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Discover 6 Perfect Florida State Parks

By Jeanine Barone
November 11, 2022
I Stock 1192117746 1 Honeymoon Island State Park, Florida, USA.
Honeymoon Island State Park, Florida - Istock/MargaretW
All across the Sunshine State, large swaths of beautiful natural expanses are set aside as pristine state parks just waiting for you to explore.

In Florida, a day at a park doesn’t always have to mean hanging out with The Minions, Mickey or Big Bird, though it often does. No surprise, considering the Sunshine State is synonymous with popular theme and water parks. But, Florida is also home to 175 state parks scattered from the Panhandle to the Keys, each offering an opportunity to experience the state’s myriad natural and cultural treasures, whether streams and rivers threading through a verdant landscape, a system of caverns peppered with stalactites, miles of undeveloped sandy beaches, dense tracts of forests dripping with moss, or historic forts and lighthouses. The entire compendium of state parks shows off Florida’s grand diversity of ecosystems, from mangroves to pinelands to dunes, as well as the resident and migrant creatures that call these vast expanses home or pay a seasonal visit. In the six state parks below, a grand array of enticing scenery and activities are on full display. (You can learn more at floridastateparks.org.)

1. Oleta River State Park

Just 30 minutes from downtown Miami, Oleta is considered Florida’s largest urban park and one offering numerous water- and land-based activities. Inside the park, BG Oleta River Outdoors rents canoes and kayaks so visitors can paddle through dark, foliage tunnels along the mangrove-lined river and then on to peaceful Biscayne Bay and the Intercoastal Waterway with opportunities to spot river otter, and sea turtles. (This concession also offers full moon and one-hour Friday sunset kayak tours.) And, despite Miami’s perfectly flat topography, Oleta is considered one of Florida’s best mountain biking venues, with more than a dozen miles of interconnected, challenging single track coursing beside the park’s waterways.

2. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

lucky-photographer
Bill Baggs Cape - Istock/lucky-photographer

On the southern tip of Key Biscayne, Bill Baggs is most noted for its one-mile-some beach -- perfect for sunning and swimming -- that’s often named as one of the top 10 beaches in the U.S. by Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University, aka Dr. Beach. Bird watchers are also attracted to this park that’s a stopover on the Atlantic Flyway for migrating species, such as Cerulean and Bay-breasted wood-warblers. Anyone walking to the southern tip of the Pond Trail will be near the Cape Florida Lighthouse, South Florida’s oldest structure that provides stunning views of Biscayne Bay, Key Biscayne and South Beach.

3. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park

Named for the tallest of the coastal dunes along the Gulf of Mexico that resembles a ship’s sail, rising over 25 feet high, Topsail Hill, located in the Florida Panhandle, preserves these white quartz dunes with lakes -- a unique ecosystem -- where fresh and saltwater mix. Those with a fishing license can try to snag catfish, bream or bass in one of these lakes, or cast from the beach for Spanish mackerel, pompano or red fish. The paved Campbell Lake Bike Trail -- named for this coastal dune lake, a popular picnic spot -- that’s shaded by tall longleaf pines appeals to cyclists.

4. Hillsborough River State Park

Hillsborough River State Park- Florida
Hillsborough River State Park - Istock/benedek

Just a few minutes north of Tampa, Hillsborough is one of the few spots in Florida featuring whitewater rapids. Those who bring their own canoe relish the small section of Class II rapids. The park also rents canoes that can be put in just below the rapids on this blackwater river, the color deriving from the tannins leaching from fallen leaves. Growing along the shore, live oaks, magnolia and cypress trees provide for shaded paddling, with opportunities to see otters or alligators on the banks. History buffs often sign up on a guided tour of the reconstructed Fort Foster, a replica of the circa 1837 fort from the time of the Second Seminole Indian War.

