Florida’s Outdoor Coolest Spots for Summer

Florida’s Outdoor Coolest Spots for Summer

What would outdoor Florida be without wading along the shoreline, swimming, tubing, snorkeling, diving, kayaking, boating and fishing?

Definitely a sorry place indeed – I honestly wonder how many of us would stick around without all these wonderful wet places we take for granted.

Fortunately for visitors and residents alike, aquatic preserves, the Florida Springs initiative, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Coral Reef Conservation all ensure these ecosystems will be around for a long time, thank goodness.

Let’s explore a bit of what we take for granted – Florida’s outdoor coolest spots.

Floating over Another World in Florida’s Outdoor Coolest Spots

A small group of us took up the offer to go on a free snorkeling trip to explore the estuarine world of Gasparilla Sound-Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve in Southwest Florida near Punta Gorda and Placida.

Florida's outdoor coolest spots - Snorkeling in Gasparilla Sound.
Snorkeling in Gasparilla Sound.

Off we go on a pontoon boat. Even non-swimmers felt comfortable about getting wet. The water depth was, at most, four feet so it was easy to stand up at any time.

What a difference a mask and snorkel make! I float along, hands loose at my sides, looking down at swaying clumps of sea grass. Schools of little fish dart back and forth. A young grouper goes by giving me the eye but moving on quickly. I’m in their water world now – a visitor in a foreign land and it is fascinating.

I stand up with reluctance. Our two hours are up. Bummer. I promise myself I’ll be back.

In the upper Florida Keys at Key Largo is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Land sits next to water with its living communities of protected coral reefs. Naturally, snorkeling tours are immensely popular. Make reservations at (305) 451-6300. The two and a half hour tour take you out by pontoon boat. You are in the water for an hour to an hour and a half. Bring gear or rent equipment there (prices on Web site). Snorkeling tour fee is $29.95 for an adult, $24.95 for children under 18.

Springs Bubble with Blue Beauty

Florida's outdoor coolest spots - divers at Ginnie Springs
Divers at Ginnie Springs

Forty-four parks, mostly in Central and North Florida, have accessible springs – get wet, canoe, bring a picnic lunch, dive, even float on an inner tube, carried by the current on clear blue water. Some samples: Ginnie Springs Outdoors near High Springs. Ichetucknee Springs State Park where tubing down the river carries on as a family tradition over the generations and Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, the last undeveloped habitat in Kings Bay with 30 known springs. This is a refuge for West Indian manatees.

Water trails in Florida are called blue highways. They meander through mangrove, down rivers, along the coast, paddling can be very addictive – and for the super serious there is the CT, the Florida Circumnavigational Saltwater Paddling Trail. It is the longest saltwater paddling trail in the continental United States. The keeper of all things related to Florida paddling is the Florida Paddling Trails Association.

Florida's Outdoor Coolest spots - canoeing at Alexander Springs
Canoeing at Alexander Springs.

For a truly other world experience, join A Day Away Kayak Tours for a black night/cold light bioluminescent night tour in the Indian River Lagoon. Bioluminescent season started in June and continues until October. See their calendar to know when the black nights (no moon) times are. Prices vary by weekday/weekend and whether you bring your own boat or use theirs. To know more call (321) 268-2655. No need to be a kayak expert – they’ll have you gliding along in no time.

Three of us went on this tour, leaving from the Haulover Canal Launch Site 20 minutes east of Titusville We pushed off at sunset stopping first in an area known for manatee sightings (not that night) then lazily making our way to the Lagoon. Now it is dark, pitch dark. I dip my paddle in the water and a trail of silver follows the paddle. A mullet swims by trailing bioluminescent in its wake. No one really knows what causes millions of tiny organisms in the water to light up when the water is disturbed and it only happens in certain months.

Overhead the sky is a huge inverted black bowl filled with stars. We rest our paddles. It is utterly silent and so beautiful it takes my breath away. Pictures? No. I didn’t even try.

This is one of those “you have to be there” experiences.

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Bioluminescent Kayak Tours -Only in Summer

We stood around the canoe launch site at Haulover Canal on Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Our guide held up a two-bladed paddle and explained techniques. Dig this way, the kayak goes that way. You know the drill.

She joked about those kayaks with two people paddling had to sign a waiver they’d still be speaking to one another at the end. Laughter. No, seriously, once she had to separate a couple. Whoa. I wondered if one of them had to swim back. She didn’t say.

Florida’s Original Bioluminescent Kayak Tour

The sun went down. We were waiting on a last group to arrive for Florida’s Original Bioluminescent Kayak Tour (whew – long title!) but still, I felt she was lingering, eyeing the sunset while we were practically pawing the ground, ready to go. She had a reason and I’d soon find out why.

Leaving someone behind to wait for the latecomers, we snuggled our buns into kayaks, managed not to bump into one another and paddled over to Manatee Lagoon. Sure enough, cries and shouts were heard when manatee snouts appeared as the big, gentle mammals came up for air.

Then we activated luminescent tubes on lanyards. We hung them backwards so the light dangled on our backs. Ours were bluish; the guide had a green glowing light. When in doubt, follow the green light – the guides know where they are going.

Almost single file now we paddle out of Manatee Lagoon, a long line of blue lights, and we end up in Mosquito Lagoon. It lives up to its name. Even with yucky toxic bug repellent sprayed all over me I’d reach down and throw water on my face to get rid of mosquitoes.

We shelved our paddles and drifted. Deep night had arrived without a whisper, like a cat creeping silently. This is why our guide lingered at the launch. The tour is all about night moves. And the dark night was full of surprises.

She instructed us to push a paddle through the water and watch what happened. A beautiful silvery blue light appeared. Thousands, maybe millions, of single cell organisms in the water light up when agitated at night. They only do this in warm summer months of June, July and August and only in two places in the world – here and in Costa Rica.

I dipped my hand in the water and waved it back and forth. The fantastic light show followed me. No sc fi movie could duplicate this – it felt otherworldly and magical.

A mullet darted in the shallows, its trail streaked with silvery blue light. Nobody knows why the bioluminescence occurs. But does it matter? I often think there is too much information. Sometimes it is just a great blessing to be there, in fact you HAVE to be here for this experience – photos won’t work.

Rain had dominated the daylight hours. Thick clouds stayed in the night sky. And then they parted. I saw a shooting star. The clear sky looked like the inside of a big bowl painted midnight blue and speckled with stars twinkling, putting on their own light show. Look up. Look down. Wow. A big WOW.

Bioluminescent kayak tours happen in summer months

A Day Away Kayak Tours in Titusville does the two to two and a half hour bioluminescent kayak tours in summer months. The skill level is beginner. Next tour is August 8 at 7:30 p.m. Cost is $32 adult, $32 young adult and $24 child. Phone (321) 268-2655.

Other night moves coming up – when the weather cools, say October, do a moonlight walk on a Clearwater Beach with Linda Taylor of It’s Our Nature This moonlight walk is Chapter 32 in “50 Great Walks with Lucy”, University Press of Florida, 2009.


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