The Most Scenic Area in Florida
There is a lot of exquisite scenery in Florida. The tall green forests of northern Florida, the palm studded coasts in the southwest, the blue waters where the Gulf meets the Atlantic Ocean in the Keys, the magnificence of the St. John’s River in the northeast to the crystal clear springs throughout the state – just amazing sights. However, if there is one region that convinces you that God is an unequaled artist, it would be the Nature Coast of Florida.
The Nature Coast is an unofficial region of eight counties along the big bend region of Florida’s Gulf coast. Those eight counties from north to south include;
Each of these counties are known for their exceptional fishing, natural springs, historical significance, some unspoiled coastal grass flats and relatively under-developed coastlines that can take you back hundreds of years as the explorers roamed the region. We start from north to south.
In Wakulla County we have written about the Wakulla State Park and one of the largest springs in the world located a few miles inland. Along the coast you will find the city of St. Marks. The city’s history goes back to a Spanish fort built in the 1600’s. You will find other towns in the region like Panacea, Sopchoppy and don’t miss a protrusion into the Gulf called Alligator Point. Most of these towns are on or just off Rt. 98 a Florida coastal federal highway that seems to need reconstruction after each hurricane. Our journey will spend a couple hundred miles on Rt. 98 along the Nature Coast. There are not many highways that have better views for so many miles.
On down the road in Jefferson county which only has a little sliver of land on the Gulf coast but has a lot of history in the north part of the county. The capital of Jefferson County is Monticello. If your American history classes are recalled, Monticello was the name of Thomas Jefferson’s plantation, thus the name for the county! Created in 1827, Jefferson County is the only one that runs all the way to the northern border of Florida. The population today (15,000) is just slightly less than it was in 1880! This IS old Florida and there are plenty of signs as you travel the back roads and towns in Jefferson County.
Deals Oyster House – Perry, Florida
Taylor County Florida is old Florida also. With under 25,000 total people in the county, most of the county is in woodlands, coastal flats and lowlands. One city in Taylor County seems to be listed on every freeway in the state – they all show distance to Perry, Florida from wherever you are it seems. Perry has one thing if you visit you will never forget – Deal’s Famous Oyster House. Deal’s is located about 2 miles west of Perry on US Rt. 98. As my wife states, just look for the most cars in front of an old roadside building! You will find the best old country style coastal cooking in north Florida! A few miles south is Steinhatchee, Florida just off Rt. 98 along the Steinhatchee River. You can stand outside Roy’s restaurant in Steinhatchee and look across the river to Dixie County, Florida.
Dixie County has a reputation for being the most undeveloped area in the state of Florida. If you didn’t click on the link in the first line, please reconsider now. The coastline scenes are amazing! Dixie County has endless hiking trails, canoe channels, horseback riding and plenty of river action on the famous
Suwannee River. The Suwannee runs about 250 miles from southern Georgia through Dixie County until it empties into the Gulf. The Suwannee has some of the roughest terrain of any river in Florida. With a population of just under 17,000 people, there are plenty of vast open forests, river basins and wetlands to explore.
As you leave Dixie County heading south on US Rt. 98, be ready to stop at Fanning Springs State Park just over the county line in Levy County. We have chronicled several of Florida’s bounty of springs like Silver Springs, Wakulla Springs and others, but Fanning Springs is known for the beautiful crystal clear water flowing into the Suwannee River basin. The clarity of the water is
unmatched! Another major attraction in Levy County is Cedar Key. Our previous post about the abundant oysters and clam farms around Cedar Key make it a great stop. You cannot go wrong chartering a fishing captain for some excellent flats fishing in Cedar Key. Don’t forget to try some aqua-farmed oysters at Steamers Clam Bar & Grill – the view is awesome also! As you head further south in Levy County, you will see a turn off sign for Yankeetown just before Inglis, Florida at the county border. Yankeetown is another small village with a BIG fishing problem and that would be common in this area except for the fact the Withlacoochee River empties into the Gulf here. If you travel anywhere in central Florida, you will eventually come across the Withlacoochee! It travels west, south, then north and then west again from its headwaters in Polk County, not far from Orlando! Historians could tell many tales about the Withlacoochee as a factor in conflicts with Native Americans and Spanish explorers as well as the attempts of a young United States trying to take control of Florida in the early 1800’s. That is material for another day trip post.
Just across the Withlacoochee River is Citrus County. The Florida Travel Log has many posts about attractions in this central Florida county. The largest city is Inverness, a few miles east is the second largest city, and one with most attractions, Crystal River. Inverness has several freshwater lakes that are surrounded by communities loving lake activities. However, Crystal River is on the river of the same name, with a spring, Three Sisters Springs, and the destination for thousands of annual shallow water scallop hunters from all over Florida when season starts in
July. Crystal River has also gone through a renovation period that brought in a steak house, Kane’s Cattle Company and an upscale bar St. John’s Tavern, both in the old town part of Crystal River. Just a couple miles south
of Crystal River is the town of Homosassa Springs. One of the biggest attractions in the area is the Ellie Schiller State Wildlife Park on US Rt. 98 in the heart of the town. This state park offers a glimpse of just about every animal and mammal species in Florida. We have also highlighted a unique tiki bar on a river named Crumps Landing that is just a mile or two from the wildlife park.
US Rt. 98 splits off to the east leaving US Rt. 19 to continue our journey southward to Hernando County. The key attraction in Hernando County is undoutably Weeki Wachee Springs. A few decades before the Disney’s, Universal Studio and other glitzy attractions, Weeki Wachee was one of the top destinations in the entire state. The springs drew millions of people to
see underwater mermaid performances by entertainers trained for daily shows. Today, the state of Florida is spending several million dollars to clean up the springs and rejuvenate this grand old attraction. Brooksville is the county seat of Hernando. Few cities have such a rich history with Fort DeSoto built nearby. Named after the explorer, Hernando de Soto, the fort was built around 1840 to protect the settlers from the Indians. Later Fort de Soto was briefly part of the efforts of Hernando County to furnish goods to the Confederacy in the Civil War. The Union staged the famous battle called the Brooksville Raid to destroy confederate supplies. There are numerous historic sites around Hernando County. If you get those hunger pangs, in Brooksville we like the quirky restaurant The Florida Cracker Kitchen. Locals say they have the best breakfast and lunch around town- we agree! As we head out of Hernando you will see the largest city, Spring Hill, just before Pasco County. You will also note the surroundings change to rows of commercial buildings, shopping centers and restaurants from wooded panorama that had lined the highway for many miles.
Pasco County is the southern most county of the Nature Coast. While much of the western county boundary is water, you note many areas are lined withHudson Subdivision Leads to Gulf homes, subdivisions and more commercialized construction. There are some great beaches such as Hudson Beach and in the south county Anclote River Park, but you clearly can tell you are in the Tampa/Clearwater metropolitan area. Pasco County has more than double the population of all the other Nature Coast counties. Cities in Pasco include Port Richey, New Port Richey and Hudson along the coast. Dade City, the county seat is a few miles inland. Activities in Pasco center around boating with dozens of subdivisions homes on canals built leading to the Gulf. As the precursor to one of the largest metropolitan areas in Florida, Tampa Bay/Clearwater, you clearly see the end of the Nature Coast.