5. Honeymoon Island State Park

Having received its name after several dozen honeymoon cottages were constructed (and subsequently demolished) in the early 1940s, this barrier island remains a stunning day-trip from Tampa for nature lovers. Though beachgoers flock to the sandy and seashell/rock studded four-mile stretch, a wild landscape of tide pools, sand dunes and salt marshes await those walking past the last parking lot to the shaded Osprey Trail. Hikers will find monarch butterflies fluttering about and the ever-present scent of pine. A real treat is seeing osprey with their young.

6. Caladesi Island State Park

A short ferry ride away from Honeymoon Island, Caladesi was once attached to its sister island prior to a major hurricane in 1921. Though now connected to Clearwater Beach after a land bridge formed, Caladesi feels like the Florida of another era, once visitors wander past the ranger station/concession, with nothing but the sounds of bird calls, and the tide lapping at the powdery beach. In 2018, Dr. Beach ranked Caladesi’s dazzling quartz sands as one of the country’s top 10. A network of sandy trails wind through the heart of this island where signs remind visitors that the dense interior is snake territory.

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Get your Yellowstone Fix in Wyoming!

Wyoming is the last bastion of the West, where bold, independent and curious spirits are encouraged to forge their own way to adventure both big and small. Wyoming is home to many firsts, including the country’s first national park (Yellowstone), first national monument (Devils Tower) and first national forest (Shoshone). In addition, Wyoming was the first government in the world to guarantee women their inherent right to vote and hold office. These special places, along with other natural wonders like Grand Teton National Park and the Bighorn Mountains as well as Wyoming’s heartfelt cowboy hospitality, welcome millions of visitors annually. As the weather cools down and blankets of snow begin to cover pristine landscapes, Wyoming becomes a winter wonderland for all types of travelers. With fewer crowds, award-winning ski-resorts, new direct flights and winter events, the Cowboy State offers endless winter experiences. Here is a selection of new and notable this season: Winter EventsSkijoring at the Sheridan Winter Rodeo - Photo Credit: @sprouseandneuhoffSkijoring Rodeo may be Wyoming’s official sport, but skijoring is the state’s unofficial winter sport. It is a uniquely Western athletic and cultural phenomenon combining two of Wyoming’s favorite pastimes: skiing and horseback riding. Travelers can spectate competitive Skijoring at the Sheridan WYO Winter Rodeo, Sundance Winter Festival, Saratoga Skijoring Races, Skijor Wars (Buffalo) or Pinedale Winter Carnival. Most Skijoring competitions are held in February with 2023 to be announced.Pinedale Winter Carnival Join Pinedale in February as they host their annual winter carnival. Enjoying skijoring, a blizzard bash and more. Enter the Cardboard Classic, where you can create your own sled out of cardboard, duct tape, glue and paint. See if you can build a sled worthy of the course and snag a prize in the process.Sundance Winter Festival For a fun twist on skijoring, join Sundance for their Wild Horse and Tube Race every February. While you can still catch traditional skijoring at the winter festival, you can now register for the tube experience. On this take of the sport, the horse and rider pull you in a tube instead of on skis. For more information on Wyoming’s annual winter events, click here.Ski DestinationsJackson Hole Mountain Resort- Courtesy of jacksonhole.com Jackson Hole Mountain Resort New Lift (Jackson, WY) - Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) will replace its Thunder quad chairlift with a faster and more powerful detachable quad chairlift ahead of the 2022-23 winter season. The speed of the new lift is 1,000 feet net per minute, twice the velocity of the original Thunder, and will cut riders’ time down from just over 7 minutes to 3.6 minutes. Grand Targhee Resort's New Terrain (Alta, WY) - For the first time in over 20 years, Grand Targhee Resort is opening new terrain with the construction of the Colter Lift on Peaked Mountain. Construction is underway and the opening is slated for the start of the 2022/23 winter season. The Colter Lift will