The Real Florida Comes Alive at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

This state park offers many opportunities to observe the Real Florida and its wildlife

Meet a manatee face-to-face without ever getting wet at Florida’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Underwater viewing stations allow visitors to see the manatees—and other fish as they swim by—up close and personal at this showcase for Florida’s native wildlife.

Manatee as seen from the Fish Bowl at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Fish Bowl underwater observatory floats in the main spring and allows visitors to “walk underwater” beneath the spring’s surface and watch the manatees and an astounding number of fresh and saltwater fish swim about. A television screen with a viewing control is located on the sundeck allowing visitors in wheelchairs to appreciate a view out the underwater windows.

Manatee as seen from the Fish Bowl at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park also features a variety of captive animals such as alligators, black bears, red wolf, key deer, flamingoes, whooping cranes, and the oldest hippopotamus in captivity. The native wildlife that reside in the park serve as ambassadors for their species providing visitors face-to-face connections between the diverse Florida habitats and the animals that call those habitats home. Each with a unique life story, all of the animal inhabitants are here for the same reason: they are unable to survive in the wild on their own. Daily programs educate visitors about the various species and what can be done to protect Florida’s valuable natural resources.

Fish as seen from the Fish Bowl at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Included in your admission, weather permitting, is a boat tour that transports visitors along Pepper Creek from the visitor center to the main entrance of the wildlife park. Rangers give an introduction to the park. Native wildlife is identified along the way. The pontoon boats are accessible with a ramp for wheelchairs. There is an elevator from the visitor center level to the boat dock for wheelchairs and strollers.

Manatee Program at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 1.10-mile trail winds throughout the wildlife park including paved trails and elevated boardwalk systems. Benches and rain shelters are conveniently located along the trail. Bleachers are available at the Manatee Program area and at the Wildlife Encounters pavilion. The park offers many opportunities to observe and photograph the Real Florida and its wildlife.

Flamingos at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Manatee programs are offered daily at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. From April 1 through November 15, the programs are presented alongside the main spring in the bleachers overlooking the Fish Bowl underwater observatory. From November 15 through March 31, the programs are presented alongside the in-ground manatee pool at the Manatee Care Center.

Alligator at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pets are not allowed at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park because of the captive wildlife. The park provides kennels at the main entrance of the park on U.S. 19 for those visitors traveling with pets. The kennels are self-service and free. Service animals are welcome where the public is normally allowed.

Roseate spoonbills at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park includes the Wildlife Walk and paved trails for wildlife viewing. The Wildlife Walk consists of elevated boardwalks that are accessible for visitors in wheelchairs or strollers. The boardwalk allows an elevated view into the natural habitats and provides rain shelters along the way.

Flamingo at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is an excellent site for birding. The Pepper Creek Birding Trail runs from the Visitor Center parking area along the tram road and loops through the parking areas at Fish Bowl Drive and returns via a boat ride along Pepper Creek. An information kiosk is located at the trailhead behind the parking area of the Visitor Center on U.S. 19.

Fish as seen from the Fish Bowl at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State park has been a tourist attraction since the early 1900s when trains stopped to let passengers off to walk the short trail to the first-magnitude spring. The tracks ran alongside what is now Fishbowl Drive. While passengers enjoyed a view of Homosassa Spring and its myriad of fresh and saltwater fish, the train’s crew was busy loading their freight of fish, crabs, cedar, and spring water aboard the Mullet Train.

Roseate spoonbills at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 50-acre site and surrounding 100 acres was purchased in the 1940s and was turned into a commercial attraction. At one point, a company called Ivan Tors Animal Actors housed some of its trained animals here in between their appearances in movies and TV shows (remember “Flipper” and “Sea Hunt”?). Lu the hippo was brought here through that company many years ago.

Wood duck at Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is located in Homosassa on the west side of U.S. 19/98. Admission is $13 for age 13 and older and $5 for children 6 to 12. Children 5 and under admitted free. The park is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Worth Pondering…

A string of counties studded with emerald-like gulf waters, deep springs and rivers….If you’re looking for a place of stunning natural beauty, undisturbed…habitats and silence, you’ve come to the right place.

