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Florida Family Vacations; The Nature Coast

crystal springs Florida nature coast; by Candice Collins

If you are the type of family that enjoys getting away from the hustle and bustle of city life, exploring and discovering nature in its natural form, then a Nature Coast Florida family vacation is for you. Rediscover the nature lover in you by experiencing the wonders Florida’s Nature Coast offers; from its sparkling natural springs, to its sprawling forests and hometown flavors steeped in the rich history Florida’s tourist beginnings. Come see why the Nature Coast is the perfect kid-friendly Florida family destination for your little scouts.

The Nature Coast comprises the inside curve or Big Bend area of the western coast of the state and encompasses Citrus, Dixie, Hernando, Jefferson, Pasco, Levy, Taylor, and Wakulla counties. This region of Florida is culturally partially southern, with the Deep South culture extending to Levy County with the lower southern end (Pasco, Hernando, and sometimes Citrus county) often considered part of the Tampa Bay Metropolian Area. Pasco County is sometimes considered part of the Sun Coast.

crystal clear springs on Florida's Nature Coast for your Florida family nature coast vacation; img courtesy of Candice Collins

Florida’s Nature Coast is a 180 degree turn from the typical Florida sights and sounds you have come to know. Here’s a quote from their homepage, “Formerly known to boaters and other travelers as “the lonesome leg” of Florida, the area from above  Clearwater to the Ochlockonee Bay is by proclamation of the Governor of Florida now designated as “Florida’s Nature Coast” after a contest to choose a new name and a new poster. Where cute critters aren’t animated or mechanical, but are the “real thing” including 19 endangered or threatened species in their natural habitat. Where thrilling water rides include aquatic and subaquatic adventures, in which the unpredictability and pristine beauty of nature provide the “thrills.” Where quaint villages and Native American sites are the real thing, embracing some of the country’s most fascinating cultural histories. Where spectacular sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico stand in for the glare of neon in the evening sky.Where natural fun remains unspoiled by exorbitant prices, long lines and crowds.”

Read all about a Nature Coast family vacation on Florida’s Nature Coast webpage here. Where you’ll find “The Thrill of the Wild”, “A Living History”, “What’s in the area?”, and “Take a Walk on the Wild Side”. Also be sure to check out their Nature Coast Events page where you’ll see the latest happenings on Florida’s Nature Coast here.

Kid Friendly Attractions & Things to do on your Florida Family Nature Coast Vacation:

Here are a few of my favorite spots on Florida’s Nature Coast that are perfect for tons of family fun;


Nature Coast manatees at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park; photo by william garvin

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park

Homosassa Springs Wildlife Park is only one of Florida’s State Parks which were twice named “Nation’s Best” .  Visitors can see West Indian manatees every day of the year from the park’s underwater observatory in the main spring. The park showcases native Florida wildlife, including manatees, black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, American alligators, American crocodiles, and river otters, along with a myriad of birds and other native wild life. Manatee programs are offered three times daily.

mother & baby otter at Homosassa Springs State Park by uptake.com

At the Wildlife Encounter programs, exotics and other native animals are featured. Recreational opportunities include picnicking, nature study, nature exploring and bird-watching. The park features a children’s education center, providing hands-on experiences about Florida’s environment. See their website here for more information.

Check out the Manatee Cam which the Homosassa Wildlife State Park offers an inside view of the underwater images and refreshes every 10 seconds. It’s so cool! View live manatee photos of the manatee cam underwater fishbowl here. BIG TIP: You can enter the park from Fishbowl Drive, but use the main entrance on U.S. Rt. 19, where you’re admission of $9 will include a boat trip along Pepper Creek or a tram ride through the woods into the heart of the park. Also check out the Homosassa Springs website for more info.

Rainbow River on Florida's Nature Coast; courtesy of the shultzteam.com

Rainbow River & Rainbow Springs in Dunnellon:

One of the most fun things to do here is rent either canoes, kayaks or tubes and enjoy a whole day of floating lazily down the crystal clear river, or go swimming in the head springs at Rainbow Springs State Park, and camp under the sparkling night stars in their awesome campgrounds.  The Rainbow River is formed by Rainbow Springs (a first magnitude spring ranked fourth in the state for volume of crystal clear spring water). In addition to the main springs (Rainbow Springs) located at the headwaters, there are many smaller springs that pour out from numerous caves, rock crevices, and sand boils the entire length of the river. The Rainbow Riveris a gently winding river that is 5.7 miles long and merges with the Withlacoochee River at Dunnellon, Florida. The headwaters, Rainbow Springs, is the anchor for the Rainbow Springs State Park. This first magnitude spring with 72 degree crystal clear water gushing out 24/7  is not one large vent but is numerous vents that issue 400 – 600 million gallons of crystalline water every day. It is truly a wonder to behold, and one of the Nature Coast’s most beautiful sights.

