Ecotrips that are close to home

Wandering Stream cuts through Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park near Keystone Heights.

Photo courtesy Florida State Parks
Published: Saturday, January 7, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 6, 2006 at 9:29 p.m.
Looking for an ecotrip in North Central Florida? Here are some of the options featured in Holly Ambrose's book "30 Eco-Trips in Florida": Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park What You'll See: Marshes, lakes and sandhill scrub habitats filled with songbirds, fox squirrels and gopher tortoises.
Don't Miss: The Loblolly and the Ravine Ridge Trail, which pass by the site of the old sawmill and have views of the steephead ravine.
Top Activities: Hiking, swimming and camping.
Details: Take SR-26 to Melrose. Turn right (north) on SR-21. There will be signs for the park. Admission is $4 per vehicle.
San Felasco Hammock Preserve State Park (south side) What You'll See: A dense forest dotted with streams that disappear into underground crevices and reappear far downstream. You may seek hawks, songbirds, lizards, snakes and squirrels in the forest.
Don't Miss: The sinkholes and weird mushrooms along the trail. Do not eat the mushrooms.
Top Activities: Hiking, biking and horseback riding.
Details: Go west down the road from Devil's Millhopper toward Newberry. The parking area is on the left side of the road. Admission is $2 per vehicle and $6 per horse.
Lochloosa Wildlife Conservation Area What You'll See: Bald eagles, ospreys and wood storks on the open Lochloosa and Orange lakes.
Don't Miss: The opportunity to hike on the northern boundary along SR 20, which is part of the Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail.
Top Activities: Boating, hiking, and primitive camping.
Details: There are several entrances. A trailhead is in Hawthorne on CR 2082 west of U.S. 301. Admission is free.
Ravine Gardens What You'll See: Formal gardens around the steephead ravine with more than 95,000 azaleas around the water. The park is 154 acres, and wildlife including red-tailed hawks, barred owls, and raccoons can be spotted near the creek.
Don't Miss: The suspension bridges crossing the ravine at different points, and the 1.8 mile road around the ravine with fitness stations along the route.
Top Activities: Hiking and prime flower-viewing season during the month of March.
Details: Take SR 26 toward St. Augustine and you will see a sign for the park in Palatka. Admission is $4 per vehicle.
Ocala National Forest What You'll See: A 300,000-acre forest containing lakes, rivers, sinkholes, trails, and swamps. There is plenty of wildlife, including sandhill cranes, fish and turtles. You may see a black bear.
Don't Miss: The Jupiter Springs recreation area, which has a half-mile trail beginning near an old sugar mill that leads to the beautiful Fern Hammock Springs area.
Top Activities: Hiking, paddling, boating, camping, and guided tours.
Details: Take I-75 south to SR 40 and head east 10 miles to the visitor center on the corner of SR 40 and FR 314. Entrance to most recreation areas is $4 per person.
Andrews Wildlife Management Area What You'll See: 3,500-acre riverfront area through a hardwood hammock forest in which you can connect trails using forest roads to make longer loops.
Don't Miss: Deer, owl, wild turkey, white-tailed deer and gopher tortoises along the trails.
Top Activities: Hiking, biking and horseback riding along the dirt and nature trails.
Details: Make sure it is not hunting season when you visit, because Andrews is open to hunting in the fall. The entrance is five miles north of Chiefland, south of Fanning Springs State Park. Admission is $6 per vehicle.
Fanning Springs State Park What You'll See: A spring bowl larger than Manatee Springs, with a huge clear swimming area where you can rent canoes and kayaks.
Don't Miss: The boardwalk trail leading from the springs to an observation deck on the Suwannee River from which you can spot northern cardinals, grey foxes, and white-tailed deer.
Top Activities: Swimming, walking along the dense hardwood forest path dotted with sinkholes, and playing in recreation areas near the park's entrance.
Details: The park is seven miles north of Chiefland on U.S. 19 on the left. Admission is $4 per vehicle.
Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve What You'll See: Scrub and wetlands habitats restored by prescribed fire burns, with wildflowers and lots of butterflies near sinks.
Don't Miss: Gopher tortoises, lubber grasshoppers and rabbits along the trails, usually found in the fall.
Top Activities: Hiking, bicycling and biking along the old Jeep trails.
Details: Make sure it is not hunting season when you visit, because the reserve is open to hunting in the fall. Go west from Gainesville to Cedar Key on Archer Road until you see the sign for the reserve on the right. The reserve is before the town of Cedar Key itself. Admission is free.

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