—John Muir on his visit to the Nature Coast in 1867

Best Places for RV Travel this December

The seven best destinations for RV travel this December from Southern California to the Sunshine State

September, October, November, and December are where the names that derive from gods as people end and numeric-naming conventions begin. Thanks to the Roman rearranging the numeric names don’t correspond when the actual month appears on the calendar. Decem is Latin for the tenth month.

Cave Creek Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But in 46 B.C., the beginning of the Julian calendar bumped each of those months backward to create the calendar we all know and use today. Good thing the Roman Empire fell so they could stop moving months around.

Forget summertime: December just might be the best time of year to travel. There are the Christmas classics.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in September, October, and November. Also check out our recommendations from December 2019.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona

The Grand Canyon State is a place where you’re amply rewarded for looking beyond the obvious. You’ll find dramatic geology beyond the Grand, rivers beyond the Colorado, and ancient ruins that you’ve probably never heard of. You may equate Arizona with desert but much of the state is mountainous and its home to six national forests. You won’t want to miss the mighty canyon in the state’s far north, but venture farther afield and you’ll find gentler canyon country near Sedona, mountain hiking near Phoenix and Tucson, and some ancient dwellings that are still inhabited.

Corkscrew Sanctuary, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Florida

You’re picturing white sandy beaches, and you’re not wrong: Florida has endless miles of picturesque sand. But it also has countless opportunities for adventure and discovery of Florida’s natural wonders. Everglades National Park, on the southern tip of the state, is the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S. and an absolutely otherworldly landscape full of rare plants, alligators, and birds. The Keys are paradise for wreck diving while the interior of the state is full of crystal-clear springs ready for swimming and hiking and biking trails that meander through cypress forests.

McKinney Falls State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas

Texas is divided into numerous climatic zones. Each zone has its own weather patterns. During the winter, most RV travelers choose the Texas Gulf Coast, Central Texas, or South Texas. The Gulf Coast and Central Texas typically have daytime highs in the 60s during the winter months, while highs average around 70 in the southernmost parts of the state. Houston, San Antonio, and Corpus Christi have RV parks that are open year round. From Brownsville to Mission the Rio Grande Valley welcome thousands of Winter Texans looking for a warm winter home.

Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern California

Well-known for weather that remains balmy year round, Southern California is an ideal winter destination for RV travelers. Temperatures in San Diego and Los Angeles rarely drop much below 70 degrees and precipitation is minimal. The beaches are open, as are all of the region’s attractions. Note that Southern California is a popular winter destination for travelers of all types, not just those in RVs. Expect crowds and high prices throughout the winter season.

Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama Gulf Coast

The Alabama Gulf Coast is warmed by sunshine, history, culture, and unspoiled natural beauty. You’ll find 32 miles of sugar-white sand beaches made almost entirely of fine, quartz grains washed down from the Appalachian Mountains thousands of years ago. Once you visit the Gulf Coast area of Baldwin County, you quickly realize these are some of the finest beaches in the world and one of America’s hidden gem locations. You’ll yearn to return year after year to feel the sand between your toes, splash around in the turquoise water, smell the salty air and admire the jaw-dropping sunsets of Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

The Old Pima County Courthouse in El Presidio, Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

Tucson is a city set in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. The city is surrounded by several mountain ranges, such as the Santa Catalinas. You’ll find a strong historical heritage here with a number of restored historic mansions in the El Presidio and Barrio Historic Districts. The University of Arizona is based here and the area around campus has many unique shops, a variety of nightclubs, and quality restaurants. Saguaro National Park is easily accessible and offers stunning desert vistas with saguaro cacti. Winter is somewhat busy in Tucson with mild temperatures compared to much of the year.

Smitty’s Market, Lockhart © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lockhart, Texas

Eat your way through the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Lockhart is home to three of Texas’ most legendary barbecue joints: Kreuz Market (go for the sausage, stay for the smoky pork chops), Black’s BBQ (dinosaur beef rib, anyone?), and Smitty’s Market (lines form for a taste of its shoulder clod, brisket, hot links, and pork ribs). Why not try all three in a day? If you are a Texas BBQ enthusiast, all roads should go through Lockhart.

