Wherever you are on Florida’s Paradise Coast, you’re never far from natural beauty that will transport you away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Soak up the sights and sounds of the region’s pristine landscapes at these wonderfully wild nature preserves.
Everglades National Park
Florida’s Paradise Coast is the gateway to the western Everglades. It doesn’t get more epic than this unspoiled, 1.5-million-acre subtropical wilderness. As the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States, this 1. unspoiled natural landscape will not only take your breath away but also protects numerous plant and animal habitats, including rare and endangered species like the Florida manatee, American crocodile and Florida panther. (As such, it’s also a World Heritage Site and International Biosphere Reserve.) Even better, how you explore the Everglades is totally up to you: hike, kayak, or glide over the landscape in an iconic airboat!
Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Stroll along a 2.5-mile boardwalk in the heart of the Everglades through pine flatwoods and wet prairies, around a marsh and into the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America. Home to hundreds of alligators, otters, white-tailed deer, red-bellied turtles and countless birds, the sanctuary’s most famous “resident” is an elusive ghost orchid that is the largest ever discovered. Time your visit during one of its magnificent blooming seasons – and yes, they have a chart that tracks that.
Big Cypress Preserve
Not just pretty to look at, the freshwaters of Big Cypress Swamp are crucial to supporting the health of the neighboring Everglades and rich marine estuaries along Florida’s southwest coast. Covering more than 729,000 acres, the preserve is also home to a diverse mix of wildlife. Go on a swamp walk or paddle to take it all in. Better yet, book a guided photo safari at world-renowned photographer Clyde Butcher’s on-site gallery, where you can scan his stunning images of the preserve – and score your own to take home.
Ten Thousand Islands
There aren’t really thousands of islands (only a mere few hundred) but this expansive labyrinth of land, water and mangrove forests off the coast of Southwest Florida is home to abundant species of plant, animal and marine life. Paddling is the best way to explore them up close, and an easy kayak trail at Sandfly Island is a perfect place for beginners to loop throughout maze. Before or after your journey, wander the island’s trails past vestiges of old pioneer homes.
Fakahatchee Strand State Park
It’s not only the largest state park in Florida, but also the only place in the continental United States where you can see some of the plant and animal species that call this incredible sanctuary home. Walk a 2,500-foot boardwalk winding through a beautiful section of the swamp, ending at an observation deck over a pond of alligators. Lakes and trails make for great hiking, biking and fishing – or simply get behind the wheel to soak up the park’s surroundings on a scenic drive.
Find more wonderful outdoor experiences at ParadiseCoast.com/Outdoors-Nature.
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