Florida…Off the Beaten Path

By DJ Wilson

As a child, I fondly remember a family trip to Florida taken in our old white station wagon.  I recall piling in with our luggage and family dog and heading south.  We took a few memorable wrong turns along the way as there were no GPS systems, only our Dad to navigate an outdated map in the dark.  The radio sounded crackly and dull.  We managed to giggle at funny things we saw along the way.  We stopped infrequently and drove through the night, as our dog made it impossible for us to stay any place suitable.  We talked and giggled over Mad-Libs, and depended on dear old Dad to stay awake while we slept.  Once we reached our destination, I was awakened by my Father.  I rubbed my eyes and squealed at the sight of palm trees swaying.  The sky was bright blue with white puffy clouds sailing overhead.  When we drove past the orange groves, it was as if God sprayed the most glorious, delicious scent upon us.  And so, my love affair with Florida began.

The southeastern State of Florida is a favorite travel destination for many people.  Boasting an average daily temperature of 80 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer and 60 degrees in the winter, Florida is a delightful place to visit.  Attractions like Disney World, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, and SeaWorld draw millions upon millions of visitors each year.  While these tourist attractions are pleasurable, I learned as a child, Florida has even more to offer.  Well worth the long car ride from New York, Juniper Springs is a destination near and dear to my heart.  Located in the southeastern part of Ocala National Forest, the sparkling spring water stays a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit year round and creates a perfect atmosphere for swimming and relaxing.  In addition to the swimming area, there are picnic facilities and nature trails ready for exploration.  Experience the hidden beauty of Florida firsthand by walking along the inviting pristine path.  Take an adventure and rent a canoe to paddle along the 7 ½ mile canoe run through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness area.  Abundant wildlife and numerous species of plants and birds native to the area can be observed in this beautiful recreation area.  Reservations can be made for camping for those who wish to fully experience the beauty of the Ocala National Forest.

Florida is rich in history as well as beauty.  Searching for the “Fountain of Youth”, explorer Ponce de Leon discovered Florida in 1513 and claimed it for Spain.  Florida was held at different times by Spain and England, and France established a colony there, until Spain sold Florida to the United States in 1819.  The 19th century was plagued with wars with the Seminole Indians, resulting in armed conflicts, a great loss of lives, and a financial loss costing over $20 million dollars.  The Seminoles eventually surrendered and were removed westward.  By 1858, there was a nominal end to hostilities.  The story of the Seminole Indians does not stop there.  It is estimated that 200 to 300 remained hidden in Florida’s swamps and emerged with the opening of trading posts in the late 19th century.  The Seminoles adopted a constitutional form of government and currently work hard to maintain economic independence as they raise cattle, run citrus groves, and sustain their schools on the reservation through tourism and bingo. Today, tourists can catch a glimpse of life in a traditional village by visiting the Seminole Okalee Indian Village in Hollywood, Florida.  Just a 15 minute ride from Fort Lauderdale, visitors can observe many aspects of life on the reservation, and watch live demonstrations of crafts such as woodworking and doll making.  Fascinating not only from an historical point of view, visitors enjoy the deep water alligator wrestling and wildlife preservation shows.  The Seminole Tribes enjoy performing traditional dance and music to share their history with non-Indians.

Many tourists enjoy spending their vacations at great amusement parks like Disney World, Universal Studios, Busch Gardens, and SeaWorld.  While entertaining, these parks are often crowded, noisy, and expensive.  As a young passenger in that station wagon on the long road trip to Florida, I discovered there is much more to The Sunshine State than pricey theme parks and fast roller coasters.  I experienced Florida’s splendor by inhaling the aroma of fresh oranges ripe for picking, walking with my parents on the nature trail at Juniper Springs, and splashing with my brothers and sisters in the glistening warm springs.  I learned of times gone by as I observed the Seminoles.  Make Florida your next exciting travel destination and experience the inner beauty and history of Florida via her hidden gems.  Let your own love affair with Florida begin.

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30 Comments on "Florida…Off the Beaten Path"

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It’s very refreshing to find an alternative to LAARP

My first trip to Florida was as a 5 year old in 1958. We lived in the far north but my father, being frugal, did his best to drive straight through the 1200 miles with perhaps one brief motel stay and he’d make it in 2-1/2 days. (Few interstates back then.) We visited every three years or so and I continued the tradition when on my own. It was 1986 when on vacation when I decided that since I hated everything about winter in addition to the high prices and taxes up north, I should move. The one thing that’s saddened me in the years that followed is the rapid disappearance of the old mom and pop businesses — motels, restaurants, silly tourist attractions, and the simple friendly folks who ran them. As a Southerner by heritage, I chose West Central Florida to live. Still vestiges of the old Florida… Read more »


Don’t miss the many “farmers markets” around the state on almost any day. A stop at Jetty Park just north of Cocoa Beach often provides an opportunity to see our nuclear submarines and close up views of the many large tourist ships that visit there. The Valiant Air Command war bird museum just to the west is one of many aviation museums in Florida. The VAC presents the first air show of the year in early March soon followed by “Sun and Fun”, often called “Oshkosh South” near Kissimmee and the Meeks museum near Plant City. Pensacola on the far west end of the “panhandle” is the location of the US Navy aviation museum. Surf not only the ocean waves but your computer to find many other great attractions around the state.

