Cyclists will enjoy the Mala Compra Plantation Greenway, across from Bing’s Landing. A 5.5-mile mountain-bike trail winds through dense coastal forests in the aptly named seaside community of Hammock, with a 1.5-mile walking trail along its outer edge. Waves strum across the coquina-studded shore at nearby Marineland, where the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience has opened a sea turtle hospital, the first in Northeast Florida.
With more than 2,400 acres along the Tolomato River, Nocatee Preserve is one of the rarest conservation areas along Florida’s Historic Coast. A 4.2-mile main trail provides access to side trails, including mountain-bike loops, and ends at picturesque Nocatee Landing. Built by community volunteers, the Jacksonville Arboretum was born out of a post-World War II strip mine. This urban forest covers 120 acres, with several miles of trails leading through ravines and around a man-made lake.
Pet-friendly eco cruises await visitors to Fernandina Beach, where Amelia River Cruises offers narrated exploration up Beach Creek at Cumberland Island and along the waterfront of Fort Clinch. Learn how shrimpers make their living on a Shrimping Eco Tour, on which families work together to collect and identify sea creatures pulled in on a trawling shrimp net.
With 73 acres along Lake Bradford in Tallahassee, the FSU Reservation isn’t just for college students although Florida State University students have access to stand-up paddleboarding, kayak and canoe rentals for free. A lifeguard monitors the swimming area, and a 40-foot climbing wall lets visitors test their agility. Protecting nearly 5,000 acres of aquifer recharge for Silver Springs, one of the world’s largest first magnitude springs, Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area opened to the public with an extensive trail system, featuring more than 12 miles in two large loops and four connector trails along Half Mile Creek and through vast pine forests. Open for hiking and horseback riding, the trails also connect to the eastern side of the Cross-Florida Greenway and to Indian Lake State Forest.
One of the more unexpected guided tours you’ll find in Florida is that of Two Tails Ranch in Williston. Here, elephants graze on the rolling hills under the live oaks. The ranch boards elephants in need of a home while their facilities are being rebuilt, and also hosts some permanent retirees.
Starting in April, pick your own fresh blueberries at Wacahoota Farms, a rural gem south of Gainesville. Nearby 5,719-acre Barr Hammock Preserve expanded its trail system to more than 20 miles of interconnected footpaths and riding trails, and added a new trailhead along SE 175th Avenue in Micanopy Both opened in November 2016.
For a taste of the past, Bob’s River Place is the answer. This old-time swimming hole near Branford is as simple as recreation used to be. Rope swings for taking the plunge dangle from the live oaks over the Suwannee River, and long slides lead down into the tannic water.