It’s that time of year when many South Florida homes become free hostels and houses of refuge for northern friends and relatives escaping the winter cold and the ravages of Super Storm Sandy. While the average out-of-town guest is happy to toast on the beach, some are looking for more adventurous outdoor activities.
South Florida’s seasonally cool temperatures, dry skies and lack of insects open up quite a few possibilities that were unthinkable a couple of months ago. Camping, cycling, riding on an airboat, and slogging through swamps are just some of the possibilities if you turn your back on the beach and head west.
“For wildlife, January and February are the peak times,” said Maria Thomson, a 13-year veteran ranger at Everglades National Park’s Shark Valley. “Alligators, wading birds. Taking the tram or riding bikes, the wildlife is right there. You don’t have to use binoculars and telescopes and the wildlife doesn’t seem to be bothered by it. Here in the Everglades, once you start to discover the magic that is in this ecosystem, you start to go ‘wow.’ ”
Along with Shark Valley, which hosts an average of 110,000 visitors annually, there are plenty other local adventures that are relatively cheap, fun, and effective in getting houseguests out from underfoot that are best undertaken between now and mid-April. Here are some suggestions:
Options range from urban to primitive for spending a night (or several) at a campground in South Florida. You can go to sleep to the haunting hoots of barred owls or stay up and watch television in an enclosed cabana. Some areas allow pets. By day, you can walk out of your tent and never see another human being until nightfall, or you can walk out of your tent to an open field where scores of model airplanes and helicopters are buzzing overhead. Your choice.
• Larry & Penny Thompson Park: Situated only a five-minute drive from Zoo Miami in South Miami-Dade, this park offers hiking and horse trails, a swimming pool, horseshoe pits, playground, and a sand volleyball court in addition to tent camping sites for $16.95 per night (up to four people in a tent). There is a bathhouse with toilets, showers and a laundry room, and for those who need even more of a break from the great outdoors, a cabana with a television, books and games. You must bring your own camping equipment, but if you forget something — like the stakes for the tent —you can buy it at Wal-Mart about 20 minutes away in Florida City. No pets allowed. (Address: 12451 SW 184th St. 305-232-1049)
• Markham Park: This west Broward site is the perfect campground for the hyperactive and those not seeking solitude in the wild. Besides 88 full-service campsites (water, sewer, electrical hook-ups, restrooms with showers), this park offers enough activities to keep you busy for a month. You can: fly remote-controlled airplanes and helicopters at a special airfield; join amateur astronomers for stargazing through telescopes at night; practice shooting your gun or bow; ride your mountain bike on 10 miles of trails; play tennis and racquetball; exhaust the youngsters at a playground; and walk your pooch in the 3½-acre Barkham at Markham dog park. All this for $30 per night for Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach county residents, plus a $1 pet registration fee. (Address: 16001 W. State Rd. 84, Sunrise. 954-357-8868.)