|Photo credit (http://www.ironman.com/triathlon/events/americas/ironman/florida.aspx)|
Everyone knows that Florida is full of world-class theme parks, but you might be missing out on some equally fantastic wildlife and nature parks. If you're jetting off to the sunshine state this season, take a look at this pick of the four best parks in Florida.
Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
The underwater observatory at this park lets you see endangered West Indian manatees up close, as well as several other animals native to Florida. The park's residents include whooping cranes, Florida key deer and red wolves, and the rangers give regular talks about their manatees, alligators and hippopotamuses. You can stroll along the River Walk before exploring the Reptile House, and finish up with a snack at the Wildside Cafe.
Myakka River State Park
One of the biggest and oldest parks in Florida, Myakka River State Park near Sarasota was first established in the 1930s. Today, there's a whole host of activities to choose from, with deer, raccoons, and vultures as common sights along the driving route. You can follow the Florida National Scenic Trail into rare prairie land and woodland filled with bobcats and meadowlarks, or, if you've got a good head for heights, take the Canopy Walkway through the treetops to enjoy the park from a birds-eye view.
Ravine Gardens State Park
This park in Palatka is a haven for nature lovers, with 146 hectares of formal and natural gardens. Filled with thousands of different plants, the ravine also has an intensive hiking trail across suspension bridges for actively inclined holiday-goers. Early mornings and evenings are the best times to view creatures such as skunks, alligators and turtles in their natural habitats, and you might even be lucky enough to spot an eagle or two. You can walk, run or cycle your way around the gardens, which also boast a 'parcours' work-out trail and several picnic areas.
Deer Lake State Park
Taking its name from the lake running through it, this park is located in north western Florida on Santa Rosa beach. Take a stroll on the boardwalk across the dunes, where you can get a great view of the whole unique ecosystem. Thanks to its coastal location, several rare plants can be found here, including the Gulf Coast lupine and pitcher plants, and beautiful wildflowers cover much of the park. This is an ideal day trip for families looking to spend some quality time on the beach, as well as enjoysome casual bird-watching or butterfly spotting.