A Walk on the Wild Side

As explorers, we often overlook our own backyards and choose far off destinations. Travel is wonderful and broadens our horizons but it is also expensive and often downright frustrating. Consider a drive to Tampa or Orlando to catch a flight, a rental car, lodging, meals and the return trip home and it can become a serious commitment.

Enter the often-overlooked daytrip: more specifically, a visit to one of our many local hiking trails. Silver Springs State Park offers several great trails that are both scenic and relaxing. The trails range from less than a mile to almost five miles in length. They are safe, well laid out and can be enjoyed without a major commitment of time and money.

The natural beauty of the state park comes through in many ways. Visitors can stroll through diverse habitats from open, sandy pinewoods to shaded hammocks to flooded river swamps (best viewed from elevated boardwalks). Each of these hikes can transport guests into the unspoiled natural Florida, one that is often overlooked.

Strolling through the woods allows for peaceful reflection, wildlife viewing, photography, exercise and more. There are even subtle seasonal changes to be seen. Maples and other hardwoods show color in the fall with splashes of reds and yellows. Cypress trees change from a verdant green to a golden brown as the season passes. Beautiful explosions of color during wildflower season in the spring and summer are a bonus. In the winter, we see a variety of interesting migratory birds.

Wildlife viewing in Florida can be exciting but is not normally dangerous. Most critters run when they see a hiker, so a quiet, easy approach will yield more sightings. In Silver Springs State Park, expect whitetail deer, wild turkey, gopher tortoise and fox squirrels, to name just a few.

Beyond the state park, numerous hiking trails wait to be explored. Marion County is blessed with wonderful public lands that include our city and county parks, the Florida Greenway, state lands such as conservation areas and state forests, and the Ocala National Forest. The Florida Trail, which extends across most of the state from the Everglades to Pensacola, passes through Marion County.

Day hikes are best approached with some basic supplies that should include a good map, water and snacks, sunscreen and insect repellent. Wear comfortable shoes and dress for the season. It is smart to let someone know your plans and check the weather forecast before venturing off (especially in the summer when storms can roll in).

So, in between getaway trips, consider a day out on a local hiking trail as a way to explore and relax.

Scott Mitchell is the director of the Silver River Museum & Environmental Education Center, which is located inside Silver Springs State Park. He has worked as a field archaeologist, scientific illustrator and museum professional for the last 25 years. For more information, visit silverrivermuseum.com or call (352) 236-5401.

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