Visit Rainbow Springs waterfall on your Florida family Nature Coast vacation; courtesy of holeinthedonut.com

The Rainbow Springs State Park is one of my all-time favorite place to swim, snorkel, canoe, picnic, camp, and stroll on the walking nature paths.

Rainbow springs became popular in the late 1880′s when hard rock phosphate was discovered in the area and by the 1930′s it had been developed as a tourist attraction. Sea walls, a lodge, a gift shop, and a reptile exhibit were built and tailings from the nearby phosphate mining operation were used to construct miles of nature trails, scenic gardens, and three waterfalls, one of which is still Florida’s highest man-made waterfall.
Dunnellon, with its small town charm has it all – great restaurants, friendly folks, a main street lined with antique shops that occupy 100-year old historic homes, and plenty of opportunity for river sports such as swimming, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing.
This is just a sampling of the diversity of the Nature Coast. There are so many more kid-friendly things to do here I just don’t have room to list them all, but I promise, if you decide to visit the Nature Coast on your Florida family vacation, you and your little scouts will have more fun than an island of monkeys!

There are lots of family friendly and kid-friendly hotels & kid friendly resorts on Florida’s Nature Coast along with superior campgrounds for tons of family fun:

Camping at Rainbow Springs; a Full Facility Campground

Rainbow Springs State Park has a newly renovated campground and is located on Rainbow River about a mile and a half downstream from the main headspring and has a great day use area. All sites have water and electric (20, 30, and 50 amp), and are equipped with sewer hook-ups. ADA accessible restrooms are available. Amenities include a campground store, recreation hall, showers and restrooms, laundry, pool and playground. Pets are welcome in the campground but are not permitted in swimming areas or buildings.

Homosassa Riverside Resort-

The Homosassa Riverside Resort is one of my favorite places to stay and is conveniently situated on the banks of the Homosassa River, close to all the activities I talked about earlier in this post, and is a great place to relax and have fun. There are endless activities such as river tours, manatee tours, fishing charters, and more. Guests can enjoy a sunset and riverside cocktail, or just spend time dreaming by the pool.Some of the other on-site amenities include the Riverside Crab House, the Yardarm Lounge, Citrus County’s oldest and most favorite riverside lounge, and the Monkey Bar. Visitors are likely to be entertained by the antics of the monkeys on Monkey Island, manatees in the river, or passing dolphins.The waterfront resort has one and two-bedroom riverfront rooms and suites complete with balconies or patios. Guests can bring boats and use a boat ramp, or a boat slip space. An additional charge applies for boat ramp or boat slip use. Additional amenities include free local calls, free parking, and free high speed Internet access. Located at; 5297 South Cherokee Way, Homosassa, FL 34448.

Holiday Inn Express Suites Inverness

This is a brand new Inverness hotel offering tons of great amenities, and centrally located to all the fun Nature Coast activities listed above. Located at; 903 East Gulf To Lake Highway, Lecanto, FL 34461

Days Inn Crystal River

Close to all the local activities, the Days Inn Crystal River is conveniently located off of US 19, approximately 58 miles from the airport. Right near the waterline, the hotel has it’s own boat ramp and dock. There is also an outdoor pool on site with lounging area. There are dining options in the vicinity, or guests can take meals at the hotel’s 24-hour Denny’s Restaurant. The hotel also offers ice/vending machines, 24-hour front desk, parking, laundry/valet services, and meeting facilities. Each room has air-conditioning and cable television. Non-smoking and handicapped-accessible rooms are available.

Check our site for more information, and save a wad of cash on your travel costs so you have more to enjoy while on your visit.

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book with bestkidfriendlytravel today; photo credit: Stephany Wiestling

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For more Kid-Friendly Advice about the Nature Coast be sure to visit Patty Sticklands great write up on the area, it’s filled with excellent tips. See it here.

Thanks for reading, and if you or someone you know has come to Florida’s Nature Coast for a Florida family vacation, and enjoyed all the Nature Coast has to offer, please leave me a comment about what you enjoyed the most, I’d love to hear about it!

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