CategoryParks and Nature Centers

Crystal River Trip

During this time of uncertainty and social distance, my family decided to finally make it out of our hometown and take a budget friendly Crystal River trip! We are huge water people, and we had heard this was a great area to be in the water in the summer. Here are some of our favorite stops from our 3 day trip!

Day 1

Bird Beach

One of our first stops was a small beach called Bird Beach. When we first arrived, we were the only ones there! While the water was a little mucky (and probably more suitable to fishing than swimming), it was a peaceful place to wade around and look for tadpoles. Parking was free as well! My kids were out on their tubes in the water in no time.

Bird Beach

Day 2 – Rainbow Springs

Our next stop to get up early and take a drive over to take a swim at Rainbow Springs State Park! If you have some extra funds in your budget to go tubing at Rainbow Springs State Park, I highly Recommend it! If not, skip ahead to the next section on Rainbow Springs itself. Since we had not gone anywhere in months, we splurged on the tubing ($20 a person +$2 a person for the state park entrance). It has a separate entrance located at 10830 SW 180th Avenue Rd, Dunnellon, FL 34432. You pay at the entrance and then park your car. A shuttle takes you up to the start of the tube run, and you float back to your vehicle. You can bring your own tube or use one of theirs.

What we enjoyed most about the run, was swimming in the water along the way. The current was fast enough that it kept you moving, but slow enough that you could easily get out of your tube and swim around. The route takes a little less than 2 hours and passes you by some of the neighborhoods in the area.

Rainbow Springs State Park Head Spring

Rainbow Springs State Park

After the lazy river, since we had already paid our admission fee to Rainbow Springs State Park, we went up to the other entrance to the park. At this entrance, they have a swimming hole and a bunch of trails. This is up by the head of the springs. You park (free), and then you can walk up to the park with trails and a swimming hole. We had already paid our $2 entrance fee, so we just showed them the receipt.

Rainbow Springs Swimming hole

The springs is always a cool 72 degrees year round. It is a VERY cold place to swim! We lasted a little while before we had enough of the freezing water. There are also trails, restrooms, and a concession stand at the park. You can rent kayaks here as well to kayak the springs.

Fort Island Gulf Beach

Fort Island Gulf Beach

After coming back from the springs and waiting out Florida’s typical summer afternoon thunderstorms, we headed out to watch the sunset at Fort Island Gulf Beach. This area has a small beach with a roped off area for swimming in the warm Gulf waters. It also has a fishing pier. We were not lucky enough to see one of the beautiful west coast sunsets (it was cloudy). However, we did enjoy sitting on the pretty white sand on the beach while the kids swam. I did notice that this area is frequently checked for bacteria levels, so use your discretion before swimming in the area. Make sure to check the posted signs.

Day 3 – Hunter Springs

Hunter Springs

The next day was our final day in the area. We chose to spend it at Hunter Springs Park, which is free, aside from the parking. The parking is only $1 an hour. Although the park was crowded, it was easy to find a spot on the deeper side of the swimming hole to get in and be by ourselves. The water was SO clear and blue!! The girls brought their inner tubes, snorkels, and boogie boards. They were able to see a few tiny fish and a crab. I wouldn’t say this is a great place for snorkeling, but it was a fun place to swim!! (if you want to snorkel, you need to take a boat or a kayak out into the Three Sisters Springs area).

At Huter spring, you can rent a kayak at a couple of local places nearby, but they are pretty pricey. Since we had splurged on the tubing, we skipped the kayaking part. We would have loved to bring our own kayaks from home to launch. Maybe next time! There are so many beautiful things to do on the water in Crystal River. We can’t wait to make another trip!

Map:

FIT Botanical Gardens

On one of our adventures this week, we took the kids to the FIT Botanical Gardens. This is another great free place to spend a few hours, and it’s right on the campus of the Florida Institute of Technology!

Parking is located off of S. Babock Street. There are a few spots designated to the garden, so get their early to secure yourself a parking space. After parking, you walk down a large covered bridge to reach the garden. If you are visiting in the summer (as we were), make sure to bring your bug spray! It’s definitely humid and buggy in the gardens.

Garden Entrance

You can stop at one of the picnic tables here to have some lunch, and then start walking about the trails. There are several paved trails in the area with walks along a tiny stream. You’ll see a map posted near the entrance. You can view it on the bottom of this page as well.

FIT Botanical Gardens

Trails

Once you get on the paved trail, it walks you along a small stream where you can look for fish. There are a couple of opportunities to venture off the paved path to a wooded trail in the back, but it’s fairly overgrown. We enjoyed just staying on the path and taking in the scenery.

The path takes about 30 min to an hour to walk around. There are some pavilions along the trail that you can stop to take a rest. Also, there you will find a large courtyard area near the front of the gardens. The courtyard is laid with pavers and has a shaded pavilion and a pond as well.

