Unforgettable wet and wild family fun can be found in northern Florida’s crystal clear springs and meandering rivers, just a short drive from Tarpon Springs. Try an eco-oriented getaway on the Gulf Coast in Citrus County, a sanctuary for dozens of animal species, birds and marine life. Hundreds of rivers, streams, creeks and springs run through the northern half of Florida, allowing plenty of opportunities for water trekking and wildlife scouting. This vacation is packed with adventurous options for nature lovers. Even better, it’s cost-effective, making it an ideal pick for families traveling on a budget.
Great Fun for the Kids
(Toddler to age 18)
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park & Buccaneer Water Park
6131 Commercial Way
Weeki Wachee, FL 34606
Weeki Wachee is proud to be “the only city of live mermaids,” a reputation it has lived up to since the theme park opened in 1947. Underwater performances of “The Little Mermaid” and “Fish Tails” are done daily, and a Wilderness River Cruise, bird and reptile shows, the petting zoo and unlimited access to the Buccaneer Bay waterpark is included in the admission cost. Exciting flume rides send kids zooming from the top of the slides into the spring fed river, a refreshing natural water source that stays a perfect 72°F year-round, though not all waterpark facilities are open daily. Kids of all ages can participate in beach volleyball, while the little ones keep occupied in the kiddie pool.
Rent a canoe or kayak from the many local vendors; the clear and shallow river is lined with mangroves that attract a variety of wildlife and are prime nesting sites. Herons, egrets, ibis and other shorebirds are plentiful in this area, as are several species of turtles, known to lounge on exposed river rocks and fallen branches.
Fun for the Whole Family
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
4150 S. Suncoast Blvd.
Homosassa, FL 34446
A morning or afternoon at the park begins with a 30-minute guided boat ride down Pepper Creek to the wildlife area. The Homosassa River runs directly through the park, a wonderful natural habitat for dozens of bird species, such as flamingos, wood storks, pelicans, swans, sand hill cranes and spoonbills. The park offers several daily educational opportunities run by naturalists and volunteers, including three Manatee Programs, two Wildlife Encounters, and an Alligator Program.
Reptile House provides close-up viewing of native snakes and other reptiles. The Alligator – Hippopotamus Programs are held at the Alligator Lagoon, home of about a dozen alligators that live permanently at the park. The Florida cougar, native black bears, foxes and various birds of prey are located along the protective board walk that wraps around the exterior of the river. The park is also part sanctuary for injured or displaced animals.
Captain Mike’s Lazy River Cruises
13821 State Road 200
Dunnellon, FL 34432
Withlacoochee, meaning “little great river” was named by the Seminole Indians that once inhabited the area. The land surrounding it is now divided between the river’s residential communities and a protected state forest. Captain Mike Tracy has been expertly navigating his 24-foot covered pontoon boat down the rocky and unpredictable river since 1997. He offers a variety of tours seven days a week, with sunset and moonlight cruises available on select days. Captain Mike possesses an extensive knowledge about all aspects of the Withlacoochee River, from its natural history to its flora, fauna and wildlife population. He adds an element of excitement to each tour by telling eccentric tales about his own exciting life on the river. It is not unusual to see wild alligators on one of Mike’s tours, as well as an abundance of other native animals and birds — red shouldered hawks, eagles, pileated woodpeckers, wild boars, turkeys and the viceroy butterflies to name a few. No sign of life goes unnoticed with Mike’s keen eyes surveying the river, and he is quick to jump from his seat to point out an osprey nest in the treetop or a school of gar swimming alongside the boat.
Alfred McKethan Pine Island Beach
10800 Pine Island Dr
Spring Hill, FL 34607
A peaceful stretch of road leads to the beach at Pine Island, a Hernando County park, surrounded on both sides by a 3.5 acre open expanse of low bushes, coastal scrub and palm trees. The stream that runs parallel to the road is a prime fishing spot for kingfishers, herons and egrets. The jungle gym at the beach playground is a great diversion for young children in between swimming sessions and sand castle building.
The sunsets at the beach are particularly stunning and a good opportunity to use the stationary grills to cook a barbecue dinner. Families can throw a picnic blanket right onto the sandy beach or eat at the tables in the covered picnic area. The snack bar serves cold beverages and light snacks; public restrooms and outdoor showers are also available.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.