I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, and I don’t have a bucket list. But I do like making goals (for example, seeing all of the National Parks) and I’m a sucker for a good list.
In that spirit, I’ve compiled a list of adventures I want to experience in the year 2013. Some are things I’ve never done but feel like I should. Others are things that I’ve recently discovered. And a few are things I’ve already done but want to do more of.
Please add your suggestions in the comments section and share with friends!
1) Explore the Florida Caverns
Yep, that’s right. If you’re not a panhandle-ite, you’ve likely never heard of the Florida caverns. Located in Marianna, these caves are the only ones in the state park system, and park rangers offer “moderately strenuous” guided tours Wednesday through Sunday. There are also opportunities for kayaking, camping, biking and hiking at the park – I’m planning on making a weekend of it.
2) Swim at Devil’s Den in Hawthorne
Situated in the middle of an admittedly hokey-looking themed campground, Devil’s Den holds its own as a unique geological formation and one-of-a-kind dive spot. The crystal-clear spring waters are almost entirely enclosed in a cave formation, save for a small vent directly above the spring (in the mornings, steam rises up through the vent, giving the spot its underworldly name). Snorkelers and divers are allowed in the water, but no swimmers or gawkers. It’s a narrow staircase down to the spring and a small platform from which to enter the water, so they don’t allow onlookers to clog them up for the divers and snorkelers. Bring some gear and get ready to dive.
3) Hike a section of the Florida Trail
OK, this is one I’ve done (in part) before. But the Florida Trail runs for 1,400 miles, and I’ve not seen nearly enough of it. The central Florida section is great for long section hikes, particularly as it winds through the Ocala National Forest. And there are some wonderful sections in the panhandle, which make for great day hikes along the Suwanee River. But I’m looking forward to getting out onto the southern sections of the trail in the cool early spring months. Hiking along Lake Okeechobee sounds like a great February adventure to me.
4) Kayak the rapids at Big Shoals State Park
Big Shoals boasts the only class III whitewater rapids in the state of Florida, and it’s calling to me for an adventure. Of course, you can kayak or canoe the river and portage around the shoals, if that’s more your speed. Make sure to call ahead and check the water levels before you go, as low water makes the river impassible, high water makes it flatwater paddling, and between 59 and 70 feet above mean sea level, it’s whitewater. The park also has miles and miles of riverside hiking trails (maintained by the Florida Trail Association) with great views of the river.
5) Dive in Biscayne National Park
There are good reefs to dive all over Florida, but I hear some of the best are at Biscayne National Park. I’m waiting for some warmer weather, but I couldn’t be more excited to explore Florida’s least-well-known national park. The park itself doesn’t offer dive trips, but an outside company, Biscayne Underwater, offers daily snorkel and SCUBA trips to reefs throughout the park. Located in the waters off Homestead, there are plenty of hotels and campgrounds nearby.
6) Try to find Fort Caroline in Jacksonville
Fort Caroline (the fort) was built in 1564 as part of Fort Caroline (the settlement) by French explorers near present-day Jacksonville. Fort Caroline (the settlement) was the first French settlement in the United States. The main defense at the settlement was a fort by the same name – although it was mostly ineffective. A year after it was built, the Spanish destroyed the fort and built their own on the same spot. Two years later, the French set the new fort ablaze. The Spanish rebuilt the fort again (this was all great news for the Spanish construction companies), but abandoned it a year later. Now, nobody has any idea where the fort is or was. There’s lots of speculation, and a lot of people think they know, but archaeological digs and satellite images haven’t proven anything conclusively. I’m going to find it.
7) Make a donation to the Florida Trail Association
If you hike in Florida, chances are you’ve been on trails blazed, maintained or built by the Florida Trail Association. This volunteer army of intrepid hiking enthusiasts keep trails marked, remove fallen trees, build boardwalks and provide information to hikers across the state. They are partly funded by a federal grant but still rely heavily on donations. Money is tight for everyone nowadays, but if you’ve got some extra bucks, send them their way.
8) Fly around in a hot air balloon.
Never done it. Always wanted to. Hot air balloons are one of the most peaceful ways to see the state (so I’ve heard). Out in the fresh air, no noisy engine and nothing between you and the ground except a wicker basket and 1,000 feet of air. Big Red Balloon Sightseeing Adventures offers untethered flights in and around Hillsborough County – a welcomed departure from balloons-for-hire in Orlando, the city with the most balloon companies in the state. Flights at Big Red Balloon leave every day of the week at sunrise.
9) Check out the remains of the steamboat Madison in Troy Spring
The steamboat Madison was intentionally sunk in Troy Spring in 1863 to prevent it from falling into Union hands. This Civil War-era ship is still visible to snorkelers and divers at Troy Spring State Park in Branford. Troy Spring is a first-magnitude spring, one of only 27 in the state. Better still, kayakers can stop by this park on their way to a number of other springs down river. Before you go, read this fascinating National Geographic article about the Madison and the sunken boat at Troy Spring (which they speculate may not be one in the same).
10) Hang Gliding in the Florida Keys
…And you thought hang gliding was for the mountains. At Paradise Hang Gliding in the Florida Keys, you can soar over the beautiful blue water near Islamorada. After you’ve been strapped into your glider, you get towed behind a boat until you reach altitude (1,500′-2,500′) – at which point you’re cut free and left to sail back down to earth. Sounds awesome to me.
That’s our top 10 Florida adventures for 2013. What’s on your to-do list for the new year?