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.
Riding on South Florida’s crowded urban byways (and even residential cul-de-sacs) can be a risky adventure. For an enhanced outdoors experience where you might actually spot wildlife, check out some of the region’s scenic back roads.
This is an exciting (and loud) way to explore South Florida’s wetlands and view wildlife without exerting yourself. First-time visitors to South Florida will love it.
Walking hip-deep through a dark swamp that almost certainly harbors gators and snakes is not something most South Florida visitors or residents would do on their own. However, when accompanied by a park ranger or biologist, swamp walks don’t seem so scary and are actually fun. Wear long pants, sturdy, closed-toed shoes, socks, and bring a walking stick, water, and extra clothes.