Wildlife, nature and natural attractions of Florida
With large forests abundant with unique wildlife, endless fishing opportunities and beautiful natural springs, Florida is a consistent top choice for travelers seeking outdoor experiences.
WILDLIFE OF NORTHWEST FLORIDA
Destin/Fort Walton Beach
Two pristine wilderness preservations, Blackwater River State Forest and Eglin Reservation, offer tubing and canoeing down crystal-clear rivers, and camping and hiking amid acres of pine, hickory and maple. Horseback riding also showcases 200 acres of lush landscape.
Divers are flocking to the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Panama City Beach, known as the “Wreck Capital of the South”. Sea turtles, giant Manta Rays, puffer fish, sand dollars, blue marlin and horseshoe crab are just a few of the other species that inhabit the emerald waters.
Project Greenshores, a habitat-restoration project along downtown Pensacola’s waterfront, attracts large numbers of waterbirds, gulls, tern, and cormorants. Sometimes more than 300 are seen at one time. The Pensacola Beach Fishing Pier is another easily accessible birding “hot spot” to see gannets, loons and migrating ducks. Birders flock to areas such as the Blackwater River State Forest, Fort Pickens and Naval Live Oak Preserve.
Seaside/Beaches of South Walton
Loggerhead sea turtles, bald eagles and many other species call the environmentally protected areas of Walton County home. From the pristine unspoiled beaches and towering coastal dunes, to endangered scrublands and subtropical plants, the area invites visitors to enjoy the great natural wonders hidden throughout Walton County.
WILDLIFE OF NORTH CENTRAL FLORIDA
Tallahassee offers a breathtaking sanctuary for those seeking more “natural” attractions. Nearby at Wakulla Springs, one of the world’s largest and deepest freshwater springs, the crystal clear water provides optimum views of grasses, fish and turtles during snorkeling. After a dive, safaris aboard the glass-bottomed and jungle cruise boats whisk visitors within arm’s length of alligators lazing in the sunshine and anhinga “snake birds” perched on twisted cypress branches.
WILDLIFE OF CENTRAL WEST FLORIDA
A vast wealth of natural attractions are found in this urban resort area. Nature-based attractions range from wildlife preserves, to the largest wild bird hospital in the United States, to a marine rescue facility and one of the most extensive park systems in Florida. Brooker Creek is an 8,500-acre wildlife preserve near Tarpon Springs and Weedon Island Preserve is a group of low-lying islands. Boat cruises are available to Egmont Key State Wildlife Preserve and Anclote Key Wildlife Preserve.
Manatees have a long history in Tampa Bay and one of The Florida Aquarium’s most popular attractions features 400 square-miles of water, 300 manatees, 200 species of fish, 80,000 migratory birds and 500 bottlenose dolphins. Canoers down the Hillsborough Rive in the 16,000-acre wilderness preserve can paddle up Flint Creek where dozens of large gators can be seen sunbathing on logs and exposed banks. Snakes, turtles, river otters, fish and birds of prey can also be spotted along the river.
WILDLIFE OF CENTRAL EAST FLORIDA
A large number of state, federal, and locally protected recreation areas, parks, and preserves provide plenty of creative inspiration for nature lovers searching for exotic Florida wildlife, flora, and fauna. Thirteen artificial reef sites, starting from five miles offshore, dot the area giving scuba enthusiasts a bevy of marine life to explore. A boardwalk and nature trail system extending throughout the Ponce Inlet park which houses the Marine Science Center allows for wildlife and habitat observation. There is also a seabird rehabilitation sanctuary.
Surrounding the Kennedy Space Center, the 220-square-mile Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is home to more federally endangered species – such as the Western Indian manatee, Southern bald eagle and Atlantic loggerhead turtle – than any other refuge in the United States. Archie Carr National Park, the largest sea turtle nesting area in America, and Turkey Creek Sanctuary, one of Florida’s Audubon Parks are other fascinating natural attractions.
