MANA-SEE: HOMOSASSA HOLIDAY
The 6-mile long Homosassa River begins in a spring at the state park and is home to one of the largest herds of West Indian manatee in Florida. Paddlers often see these gentle animals moving slowly upstream, especially in the winter months. The Halls River, which joins the Homosassa from the north, offers additional backwater paddling. As you near the gulf, freshwater mixes with salt, making for good fishing, so bring a rod and reel. After you are done on the river, spend the afternoon at the state wildlife park, one of Florida's original roadside attractions. You can see manatees every day of the year from the park's underwater observatory in the main spring. The park showcases native Florida wildlife, including black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, American alligators, American crocodiles and river otters. Don't miss the kid-friendly wildlife encounter programs. floridastateparks.org/park/homosassa-springs.
MONKEY TIME: GO VERTICAL
Want to wear out your kids while they're off from school? Take them rock climbing. While Florida may be a little short on boulders, it does have Vertical Ventures, one of the best climbing gyms in the Southeast United States. The new location in St. Petersburg now features the Vanguards Youth Climbing Club, which is open to climbers ages 6 through 17. Aimed at youngsters just getting into the sport, Vanguards meets once a week on Tuesdays from 4 to 6 p.m. or Saturdays from 8 to 10 a.m. A decade ago, climbing was a fringe sport. But as more Americans are looking for new ways to get fit, many are turning to indoor climbing gyms for a chance to build muscle and blow off a little steam. All you have to do is take a look at a hard-core climber to realize the benefits of this total-body workout. Hit the wall and you'll use your hands, arms, shoulders, back, legs, feet, abdominal muscles and, of course, your mind. verticalventures.com.
KEEP AN EYE OUT: BOBCATS
While fishing near Rocky Creek recently, I was thrilled to see a large bobcat saunter out on to a sand flat. The crazy cat must have been looking for an easy meal. These efficient predators usually hunt at night, but they sometimes venture out in the light because they only sleep for two or three hours at a time. They prey mostly on small mammals — squirrels, rabbits, rats, opossums and small raccoons — but occasionally they will take a feral cat. During the winter months, bobcats also hunt migrating birds, such as towhees, robins, catbirds and thrashers. Found throughout North America, bobcats are equally at home in forests and swamps. In rural areas, bobcats usually hunt in a 5- or 6-mile radius, but in urban areas, territories are much smaller, usually 1 or 2 miles.
GREAT GIFT: OUTDOOR ELECTRONICS
Forget somebody this Christmas? Look for after-holiday sales in electronics. I wish somebody had bought me a solar charger so I can keep my playlist cranking, even on the river or out in the woods. Powertraveller products are great for any outdoor activity. Keep those electronics fully charged with a portable "powermonkey." Prices started around $89.99 and go to $199.99. powertraveller.com.