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Have you spent some time in nature lately? If you make it a habit to get outdoors on a regular basis, you already know that it can boost your mood and bring a smile to your face.
Research also has found that making nature a regular part of your life may have a number of advantages for overall well-being. From staying fit to stress reduction, better blood pressure and even improved brain health, getting outside can greatly enhance an active lifestyle.
With the often-beautiful weather in Florida, our state is the perfect place to enjoy the great outdoors. To get you started, we’ve put together a list of the best nature walks in The Sunshine State. We’re especially partial to those on Florida’s west coast, but we’ve included some great options throughout the state as well.
Polk City, not far from Interstate 4 in central Florida, is home to the General James Van Fleet State Trail. This path runs nearly 30 miles through some of our state’s most beautiful landscapes.
About a third of the trail crosses the Green Acre swamp, providing a variety of scenic vistas. Around Mile Marker 10, you’ll find the Green Pond Road trailhead, which marks the boundary of the protected wetland areas of the Green Swamp. In this area, you may see a diverse range of animals, including tortoises, armadillos, feral pigs and alligators sunning themselves on the warm asphalt of the trail.
Running north to Mabel, along State Route 50, the Van Fleet trail offers plenty of parking along with restrooms and picnic areas.
Running from Tarpon Springs south to St. Petersburg, the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail stands as one of the most popular nature walks in Florida’s urban areas. Beyond Tarpon Springs, a new pathway — part of the planned 250-mile Coast to Coast Connector trail network — goes into Pasco County.
Along the Pinellas Trail, you’ll encounter a number of coastal areas, various communities and county parks. In addition, the trail features numerous parking areas and access points. When you access the trail starting in St. Petersburg, you’ll cross pedestrian bridges featuring scenic views, including the Cross Bayou Bridge.
You can reach this trail — which spans nearly 50 miles — from its end points at 1st Avenue Southeast and Bayshore Drive Southeast in St. Petersburg.
The 16.5-mile Upper Tampa Bay Trail has a reputation as the best urban trail throughout Tampa Bay. Offering a natural respite within a busy city setting, the trail’s original portion runs through Citrus Park — along an unused railroad line.
Trail end points are located at Suncoast Parkway and FL 589, West Lutz Lake Fern Road, and Memorial Highway and Montague Street. As you follow the trail, you’ll encounter rural landscapes — complete with grazing livestock — along with peaceful suburban settings. Along the railroad corridor, the scenery shifts to lovely cypress trees and native vegetation; a highlight is crossing Rocky Creek over a rustic wooden bridge.
At the Waters Avenue trailhead, you can access parking, an information center and restrooms. At the trail’s northern end, an extension of approximately four miles takes you to the Austin Davis Public Library in Odessa, along with Keystone Park.
Named for an 1800s military captain and fort of the same name, this trail stands as part of a former railroad line and runs parallel to U.S. Highway 98 for about eight miles between Crystal Lake and Bartow — approximately a 50-minute drive from Tampa. The paved, 7.75-mile Fort Fraser Trail features rest shelters and picnic areas. Be sure to keep an eye out for the 33 species of butterflies — especially the beautiful zebra swallowtail — to be found among the many native plants.
You can also view a historical marker just south of CR 540A denoting the location where Fort Fraser once stood.
Flatwoods Park — in Hillsborough County, just a short drive from Brandon — is home to a seven-mile trail of the same name. End points for the trail are located at Bruce B. Downs Boulevard and Richmond Place Drive, as well as Flatwoods Station Lane and Morris Bridge Road.
The trail’s paved loop takes you through serene wooded areas, where you may see wildlife including deer, hawks, turtles and armadillo, among others. The park features grills, tables and picnic shelters — available for a fee — along the trail, and you’ll also find coolers and additional amenities. As with many of the other trails, Flatwoods Park Trail is great for walkers as well as cyclists, skaters and joggers.
Legacy Trail, in Sarasota County, spans nearly 11 miles and boasts a memorable entrance: the Historic Venice Train Depot. This pale orange building seems to meld well with the surrounding colors of the Florida beach scene. The building, created in the Mediterranean Revival style, dates to the 1920s and was once a popular destination on the railway line.
