From shipwrecks that have grown into artificial reefs to mangrove tunnels calling out to be kayaked, there’s no shortage of new and exciting ways to explore the Sunshine State. But don’t stop at the coastline—if you know where to look, you’ll find adventure in every corner of Florida.
Rule #1: Conservation and Adventure Can—and Should—Be Mixed
The Florida Keys are blessed with crystal-clear water that supports North America’s only living barrier coral reef. It’s a great place to snorkel and scuba dive—or, for an added challenge, learn how to spearfish. Forever Young is the only operator in the Florida Keys that specializes in both freedive and scuba spearfishing charters—and Captain Tony Young is the perfect guide if you want to hunt lionfish, the exotic and invasive (and venomous) species that is wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem. The best part: Young’s staff will fillet your catch and package it up so you can cook it at home or bring it to a local restaurant to prepare for you.
Rule #2: Florida Has Cowboys too
If theme parks are all that Florida brings to mind, think again. Ninety minutes south of Orlando, Westgate River Ranch offers up a totally different experience. This glamping resort is the largest dude ranch east of the Mississippi, packed with activities like fishing, archery, swamp-buggy rides, horseback riding, and weekly rodeos. It even has a mechanical bull for those daring enough to risk their pride. Stay in a massive, 500-square-foot deluxe canvas tent, a kitted-out Conestoga wagon, or your own cabin.
Rule #2: Some Trails Are Underwater
Along the Florida Panhandle, a collection of shipwrecks has morphed into diverse habitats for marine wildlife. The Florida Panhandle Shipwreck Trail is a collection of 20 wrecks from Pensacola to Port St. Joe, like the Three Coal Barges, which were runaway cargo ships the Coast Guard sank in 1974 to keep them from running aground amid rough seas. Other wrecks in the collection were intentionally sunk to create artificial reefs. Grab your GoPro, buy a souvenir passport book, and collect stamps from local dive shops after each of your missions. Dive Pros, in Pensacola, offers wreck diving and specialty courses like underwater photography.