles south, Pasco County is the southernmost county of the Nature Coast. While much of the western county boundary is water, you note many areas are lined with homes, subdivisions, and more commercial construction.

Hudson Neighborhood
Hudson Subdivision Leads to Gulf

There are some great beaches in Pasco County such as Hudson Beach and in the south county Anclote River Park, but you clearly can tell you are in the Tampa/Clearwater metropolitan area. Pasco County has more than double the population of all the other Nature Coast counties.

Cities in Pasco include Port Richey, New Port Richey and Hudson along the coast. Dade City, the county seat is a few miles inland. Activities in Pasco center around boating, with dozens of subdivision homes on canals built leading to the Gulf. As the precursor to one of the largest metropolitan areas in Florida, Tampa Bay/Clearwater, you clearly see the end of the Nature Coast in Florida as you enter the Tampa Bay region.

Choose any one of the 8 counties for a Florida day trip to the Nature Coast of Florida from Tampa, Clearwater, Orlando, Tallahassee, or points in the panhandle.

Other Florida Day Trips Near By

Here is a Florida day trip that is near the Nature Coast – Florida’s Backroads – Rt. 98

13 Day trips From Destin Florida

30A – Florida Scenic Highway in the Panhandle

Originally published at https://floridatravel.blog/the-nature-coast-of-florida/

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