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Scenic and natural Florida

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By Wayne Lazarus on December 16th, 2010

Categories: Linda's Travel Articles

The Big Bend Scenic Byway was added to the list of National Scenic Byways last year. This 220-mile drive takes you along the northern edge of Florida’s part of the Gulf of Mexico, from Tallahassee to Apalachicola. It is divided into a coastal trail and forest trails.

cypressOn the western side, Highway 65 takes you almost 50 miles through the Apalachicola National Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest. What may look like endless acres of piney woods is home to numerous rare and endangered species of both plants and animals. It also looks very much the way it has for generations — with few houses and only a small local store or two along the way. (And no gas stations! Cell phone service is limited as well.)

The road is wide and flat in most places, but don’t let that tempt you to speed through the area. If a deer or bear decide to cross the road, you’ll want to give them plenty of room. (Note: the bears don’t take those “Bear Crossings” signs literally. They consider them suggestions.) According to the locals, there’s also a chance a cougar will cross in front of you, so have the camera ready.

You’ll want to walk the boardwalk out into the Dwarf Cypress Dome, a bowl-shaped area with 300-year-old Cypress tress that are only 6 to 15 feet tall.

beachThis part of the Byway is in Franklin County, and there is so much to do that the area has been branded “A Natural Escape.” Some seven North Florida rivers weave through the Byway area, offering fishing and boating opportunities. You can also hike, bike, horse-back ride and on certain trails, enjoy your ATV.

On the eastern side of the by-way, the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park has one of the world’s largest fresh water springs and is a National Natural Landmark. The Leon Sinks Geological Site contains karst caverns and subterranean lakes.

East and west are connected by the Coastal Trail part of the Byway, Highway 98. It offers beautiful sunsets (and sunrises) as it travels along the Gulf through small towns that evoke Florida before condos and luxury hotels. Don’t be afraid to stop at the small locally-owned restaurants you see.  (There are few franchise restaurants in the area.) You’ll get some terrific seafood here.

Make your reservations in Tallahassee or Panama City to tour this beautiful part of Florida.

Photos by Pat Canova, courtesy Franklin County TDC.

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