transport up to 2,000 people per hour and gain 1,815 vertical feet in just five minutes. The brand-new six-pack will give skiers and riders access to over 600 skiable acres of fall line skiing, open glades, world-class side-country, and extraordinary views of the Grand Tetons. Snow King Mountain Expansion & Improvements (Jackson, WY) - Located in the heart of Jackson, Snow King Mountain unveiled a new, 8-passenger Leitner-Poma gondola and zipline, the steepest in North America (available in the summer months). The new gondola offers spectacular views of the Grand Tetons, the National Elk Refuge and the town of Jackson. In addition, Snow King will expand its operations with a new summit restaurant, observatory, planetarium and 100 acres of ski terrain. Outdoor AdventureSandsurfing at Killpecker Sand Dunes - Courtesy of tourwyoming.com Sandboarding on 2nd Largest Sand Dunes in the World (Rock Springs, WY) - With sand dunes reaching up to 100 feet high, the landscapes of Killpecker Sand Dunes are punctuated by towering rock formations in the form of buttes and spires, like the famous Boars Tusk spire, making it a can't miss experience. Visitors can visit the new attraction located in Southwest Wyoming on their very own sandboard or sled. The boards are like snowboards, with two-foot holds and curved edges, while the sleds are like winter downhill sleds. While surfing the dunes, keep an eye out for the desert elk. The area is home to one of the largest desert elk herds in the world.Lodging & CampingReid Creek Lodge - Courtesy of wagonhound.com/reidcreeklodge Luxury Property, Reid Creek Lodge, Opens in Central WY (Douglas, WY) - Reid Creek Lodge, a luxury property, opened in the summer of 2022. Reid Creek Lodge features an 8,000 square foot lodge with seven beautifully appointed bedrooms accommodating up to 22 guests and one group at a time. The exclusive experience includes a personal chef, curated programming, cozy gathering spaces and rustic mountain design. Little America Hotel Unveils New RV Park (Green River, WY) - Featuring 42 spacious sites, including back-in and pull-through spots, Little America RV park provides a variety of hotel-like amenities, including marble showers, a heated outdoor pool, a kid’s playground, a fitness center, a fuel center and a 24-hour convenience store. Rates start at $55 per night. Snow King Resort to Open New Spa (Jackson, WY) - Snow King Resort is close to unveiling its new Grand View Spa in December 2022. The resort’s new addition will feature six treatment rooms including a couple’s suite, locker rooms with experiential showers, hot tubs and eucalyptus-infused steam rooms, men’s and women’s private lounges, an infrared sauna, a boutique retail shop and scenic outdoor deck with a large hot tub. 2023 Milestone Anniversaries: Carissa Mine at South Pass City - Courtesy of southpasscity.com 30th Anniversary of the National Bighorn Sheep Center (Dubois, WY) - July 3, 2023 - The National Bighorn Sheep Center operates in Dubois, Wyoming. The Center features dioramas with full-scale taxidermy mounts that recreate bighorn habitats, interactive exhibits about wildlife management and special adaptations of wild sheep, and wildlife films the whole family will enjoy. 30th Anniversary of International Climbers’ Festival (Lander, WY) - July 13-16, 2023 - The 30th Anniversary of the International Climbers’ Festival (ICF) is the longest-running climbers’ festival in the world and has stayed true to its grassroots origins 110th Annual Fremont County Fair (Riverton, WY) - July 29 to Aug 5, 2023 - A celebration for those near and far that showcases all that Wind River Country has to offer. Plenty of things to do and see for all ages, such as children’s activities, entertainment, food and merchandise vendors, livestock and agriculture competitions, midway rides and much more. 10th Anniversary of the Grand Opening of the Carissa Mine for Tours at South Pass City (South Pass City, WY) - May/June TBD- The Carissa Mine was the largest gold mine in the Sweetwater Mining District. The history of the Carissa Mine is tied to the hopes and dreams of many men starting in 1867, but it never truly took off. What remains today is one of the best-preserved historic mining operations in the world. Tours include a walk-through of the historic structures, a live demonstration of milling equipment, and a great story of life in a gold town.

