The United Nations has declared 2017 “The International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.”
Using the three pillars of sustainable tourism: economic, social and environmental, we can celebrate by supporting the local communities we visit and retaining those natural habitats in a manner equal to, or better than, we found them.
Florida’s Adventure Coast is a destination full of natural wonders and historic community treasures. What follows is an itinerary to inspire those who love nature – as well as those who enjoy supporting small businesses and making a difference in the community.
Day 1 West Side Weeki Wachee and Waterways
Our first day itinerary starts bright and early with breakfast at the Riverside Restaurant near the Weeki Wachee River.
From Riverside Restaurant, drive north on Shoal Line Boulevard to Cortez Boulevard and turn right. Continue 3.4 miles on Cortez to US-19/Commercial Way and turn right.
Immediately to your right is Weeki Wachee Springs State Park – famous for the Weeki Wachee Mermaids, of course, but also known for the spring-fed river that begins right where the mermaids perform daily. The 7.4 mile river is home to manatee, river otters, turtles and birds of many kinds.
Paddling in Nature’s Place to Play
Weeki Wachee River
This clear, winding river has a gentle current, making it an enjoyable ride for newbies and experienced kayakers alike. Kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards are all available for rent from various outfitters near the Weeki Wachee Spring State Park.
The newly created Bayport – Linda Pedersen Paddling Trail presents an additional, alternative paddling experience as it passes through a coastal saltmarsh ecosystem.
Tips for paddling on Florida’s Adventure Coast:
- When in doubt, pack it out
No one wants to be a litterbug, so prepare for any trash you may be carrying during your trip on the water. Watertight bags are valuable on any paddling trip, and keeping items tied on/sealed away in your craft will protect them from spilling in case of the craft tipping over.
- Let the wildlife be wild
It’s always a joy to see manatees on the river. These gentle grazers are slow moving and sensitive to cold temperatures; they can become tired and sick in the winter. Respect the animals by giving them space and encouraging others to do the same.
Not feeding the wildlife also ensures that they remain wild and unaggressive. A raccoon may look friendly and cute, until the furry bandit crawls onto your craft and tries to steal your stuff. Then you have a problem!
- Protect the banks
The secret is out – the Weeki Wachee River is fantastic! And, with so many people enjoying it, the risk of erosion from foot traffic - those standing on the banks of the river and swimming - can threaten the river’s health. We can make a difference by avoiding stepping on the banks.
After your paddling adventures, drive south on US-19/Commercial Way for five miles to Osowaw Boulevard and turn left. The entrance to Weekiwachee Preserve is on your right.
Hiking in the Weekiwachee Preserve
This 11,206 acre preserve offers ample space for hiking, biking, fishing and nature-viewing. Once a quarry, the land is now protected by Southwest Water Management District and marked by large lakes. Now protected, this Preserve serves as a buffer against storms and as a bird roosting site. Take special care not to disturb any nesting activity.
The Weekiwachee Preserve is also home to a small population of Florida black bears; sightings are rare and the bears tend to hide deep in the forest.
The gated entrance to the Preserve is open to vehicles on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. On these days visitors can drive into the Preserve and park inside near the lakes. The park is open, via pedestrian gate, daily sunrise to sunset.
From the Weekiwachee Preserve, continue west on Osowaw Boulevard and turn right onto Shoal Line Boulevard.
Enjoy a coastal drive heading north, with the Weekiwachee Preserve on the east and Hernando Beach community to the west. In 4.7 miles you will reach Linda Pedersen Park located on your right.
If you haven’t seen a manatee on the river yet, visit Linda Pedersen Park for another chance to spot them. Jenkins Creek is located across the road. The pier at Jenkins Creek is a peaceful spot for fishing on the Gulf.
Dinner with a View
Continue north on Shoal Line Boulevard for 2.6 miles to Cortez Boulevard and turn left. Continue on Cortez for three miles to Bayport Park at the end of the road.
