West Coast trip – St. Petersburg and Largo

Weedon Island PreserveAfter staying local during the washout across the state on Memorial Day weekend, I was more than itching to get out and do some traveling. Unfortunately, more rain was in the forecast for this past weekend. However, the west coast area of Tampa and St. Petersburg was calling for sunny skies, so I headed out early Saturday for the 4-hour cross-state trek. Even though I’ve been to this area many times, I’ve never truly explored it, so I found a bunch of different parks and natural areas online, and made the Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg my first stop. Off the beaten path, this hidden park was a true gem, with a beautiful boardwalk trail and a 45-foot observation tower that overlooks the scenic Tampa Bay. It also boasts one of the coolest nature centers I’ve ever been to, with stunning displays and many cool interactive features.

The Florida Botanical GardensNext up was the Florida Botanical Gardens in Largo, which is just west of St. Petersburg. I always love going to botanical gardens, and this was one of the most unique ones I’ve been to. Different than many of the other gardens I’ve been to throughout the state, these gardens are divided into different sections, such as the Wedding Garden (complete with a marriage gazebo) and the Tropical Fruit Garden, where bananas and plantains hang overhead. As I continued meandering through the gardens, I made my way through the Arts Center and then over to Heritage Village. This was definitely an extra-added treat as I didn’t plan on going Heritage Villagehere, and being a big history buff, I was truly digging this ‘village’. 28 historic buildings are scattered throughout the woods, with many of them open to the public. Most of these buidlings were built in the 1800’s, and even though this is not the original location of these buidings,, they are all in excellent shape, and it was really fun to take walk back through time.

I then went to Walsingham Park (also in Largo), where I went on a 3-mile bike ride around this gorgeous park. Afterwards, I drove 15 minutes down the road to Lake Seminole Park in Seminole. Another beautiful park, where I hiked about and again got to break out the ten-speed for another fun bike ride. My last park of the day was at Sawgrass Lake Park, back over in St. Petersburg. This park has another great boardwalk trail that meanders through the forest and leads out to an observation tower. Unfortunately, I noticed my camera was starting to run a bit low on the batteries, and I didn’t bring my recharger. I decided (maybe not so wisely) to not bring along my camera as I enjoyed one of the prettiest sunsets I’ve ever seen on Madiera Beach. A beautiful day for hiking and biking turned into the perfect night for camping as I enjoyed the comfort of my tent under the clear night sky.

Sawgrass Lake Prk

All the places I visited on Saturday were for the first time. However, I had previously visited my first Sunday morning adventure at Fort De Soto Park, located just south of St. Pete in Tierra Verde. I was first here about 8 years ago, and although the fort itself, built in 1900, is not the most impressive fort I’ve been to, the beach and the surrounding areas are pretty incredible to look at. This is also the biggest park in the county, and there was plenty to do and see, including another great bike trail, the heavily-occupied gulf pier and the ferry ride to Egmont Key. Definitely not on Egmont Keythe agenda, and not remembering this ferry ride the last time I was here, I just happened to get to the boat dock just in time for the next ride over. Not quite sure what I was getting into, I let my spontaneous nature take over and just went with it. And am I glad I did. A small island that once had 9 forts on it from the Spanish-American War back in 1898, most of the forts have sunk into the water, but a few of them remain, along with a ghost town of how life was like back then. A cobblestone street goes through the middle of this narrow island with plaques telling the story of the military buildings that once strived here. Another fascinating walk back in time, this island also saw Civil War action, along with being a military training base during World War II. Another building that I found particularly cool was the lighthouse from 1858. A lighthouse lover at heart, I truly enjoyed visiting this one as I first saw it from the pier at the park and didn’t think I’d get a chance to check it out. Although not open to the public, it is one of the prominent features of the key. After spending 3 hours on the island (and running out of battery on my camera), it was time to check out my next park (and buy a disposable camera)- Boyd Hill Nature Preserve in St. Pete. Some more great hiking along trails and boardwalks highlighted this park, along with an aviary of eagles, hawks and owls.

Highlands Hammock parkAs I weaved my way east across the state, I got to my next intended stop a bit too late at Duette Preserve. A must-see for another time, I continued east, briefly stopping in Zolfo Springs at Pioneer Park for a few pictures of the cracker-style houses from the late 1800’s. My last stop of my fun-filled weekend was at Highlands Hammock Park in Sebring. Another park I’ve been to before but way back when, like 7 or 8 years ago, I really wish I had gotten here earlier as I ran out of daylight while hiking along the several trails, including the Cypress Swamp Trail, in which you cross the swamp on a narrow catwalk. One wrong step and you’ll be joining the gators below. I was so glad I decided to go out west, as this weekend was full of cool surprises, and it was also nice not to worry about the weather for a change, especially now that it’s rainy season and pretty much pours down on and off every day.

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