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Five Fun, Affordable Fall Adventures in Fort Collins, Colorado

Leaf peeping is a great way to explore Fort Collins, Colorado, and the surrounding Northern Colorado area during its most beautiful season: autumn. Fort Collins proximity to the Cache la Poudre River canyon and Rocky Mountain National Park makes it a leaf-peeping magnet, and the perfect basecamp for fall adventures to Lory State Park, the Roosevelt National Forest, Rocky Mountain National Park and more. While the peak season for fall foliage typically runs from the last week in September to the second week of October, experts anticipate the leaves will peak slightly early this year, perhaps closer to mid-September. Here are five affordable fall adventures in Fort Collins: 1 - Take a Hike Courtesy of Caramie Petrowsky While there are myriad hikes in and around Fort Collins, one stands out as perfect for a sunny fall day paired with a picnic lunch. Greyrock Trail is a 7.1-mile moderate-to-strenuous loop hike that is gorgeous in the fall (and a bit quieter), with sweeping views of Greyrock Mountain and the Poudre Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park and the Comanche Peak Wilderness Area. 2 - Drop a line Horsetooth Reservoir Between the Cache La Poudre River and Horsetooth Reservoir, Fort Collins offers paradise found for fishermen and fisherwomen. The Poudre is perfect for fly-fishing, though there are a few spots where you can bait fish. At Horsetooth, try your hand catching smallmouth bass or walleye from the shore or a boat. Fort Collins also has 15 Natural Areas that allow fishing, including Riverbend Ponds, a popular fishing spot with easy access from the trailheads. It’s one of two Natural Areas where gizzard shad (part of the herring family of fish) are found. 3 - Road trip to Red Feather Lakes Who doesn’t love a good road trip? Red Feather Lakes, located an hour drive northwest of Fort Collins, is a secluded, hidden gem that’s less populated than many Colorado outdoor destinations. Surrounded by 612,000 acres of Roosevelt National Forest, the Red Feathers Lakes area is a year-round outdoor playground, but fall is stunning. Hike or fish in one of the eight lakes in the area, four of which are open for public fishing. You may also fish in the nearby Cache La Poudre River, Colorado’s only designated Wild and Scenic River and the area’s best spot for whitewater rafting and kayaking. Nearby Beaver Meadows Resort Ranch offers lodging, fishing, horseback riding and more. 4 - Attend a festival Pumpkins on Parade - Courtesy of Caramie Petrowsky Festival season doesn’t slow down come fall in the Fort; here are three to check out. Tour de Corgi (Oct. 1) brings a sea of cute corgis in costume to one of the most quirky festivals in town. Pumpkins on Parade (Oct. 20 - 23) is a fun-for-all-ages celebration at The Gardens on Spring Creek complete with hundreds of locally grown pumpkins and fun and festive activities for the whole family (tickets are $10 for adults/children 12+; $5 for children 5-11 and free for under age 4). Día De Los Muertos (Oct. 28) includes a spectacular alter, mariachi band and tributes in picturesque Old Town Square. 5 - Celebrate the harvest There is no shortage of local pumpkin patches and farms offering all sorts of fall fun: The Bartel’s Farm – Stop in for a huge selection of pumpkins, corn mazes, and hayrides. The Farm at Lee Martinez Park – Visit the farm animals and take a hayride. There’s also a pumpkin patch to pick out the perfect future jack-o-lantern. Northern Colorado Corn Maze – Jack Lantern’s Corn Maze is a Colorado favorite. Something from the Farm – This family-owned farm features an organic pumpkin patch, hay bale maze, hayrides, a pumpkin catapult, and more. Fritzler Farm Park – Located in nearby LaSalle, attractions at the farm include a corn maze, pumpkin patch, pedal go-carts, barrel train, pumpkin cannons, slide mountain, and more. Spooky’s Pumpkin Patch — Choose from a variety of pumpkins, gourds, carving kits, and even straw bales and corn stalks for your fall decorating needs at this patch, located on South College Avenue. Colorado native Caramie Petrowsky is a former daily newspaper arts and entertainment editor who loves exploring new places with her husband and their two children. As a CSU alum, Fort Collins holds an especially dear place in her heart.