Not only is the view fantastic for a sunset, but it’s a recommended spot to see dolphins!
Many of our Fishing and Boating Captains leave from Bayport, and eco-tours are available. Cruise on the river with Bayport River Safari, offering river cruises on 11:00am and 1:30pm Wednesday – Sunday and Sunset Cruises on the weekend.
Day 2 East Side Exploring
Start the day with breakfast in historic Downtown Brooksville. Local ma-and-pop breakfast spots include Florida Cracker Kitchen (reservations recommended and cash only), Little Lady Café and Mountaineer Coffee. And, explore local shops for a souvenir that is truly unique.
From Brooksville, drive north on US-41/Broad Street for 2.8 miles and make a slight left onto Old Crystal River Road. The Big Pine Tract is located on your right in about a mile.
Walk the Big Pine Tract and Chinsegut Conservation Center Trails
The Big Pine Tract is the second largest contiguous tract of old-growth longleaf pine in Florida. These pines were once the dominant tree of the south, covering nearly 100 million acres from Virginia to Texas.
Four miles of trails are within the Big Pine Tract, which includes two loop trails. The Prairie-to-Pines Trail connects the Big Pine Tract to May’s Prairie and other trails near the Chinsegut Conservation Center. Enjoy miles of trails through Pine Sandhill and Hardwood Hammocks. Walk a section of boardwalk to a viewing platform for a sweeping view of wildlife on the shallow waters of May’s Prairie.
Download each Trail Guide and Map:
From US-41/Broad Street, drive north to Lake Lindsey Road/County Road 476 and turn right. Drive on Lake Lindsey Road for 5.3 miles; River Ratz Café will be located on your left.
Stop for lunch at River Ratz Café, where you have the option of renting a kayak for use on the Withlacoochee River.
From River Ratz Cafe, head west (back) on Lake Lindsey Road and turn left onto Edgewater Avenue. Continue south for four miles. Turn right onto County Road 480/Croom Road and continue 3.9 miles. Tucker Hill Day Use Area will be on your right.
Hike the Withlacoochee State Forest
Tucker Hill Day Use Area is located on the Withlacoochee State Forest and offers over twenty miles of hiking trails connected to the day use area. Other amenities are: picnic area, restrooms and trailheads for bicycle and equestrian trails. There is a day use fee, and leashed pets are permitted.
The hiking trails include three loop trails: the A Loop (7.39 miles), B Loop (8.97 miles) and C Loop (8.09 miles).
Tips for hiking:
- Stick to the Trail
On multi-use trails, it is important to stay on the marked trails and be aware of your surroundings. Similar to keeping off banks while paddling, this helps lessen the amount of foot traffic and erosion on trails, and can keep you from colliding with other trail users (horseback riders and off-road bicyclists).
- Pack-it-in, pack-it-out
Two young Americans made an inspiring journey by hiking the Appalachian Trail while picking up every piece of trash along the way. Although we may not go to such great lengths on shorter trips, it provides a great example of how we can make a difference for the health and beauty of our trails.
- Take in the sounds of Nature
Away from the hustle and bustle of urban sounds, being on the trail or paddling on the water is a great chance to find peace and quiet. Other trail users will appreciate the lack of noise, music or excessive talking – and it increases your chances of seeing wildlife on the trail.
End the day with a sumptuous dinner at nearby Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant.
From Tucker Hill Day Use Area, head west on Croom Road for two miles. Turn left onto Weatherly Road. Continue for 2.6 miles and turn left onto Mondon Hill Road. In 3.8 miles you will reach US-98/Cortez Boulevard; cross over Cortez Boulevard and continue on Spring Lake Highway. Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant is located on your left.
Interested in making a difference in the community? Make your trip even more memorable by adding a day for Volunteerism to your itinerary. Florida’s Adventure Coast has many groups happy to accept your kind services as a volunteer. Be appreciated for your positive impact in both community and environmental areas.