FIT Botanical Garden pond and Courtyard

While we were stopped in the courtyard, the kids spotted more fish and a couple of yellow belly slider turtles as well. The turtle were very friendly!

Turtles in the Pond

When you make your way back towards the picnic tables by the entrance, you will notice a large building called the Ruth Funk Center for Textile Arts. The center was closed while we were visiting on a Sunday, but this is another free attraction that is right next to the garden. It offers different exhibits throughout the year.

So, we spent about an hour at the FIT botanical gardens. It was summer and we were hot! You could stay much longer in a nicer season. Also, here is a map of the gardens to guide you while walking around:

FIT Botanical Garden Map

If you’re looking for more to do tin the area, don’t miss our page on the Melbourne area to find some other budget friendly activities!

FIT Botanical Gardens
Website: https://www.fit.edu/garden/
Facebook
Phone: (321) 309-3836

Map:

Exploring our Local Rail to Trail

Trans Florida Central Railroad Trail

While some of the COVID19 restrictions are easing up here, we decided to explore a rail to trail in the area that I hadn’t had a chance to go to yet. This trail runs for 2 miles, is mostly paved, and is a unique trail because in one section it passes right over route 95 – a major Florida highway.

To access the trail, you can park in one of two locations: The Fellsmere Trailhead or the North County Aquatic Center. (Side note- check if the aquatic center is open because this is another fun stop to make while you are in Sebastian!)

Of the two places to park, The Fellsmere trailhead is much closer to the foot bridge that goes over the highway – which is what attracted us to the trail. Note that it does have a large section of gravel before you reach the footbridge. The aquatic center is farther away from the bridge, about 1.5 to 2 miles. However, if you park there, you will have pavement from the parking area to the bridge.

Fellsmere Trailhead Parking Area

We parked at the Fellsmere Trailhead. In the parking area, there is this large barn (assuming a visitors center and restroom – it was closed due to COVID when we visited). And an adjacent playground for the kids.

From the parking area, it is a bit of a walk to get down to the trail. You walk down a larger gravel service road leading up to the trail. It took us about 5-10 min to get to the end of the service road walking with two children. If we did this trip again, we would probably have brought our mountain bikes, because it would have allowed us to see more in the time that we had.

Service Road

The service road leads down to the trail, then you make a right. The trail down this way is much more shaded and private. You can see the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) ropes course while you are walking along this route as well – the ropes course is managed by the University and is fairly expensive.

At the end of the gravel, you will reach the highway overpass (pictured at the top of this page). This is where the cement part of the trail starts. It is a very wide trail, room for a couple of people to ride their bikes next to each other. I took this photo from the top of the trail:

We turned around at this point, as we had been walking about 30 min so far. I would have gotten a lot farther with the kids if we had our bikes! We enjoyed the part of the trail that we saw and have plans to go back soon.

Enjoy! If you want to see more activities to do in the Sebastian and Vero Beach area, visit our page here.

Map:

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Boyd Hill Nature Preserve Fun – St. Petersburg

During our trip to St. Pete, Boyd Hill Nature Preserve was one of mine (and my children’s) favorites! If you love to just get outside and explore, this place is for you. Bonus, their entrance fee ($3 adults, $1.50 kids) helps take care of the injured birds they house in their aviary.

trail path at the nature center

First stop on our journey was the playground… it was so neat! There is a small ropes course that the kids could do on their own, a saucer swing, spinning wooden saucer, and a treehouse-like play structure.

Front view of the playground
back view of the ropes course

After playing outside for quite some time in the Florida heat, it was time for an A/C break. We then went inside to discover the nature center. Inside the building we a bunch of neat activities and information about animals.

one of many displays inside the nature center

They had multiple interactive displays for the kids to look at and play in. They also had a small section of live animals, such as snakes, frogs, scorpions, and even a bat! This section took us about 30 min to go through, but I could easily have seen the kids spending more than an hour inside.

Outside, there were multiples paths, trails, and boardwalks. We definitely needed to use our map!

There were many place where you could see baby alligators and there was a bird aviary, where the center keeps injured birds and takes care of them. We even saw a bald eagle!

bird aviary

We didn’t make it to every trail with the kids in tow, but we did manage to make it to the island, off of Lake Maggiore. From there you can see across the lake the buildings in downtown St. Pete!

This was a great 1/2 day trip. If you’d like to visit the center:

Phone: (727) 893-7326

Website: http://www.stpeteparksrec.org/boydhillpreserve/

Location (click for map): 1101 COUNTRY CLUB WAY S.
ST. PETERSBURG, FL 33705

Hours: Closed Mondays. Other days 9-6 in the winter, 9-7 in the summer. Open early (7am) on Saturdays.

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