On Florida’s Nature Coast, Crystal River Preserve State Park follows 20 miles of coastline along the Gulf of Mexico. With over 27,000 acres of pine flat woods, coastal marshes, coastal shrubs, mangroves, and tidal creeks, this preserve offers an abundance of nature to explore.
The preserve, with clearly marked, wide, flat trails, provides trail options perfect for the beginning hiker or the casual nature walker. Each trail on this untouched piece of Florida provides opportunities to see both aquatic and land-dwelling creatures such as otters and many varieties of birds.
When the Gulf of Mexico’s water temperature cools, the manatees migrate to the warmer waters of Florida’s estuaries, and the estuaries of Crystal River Preserve State Park provides the perfect safe haven for these remarkable creatures.
In Florida, where you find freshwater, be it a river, lake, pond, or estuary, chances are that you will see an alligator, and at Crystal River Preserve, that gator viewing opportunity may present itself. If you are unfamiliar with alligators, not to worry, they are usually more afraid of us, so just view from a distance. Just remember before you enter areas by the water to look first and then proceed with caution to the water’s edge. Never swim in areas that are posted as an alligator danger area.
The trails take you through an untouched Florida landscape, so close encounters with a snake are possible, and mosquitoes are probable; for this reason, hiking boots, long pants, and bug spray are recommended.
Besides the hiking trails, the preserve also has a bike trail and areas to launch kayaks and canoes. Entrance to Crystal River Preserve State Park is free, and picnic tables and benches are scattered along the trails.
September through May the park hosts Eco Heritage boat tours from the marina at the visitors center. This 90 minute narrated tour through this pristine estuary offers opportunities to see dolphins, osprey and bald eagles. Tickets go on sale 1 hour before each trip but seats are limited and sell out quickly at $20.00 adult and $10.00 per child. For more info on times and dates go to: Friends of Crystal River State Park
Crystal River Archaeological State Park
Just around the corner from the Preserve is the Crystal River Archaeological State Park, which is a Native American Archaeological site. The scenic park sits on the edge of a coastal marsh, and its sacred grounds are the ceremonial mounds of Florida’s ancient Indians.
The archaeological museum at the park houses exhibits explaining the site’s history and displays artifacts of the ancient coastal dwellers that once used the area. The museum is open Thursday thru Monday from 9 am to 5 pm. Even though the museum is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, the grounds are open for viewing. The entrance fee to the park is $3.00 per car.
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