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Top Attractions in All 50 States

From north to south and from coast to coast, America is packed with diverse landscapes that are worth exploring for every type of traveler. Each state has its own culture and landmarks that make them unique. Courtesy of musement Outdoor enthusiasts have a plethora of places to choose from. National parks and outdoor attractions make up almost one third of the most popular attractions in the United States. From the greats like The Grand Canyon (Arizona) and the urban oasis Central Park (New York) to lesser-known gems like Blackwater Falls State Park (West Virginia) or the Gulf Islands National Seashore (Mississippi) and its beaches, you can get a taste of cultural activities while enjoying Mother Nature. Hersheypark: Hershey, Pennsylvania - Istock/ gsheldon Thrill seekers and families with young ones will be glad to see that ten states across the country have amusement/theme parks as their number one attraction. Snap pictures with Mickey and your favorite Disney characters at Walt Disney World (Florida) or Disneyland Park (California). Otherwise, you can escape to the east to Busch Gardens Williamsburg (Virginia). Got a craving for chocolate? Head to Hersheypark (Pennsylvania) and see what the hype is all about. The Alamo - San Antonio, Texas History buffs will be able to turn the clocks back at the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation (Michigan) where they can witness some of America’s most historical items, discover what life was like in the 1830s at The Alamo (Texas), or jump on board the World War II battleship turned museum at the USS Alabama (Alabama). Jellyfish at the Georgia Aquarium: Atlanta,Georgia - Istock/Gau Souza Animal lovers across the states have the opportunity to visit some of the world’s best zoos and aquariums. From Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium (Nebraska) and its one-of-a-kind exhibits to the world-renowned Georgia Aquarium (Georgia), one of the largest in the world, to the west coast’s Oregon Zoo, the United States offers plenty to admire. Research done by Musement, the digital discovery and booking platform for travel activities and experiences around the world. To see the full list of all 50 attractions click here.

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Take a Hike in the Olympic National Park