WILDLIFE OF SOUTHWEST FLORIDA
Florida’s Gulf Islands
For wildlife-watchers, the area offers a rich mix of wildlife. Florida’s Gulf Islands are home to the largest population of bottlenose dolphins in Florida. Manatees, the dolphin’s heavier and funnier-looking cousin, can be found ambling through the brackish inland waterways. The Florida Gulf Islands are also renowned for nesting loggerhead turtles. Birders will delight in the colorful array of feathered friends that inhabit the shoreline and inland waterways.
Bird watching has become one of the most popular American pastimes, and nowhere can it be enjoyed more fully than on The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel. Southwest Florida boasts more than one million acres of nature sanctuaries. Prime examples of such areas and activities include: the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, the Sanibel-Captiva Nature Conservation Foundation, the Calusa Nature Center, Lovers Key State Park, Matanzas Pass Wilderness Preserve, Mound Key, Cayo Costa State Island Preserve, Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, Manatee Park, Babcock Wilderness Adventures, Gulf Coast Kayak, Ostego Bay Foundation, Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Big Cypress Preserve and the Everglades National Park.
One of the beauties of Naples is that it is surrounded by thousands of acres of private, state and federally preserved land. Within short driving distance you can be bird watching or adventuring at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, Lake Trafford, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Collier-Seminole State Park, Big Cypress National Preserve, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Picayune Strand State Forest, or Everglades National Park, with an entrance in Everglades City.
The Venetian Waterway Park in Venice is a beautiful 5-mile long linear mixed-use park comprised of trails that lead you through one of the largest, undeveloped areas around Sarasota. Along the Caspersen Island part of the trail, near Red Lake for instance, you’ll see gopher tortoises, habitat for bobcats, foxes, armadillos, dolphins at the beach, scrub jays and wading birds.
WILDLIFE OF SOUTHEAST FLORIDA
Deerfield Island Park is just that: an island. It is accessible only by boat and offers the opportunity to take an elevated boardwalk through mangrove swamps and hikes along nature trails.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, established by the state legislature in 1961 to protect the miracle of America’s only living coral reef, offers visitors numerous opportunities to observe abundant underwater wildlife. The indigenous population at Pennekamp is composed of more than 600 species of fish and 55 varieties of coral, along with 27 species of gorgonians, or flexible corals. The coral provides shelter for crabs, sea urchins, snails, lobsters, shrimp, moray eels, worms, chitons (mollusks), starfish, sea cucumbers, sand dollars, barnacles and sponges.
Experience South Florida’s fragile ecosystem from the Everglades “The River of Grass” to the beauty and wonder of the butterfly to sea turtles nesting on shore. At Billie Swamp Safari, experience the Everglades via airboat or swamp buggy. View gators and a variety of water fowl in their natural habitat. Get a glimpse of sea turtles laying their eggs on our 23 miles of beach from May-August. Immerse yourself in Greater Fort Lauderdale’s undersea world where reefs are made of living coral and dead ships; where gulfstream currents bring a treasure trove of brilliantly colored exotic aquatic wildlife.
Over 1,500 pristine acres of wilderness and mangrove wetlands await visitors at West Lake Park and the Anne Kolb Nature Center. Visitors can enjoy a variety of activities including hiking, jogging, biking, canoeing, fishing, tennis and racquetball. There are abundant nature and canoe trails. Or, visit John U. Lloyd State Park or Hollywood’s North Beach Park and watch sea turtles come to shore and lay their eggs.
There is a wealth of natural resources in Everglades and Biscayne National Parks. The hammocks, pinelands, wetlands, mangrove forests and seashores of Miami-Dade County that remain undeveloped and protected within these practically adjacent parks are home to an unrivaled and diverse array of flora, fauna and marine life. Covering 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park is the third largest in the U.S. National Parks system. A rarity among national parks, Biscayne National Park is primarily aquatic. Of its 173,000 acres, 95 percent are under water. Eco-adventurers will also want to tour located at the edge of Biscayne Bay. A wealth of natural and archaeological resources thrive at the 450-acre Deering Estate, as does a variety of wildlife such as the gray fox, spotted skunks, squirrels, butterflies and birds.
At Fern Forest Nature Center visitors can explore the hardwood hammocks, open prairie area, cypress-maple swamp and the indigenous wildlife.