Thanks for stirring a memory or two. I grew up in the Orlando of the 1950’s and remember our family packing my Dad’s two tone Kaiser ( anyone remember them?) to go camping in the Ocala National Forest, including Juniper Springs. Orlando was a treasure of small lakes and orange groves accessible to adventuring young boys like me and my childhood friends. I was truly blessed to have been a Floridian child of those times, before Mickey Mouse moved into the neighborhood.

As a fifth generation Floridian I want to thank Carl for his beautifully written story about the beauty of the ‘real’ Florida. From the Panhandle to the Keys, along both coasts and into the central part of the state there are countless places to enjoy. Let me also address the fears expressed about the invasive reptiles and the alligators in our state. Stories exagerate hazzards. I live in a very rural area, my ranch has gators and possibly some invasive species but they have never caused harm or danger to my family or our friends who love to visit. We have, however, experienced various unpleasantries while visiting the sights out of state. What I am trying to say is that there are hazards everywhere. Itt is up to each of uss to use common sense when traveling into unfamiliar territory. Again, thanks for the lovely article and for all of… Read more »

My grand parents moved to Florida in the ’50’s. One visit and I was hooked. After my military service was up in 1972, I headed for Florida and never regreted it. It has grown too fast, but there is still back country, small towns and undiscovered locations that are nearly deserted.

Good article.. nice comments.. don’t forget the west coast and Manatee Springs.. best swimming in Florida

Manatee Springs is a great swimming spot and a great hikeing place as well camping

As a child and young adult, I considered Florida an old elephants dying ground. A cruise from Miam and a trip to Disneyworld was my original Floridian experience. It wasn’t until 1998 when I visited a cousin in Winter Haven that I fell in love with Florida–the Chain of Lakes area; Cypress Gardens (now to be Legoland); Bok Tower. Recent trips have included Castaway Island Preserve in Jacksonville; Neptune Beach; Jacksonville Beach and Amelia Island. The real Florida is in the beauty of its parks, beaches and small towns.

i agree with Jere on that but I did not say just Florida parks any park in the USA you need one or your dead or wish you were when the nutcases get through with you. Its to bad that this happens but it does.

Grizz says vacationers to Florida parks should arm themselves. I won’t argue about that, but a person should first take a handgun safety course and maybe even get a concealed weapon permit. There is nothing more dangerous than a gun in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it.

perry much only in South Florida do you have to be armed

I remember station wagon vacations, too! One year, to the mountains, the next, the beach. I was a beach bunny! However, they had not figured out how to control mosquitoes yet!

Florida is such a delightful place that I moved here when I retired. In addition to everything mentioned in the article, Florida has the best fishing in the world. Also, another great Florida destination is the Florida Keys. Great article!

stanley clarke wyllie

I am a fifth generation Floridan,(my great grandfather fought for Florida at Gettysburg), although I now live in OH, grad of Florida Southern College, which has been rated most beautiful campus (buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright) and of Florida State. Many say they go to Florida, but miss the real Florida, the Central, Gulf Coast and the Panhandle. Hillsborough River State Park and Lory Park in Tampa area recommend, as well as the Gasparellia festival. Other parts further south we always said were populated by Yankees moved south or Cuba moved north.

This story is from the Old Days, now if you and your family want to take such a trip “anywhere in the united states” then you had better be ARMED with a weapon of some type, there is no safe camping anywhere today and if you value your family and your life then carry a firearm in your vehicle for protection, this is sad but true.

Growing up in Leesburg, FL (parents moved there in 1955) this reminded me of my childhood, exploring the areas mentioned and many others until leaving in 1974.

Enjoyed the story, but there is one fact which is incorrect… the Seminole Indians never officially surrendered. The US government was never able to force an official surrender from the Seminoles; hence, the term associated with the Seminoles in Florida (and particularly FSU), “Unconquered!”

McCain is stupid. He pikecd failed, 1/2 time, quitter Gov. Palin which guaranteed him a loss instead of a successful Governor from FL, Crist, as his running mate. McCain might have won the WH with Crist. Instead, he chose a loser. Good luck in the November elections. It will be interesting. There may be a third candidate on the Governor’s ticket in Nov in PA.

All that is great, but be aware of Burmese Pythons, Monitor Lizards, rats as big as cats, and feral hogs (not to mention alligators and crocodiles) are taking over the southern part of the state and advancing into the middle of the state. Very little is being done about it and it presents a REAL threat to tourists and residents alike.

dont forget the bears

mostly in the mid to southern part of the state in the campgrounds where they are fed way too much and they think they own the place well they do live there only because they are fed so much but tent camping can be another thing with bears outside trying to get into your cooler

To Carl – it’s a state park There are several others beautiful springs in the vicinity also…Alexander Springs, Silver Glen Springs…all in the Ocala National Forest. There is also Rock Springs in Orange County, Sanlando Springs in the Orlando area. All the waters in the springs are a wonderful temperature and so refreshing in the summer….quite unlike the air temp. :/ I’m a FL native and I really don’t like FL in the summer…the springs definitely make it bearable. :-)