Hiking the pristine trails of the Olympic National Park is just what the doctor ordered to relieve the stress of the urban crowds. Rain forest, old growth forest, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and a stunningly beautiful coastline offers plenty of options from easy to vigorous hikes. Three full days will yield a lot of spectacularly stunning nature, but five or more days will provide you with a fully immersive and very memorable experience. Getting there Sea-Tac, Seattle’s main airport, is the closest commercial airport to Olympic National Park. There are daily non-stop flights from most major airport hubs throughout the US. My wife and I flew Alaska Airlines outbound and Delta Air Lines for the return out of San Diego. Because the Seattle area is so popular fares for economy and business seats are more reasonable than you might think and for miles travelers the amount of miles needed seemed to be pretty low. Rental cars are easy enough to reserve in advance, and it’s always good to shop around for the best deal. A mid-size Avis fit our budget just fine. And no need for old time paper maps; Google will show you how to get to exactly where you want to go. Lodging One thing that makes Olympic National Park so great is that there isn’t much in the way of places to stay, which keeps the crowd sizes down. Camping is available in several places, but that’s limited also. There’s both RV and tent camping available throughout the park as well as wilderness camping. The Willaby Campground right on the shore of Lake Quinault in the south part of the park looked really nice as did the Sol Duc Campground right on the Sol Duc River more in the north of the park. All of the campgrounds appeared to be very well kept with fire rings, picnic tables, restrooms, and showers. Lake Quinault Lodge - Courtesy of Jerry Olivas Camping looked great but we chose to stay in two different park Lodges, the Lake Quinault Lodge in the south and the Lake Crescent Lodge in the north. These are not upscale accommodation so don’t get fooled by the term Lodge. Both places offer a variety of types of accommodations including staying in the main lodge itself with wide-ranging prices. Note that these lodges, cabins, and motel style rooms are a bit old so bring your ear plugs. WiFi is good around the Lodges and voice and cellular data works well in most places throughout the park. Positively don’t miss out on that heated pool at the The Lake Quinault Lodge. Dining Oyster Saloon - Courtesy of hamahamaoysters.com For food, like lodging there are not too many choices but the Lodges themselves offer a variety of food options including formal sit-down, bar service, and take away. Nothing seemed too pricy except alcohol. However, it’s easy enough to stock up with supplies before entering the park. The town of Forks on Hwy 101 about halfway between the Quinault and Crescent Lodges has a large supermarket called Thriftyway. One tasty restaurant just a couple of miles from The Quinault Lodge is the The Salmon House Restaurant. It’s all about salmon here and a takeaway picnic is a good way to go because lake Quinault is just a few steps away. Don’t miss that yummy marionberry, or any berry, pie or cobbler, which are popular in the spring, summer, and fall. Another couple of dining experiences worth mentioning, but not actually in the park, are Hama Hama Oyster Saloon on Hwy 101 on the east side of the park. It’s all about oysters here; I mean the freshest and tastiest you have ever had. Another restaurant with both fabulous food and a view is Ocean Crest Restaurant on Hwy 109 on the coast about 30 minutes from The Lake Quinault Lodge. This is one of those places where you wonder who the heck is in that kitchen, because they definitely know what they are doing. Hiking Sol Duc River Valley, Olympic National Park - Istock/Bkamprath Hanging around the lodges, particularly sitting in the lobby near one of those nice big open fireplaces, can be intoxicating, but it’s the trails that offer the biggest rewards. All of the trails in the park have good signage and are well maintained and many have parking lots and restrooms. And no need for a map or GPS system because the trails are easy to navigate. However, there are plenty of trail maps to view and purchase online, but it’s easy enough to just pick up a free map at any of the lodges or park ranger stations. The trails run the gambit of difficulty with many flat broad paths and others that are more narrow and steep. As with any hike it’s best to have a partner, water, and comfortable walking shoes. Good to have waterproof shoes with good gripping soles because it can be a bit wet. And don’t forget that umbrella. There are signs warnings about wildlife including Roosevelt elk, black bears, and mountain lions but we didn’t see any. However, we did see several black-tail deer. But luckily no Sasquatch sighting. Our four favorite hikes were the Rain Forest Nature Trail and Gatton Creek Trail both near The Quinault Lodge, the North Fork Sol Duc Trail on the road to Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, and Barnes Creek Trail near The Crescent Lodge. These trails offer lush rain forest, old growth forest, streams, and falls. It’s certainly fine to back track and redo a section of a trail and it’s okay to just stop, close your eyes, listen, smell, and let your body feel the air. Don’t miss The Giant Sitka Spruce Tree near The Quinault Lodge is a 1,000-year-old, 190 feet tall, and 17 feet in diameter tree that is quite simply amazing. The Salmon Cascades is about halfway up the road to the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. In the late summer and fall this is where you will see coho salmon leaping up the treacherous falls attempting to return to their spawning pools. The small town of La Push on the Pacific coast is a good place to take in some of the Olympic National Park coastal beauty. There’s plenty of trail hikes and on-the-beach sand walks to do. Lake Crescent - Istock/YinYang Lake Quinault or Lake Crescent sunrises and sunsets will positively set the tone for a great day on the trails or a relaxing evening planning your next day’s adventures. There are a variety of fees and passes for visiting The Olympic National Park. We used our lifetime National Park and Recreational Area Senior Passes. No matter what the costs the pay back you get from experiencing nature up close and personal on the trails of The Olympic National Park is well worth it. This is one of those trips you will remember for a long time to come. Jerry Olivas - is a travel writer and photographer specializing in "do-it-yourself" adventures worldwide. Some of his work can be found at European Travel Magazine. He has lived and worked in England, Italy, and Israel and is based in Carlsbad, Carlsbad, California, USA

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