Worth Pondering…

Christmas waves a magic wand over this world, and behold, everything is softer and more beautiful.

—Norman Vincent Peale

Myakka River State Park: Place of Abundance Offering Varied Experiences

Myakka River State Park is a place of abundance. And from what I experienced during my visit, may have the most alligators

A place of abundance, Myakka River State Park offers a variety of experiences: Day-trippers come for the airboat ride, tram ride, canopy walkway, and stop at the water-front café. Adventurers head for the 39 miles of hiking trails, excellent paved and unpaved biking trails, or the wild and scenic river and lakes for kayaking.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Given you need ample time to see and do it all, you can camp in one of 80 camping sites or book one of five rustic log cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 37,000 acres, Myakka is one of Florida’s most complete outdoor experiences, centrally located so that it draws visitors from Miami, Orlando, Tampa, and snowbirds from throughout the U. S. and Canada.

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The road through the park is seven miles long and offers several great places to get out, enjoy the wildlife and scenery, and take a short walk. The park road also makes an excellent bike trail. By bike, you enjoy the 360-degree view of the spectacular tree canopy over the road and the constant sounds of birds.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the main entrance the first key stops along the main road from south to north is the Log Pavilion. Built by the CCC in 1933, it is a beautiful building whose logs are palm-tree trunks. Park across the street behind the monument rock and explore the riverside and picnic area behind the pavilion too. There are benches overlooking the Myakka River, with oak trees arching their branches over the water. This a sure-fire place to spot alligators lounging across the river.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cross the bridge over the Myakka River and park on the north side. People gather on the bridge, watching birds or gators or appreciating the view. A beautiful short trail extends along the northern bank of the river through the woods.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Canopy Walk, a narrow one-way “swinging” bridge, is quite short—a narrow passageway 100 feet long and 25 feet off the ground, connecting two wooden towers that overlook the forest top. It’s just as cool to look at it from below—the view of the tree branches and air plants isn’t all that different at ground level.

Canopy Walk, Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling northward, the Big Flats Marsh stretches to your left, with excellent birding opportunities. This is part of the Florida dry prairie habitat the park preserves and is restoring. Much of Central and Northern Florida were prairies like this—a vast plain covered with grasses, saw palmetto, and cabbage palms.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along the right, watch for the gate with rustic sign “Meadow Sweet Pastures.” This is the beautiful Ranch House Road, easily biked. It leads to the site of buildings that were part of the ranch operated here by Chicago hotelier Bertha Palmer. Palmer donated much of the land that became Myakka River State Park. The ranch buildings are gone, but visitors have created a small pile of artifacts here.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you stay on the main road here, you’ll soon come to the Birdwalk, a boardwalk extending into Upper Myakka Lake. During the winter, friendly expert birders man this spot in the morning, locating birds in their scopes and helping visitors identify them. Near the end of the park, well off the main road on the right, is a particularly attractive picnic area along Clay Gully Creek.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On your way back, take the road spur that goes to the bustling concession area. This is where you book a one-hour airboat ride ($20 + tax) or a one-hour tram tour (same price, but there’s a discount if you do both.)

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Pink Gator café in the concession area offers counter service for a variety of sandwiches and has a variety of draft beers, including some locally brewed ones. The view off the café’s covered deck is excellent and it’s a great place to relax.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The concession area also rents bikes, kayaks, and canoes.

This park is a hiker’s wonderland, with close to 39 miles of marked trails and six back-country camping sites.

Myakka River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With all its assets, it’s no surprise Myakka River State Park is a popular camping destination, particularly with snowbirds who reserve their two-week stint exactly 11 months in advance. There are three campground loops, lots of sites, and they all fill up on winter weekends.

Worth Pondering…

“I think I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree.”

This sentiment expressed by poet Joyce Kilmer shows the impact on a human being of one of nature’s delightful creations.