End points for the trail are at Historic Venice Train Depot in Venice, along with McIntosh Road in Sarasota. Walkers, bikers and inline skaters are all welcome at this site, near the tracks that once were used by the Ringling Bros. Circus. Next to the depot, you can view a statue of famous lion trainer Gunther Gebel-Williams.
The level, smooth trail passes only a few street crossings — which are clearly marked — and has just one steep spot, at the pedestrian overpass for U.S. 41. Parking is available near the depot trail entrance, and you’ll find additional parking and other amenities at six other trailheads.
The 42-mile Suncoast Trail spans several Florida counties — Pasco, Hillsborough and Hernando — and has one of its trail end points at the Upper Tampa Bay Trail and West Lutz Lake Fern Road in Hillsborough County. The trail, which opened to the public in 2001, is part of the Statewide Greenways and Trails System. It runs parallel to the Suncoast Parkway, which starts on the northern side of Hillsborough County and runs north through Hernando and Pasco counties.
As you enjoy your nature walk on this trail, you’ll pass through an interesting mix of scenery — including natural areas, agricultural lands and suburbs. Along the way, you can stop to peruse signs detailing the history of the trail and pointing out local plants and animals. If you have time, you may want to stop to see Pasco County’s Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Preserve, which is located near the trail and features stunning views of natural areas and waterways.
Located in Hernando County, the 10-mile Good Neighbor Trail in western Florida runs from the Withlacoochee State Forest to Brooksville and follows the old Florida Southern Railroad Line.
You’ll find the trail’s western end in downtown Brooksville, not quite an hour north of Tampa, in what once served as the railroad’s switching yard. The Brooksville Train Depot, which dates to the 1880s, also stands at the site and now houses the Train Depot Museum — featuring model trains and exhibits. Outside the museum, you’ll find picnic areas and a rail car from the 1800s.
At the trail’s eastern end, you’ll encounter the 46-mile Withlacoochee State Trail, which links parks, natural areas and cities. In addition, the Good Neighbor Trail is part of the Coast-to-Coast Connector, our state’s growing network of trails stretching across Florida. Restrooms and free parking are available at the west end of the Good Neighbor Trail.
The North Bay Trail in Pinellas County is 6.3 miles and starts in downtown Petersburg. There you’ll also find a connection for the Pinellas Trail at Bay Shore Drive Southeast. The North Bay Trail then goes north along the Tampa Bay, providing you with scenic views of palm trees, beaches, marinas and the water.
At Coffeepot Bayou, the trail turns inland, paralleling 1st Street Northeast. You’ll cross a pedestrian bridge for 79th Avenue Northeast, then take the trail to its end at 83rd Avenue North.
During your nature walk on this trail, you’ll encounter many landmarks, including Demens Landing Park, South Straub Park, Progress Energy Park, Gizella Kopsick Arboretum and others. Parking lots are available at various points along the trail, including at Flora Wylie Park and Demens Landing Park.
The Courtney Campbell Trail spans more than 10 miles through Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, with end points at Cypress Point Park in Tampa and South Bayshore Boulevard in Clearwater.
For this nature walk route, you’ll find access on the southern side of the Courtney Campbell Causeway, which links the communities of Clearwater and Tampa in the western part of the state. On the trail, you can expect lovely views of Tampa Bay, along with connections to Skyway Park, Ben T. Davis Beach and Cypress Point Park. You can find parking at the east end of the trail, at Ben T. Davis Beach in Tampa. Free parking also is available at Skyway and Cypress Point parks in Tampa.
At Tessera of Brandon, you or your family member will benefit from Salus™ by Solvere, our wellness philosophy that incorporates Masterpiece Living® and focuses on the intellectual, spiritual, social and physical aspects of well-being. Along with the many scenic nature walks available in western Florida and throughout the state, you’ll enjoy our full array of stimulating activities, as well as convenient services and amenities. To learn more about our community, please contact us today.