Want to enjoy the outdoors on the Fourth of July weekend but avoid the crowds on the beaches? Here are some ideas. Activities at these parks and preserves range from hiking to bicycling to fishing to canoeing or kayaking. A couple of them have observation towers to climb for a better view of the area. Check out the parks' websites for information about other activities available and to print out maps. You are bound to see various birds and other wildlife, perhaps even deer at one park. Don't forget to pack lots of water, snacks, sunscreen, a hat and mosquito repellent before heading out in search of your own adventure.
Emerson Point Preserve
Address: 5801 17th St. W, Palmetto
Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset.
Adventures to be had: Emerson Point Preserve has 365 acres to explore. Hiking trails include boardwalks and shady areas. Climb the observation tower to take in a view of the Manatee River where it meets Lower Tampa Bay or view some wildlife. Non-motorized bicycling and rollerblading are allowed on some trails. Near the entrance is the Portavant Temple Mound, the largest Native American Temple Mound in southwest Florida. Enjoy a picnic lunch at one of the shelters. Launch your canoe or kayak to explore Terra Ceia Bay. Fish along the shoreline of the Manatee River or Terra Ceia Bay.
Lake Wales Ridge State Forest
Address/directions: Depends on which trailhead you want to visit. The Florida Forest Service office is at 851 County Road 630 E in Frostproof and is open Monday through Friday.
Admission: Day use $2 per person. $15 a night for camping.
Hours: Day use sunrise to sunset.
Adventures to be had: Located in Polk County on 26,579 acres with several trailheads, there are lots of opportunities for hiking and camping. All camping is primitive. Campgrounds have bathrooms (portable toilets) but no water or electricity. Primitive camping sites along the Florida trail require a permit. Call (863) 635-7801. Some of the trails are designated for bicycling or horses. If you hike in the Arbuckle Tract, you'll be on the first property purchased in 1984 by Florida's Conservation and Recreation Lands Program. One short trail in this tract is a loop that provides a view of the historic McLean cabin. Also, there are many opportunities for fishing, kayaking or canoeing in the numerous lakes or streams.
Little Manatee River State Park
Address: 215 Lightfoot Road, Wimauma
Admission: $5 per vehicle (2-8 people per vehicle), $4 for single occupant vehicle.
Hours: 8 a.m. until sundown
Adventures to be had: With almost 2,500 acres this park has opportunities for hiking, camping, kayaking/canoeing and more. Enjoy a 61/2-mile hike on the north side of the Little Manatee River. Most of this trail is shaded and part of it runs along the Little Manatee River. A trail in the middle of the loop allows you to cut the hike to about 3 miles. This trail is located outside of the main park entrance and parts of the trail can be wet if it has rained recently. Head first to the main park entrance to pay the day-use fee or pay at the trailhead. Inside the park entrance are more hiking trails, some for biking or horses. All kinds of camping is available: tent, RV, primitive and equestrian. The Little Manatee River has been designated an Outstanding Florida Water. There is a canoe/kayak launch in the park. If you need to rent a canoe or kayak, the Canoe Outpost (Canoe Outpost: thecanoeoutpost.com/ or call (813) 634-2228) is just around the corner and you can launch from there.
Jay B. Starkey Wilderness Park
Address: 10500 Wilderness Park Blvd., New Port Richey
Admission: $2 day use
Hours: Day use sunrise to sunset
Adventures to be had: With 8,000 acres, there are many trails, designated for different activities. One trail is specific for mountain biking, some trails are paved for all kinds of activities from bicycling to rollerblading to pushing children in a stroller. There are designated trails for hiking and one equestrian trail. One of the paved trails connects with the 42-mile paved Suncoast Trail. A variety of camping opportunities are also available from primitive sites to an area for tent camping to cabins. The tent and cabin camping areas have full restrooms with showers along with water and electricity. The equestrian trail includes a primitive camping site.
John Chesnut Sr. Park
Address: 2200 East Lake Road, Palm Harbor
Admission: Free except at the boat ramp where it is $2 for vehicles and $6 for vehicles with a trailer.
Hours: 7 a.m. to sunset
Adventures to be had: The 255-acre park, built with the cooperation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, has three nature trails. Walk on Peggy Park Trail, which has an elevated boardwalk along Lake Tarpon and climb an observation tower. At the north end of the park, take a walk along the North Trail and you might see some deer. Picnic shelters with grills can be reserved online. Inside the park, paddlers can check out a small canoe/kayak trail for noncombustible engines only. Just south of the park entrance, a boat ramp provides access to Lake Tarpon. No swimming is allowed.