Five Great Places to Explore Nature and History of Florida

You've certainly enjoyed Orlando and its amusements. But, when you want to relish some of the history and natural beauty of Florida try these great places as a change-of-pace day trip.

Princess Place Preserve

This Flagler County park has it all -- history, hiking paths, fishing, kayaking and canoeing camping (and feel free to bring your horse with you).

Within the 1500 acres of Princess Place you'll find the oldest homestead in the county, a hunting lodge built by Henry Cutting in 1886 for his bride Angela. Cutting died suddenly and Angela went though another marriage and then divorce, finally marrying an exiled Russian prince in 1924. Fast forward almost 70 years to 1993 when Flagler County bought the land. Princess Place Preserve was formally dedicated in 1994. Tours of the Lodge are offered Friday through Sunday at 2 PM.

The other notable aspect of Princess Place is that it has sites for horse camping. And, even more unusual Princess Place Preserve is linked to Florida Agricultural Museum -- itself a great place to visit -- across I-95 by a horse bridge. It's one of the country's few animal bridges. Of course, humans can walk across it as well. As you and your horse trot above the cars below, give them a wave.

The Preserve is open Monday through Saturday from 7 AM to 6 PM.

Go Primaeval on the Water With a Riverboat Tour

It's absolutely possible to get up close to all kinds of critters hiking along rivers, marshes, boardwalks. Or, you can take a catamaran tour and get up closer to whatever is lurking along the water, and living in the branches. St. Johns River Eco Tours offers a two-hour vacation slowly cruising along the waterway and investigating little-explored niches. It's both a relaxing journey, and exciting to spot the avian denizens, and the alligators as well. Leave civilization behind and feel primaeval.

Swim in a Natural Spring-Fed Pool

As with almost all Florida parks, DeLeon Springs Park offers hiking trails and birding opportunities, kayaking and other pleasures of the water. In addition, DeLeon Springs offers its glorious spring-fed swimming pool. In fact, the area was once a popular resort where the rich came to enjoy the clear cold waters. Being spring-fed, the temperature remains a cool 72 degrees year all year and ranges in depth from 18 inches to 30 feet at the source of the boil. Enjoy the swim from 8 AM until one-half hour before sunset. The park also offers a very popular Sugar Mill Restaurant. Its rustic look comes from being a replica of the original 1830s sugar mill. The draw is the cook-your-own pancake grill.

Go Tubing at Blue Spring

Known as one of Florida's best parks and a stellar manatee refuge, even when these beloved mammals aren't home, Blue Spring State Park offers some fine tubing. The secret is the first-magnitude spring which discharges 104 cubic feet of water per second flowing into the St. Johns River. It is the reliable and cooling flow that beckons tubers. Below the tubing area, kayakers are welcome to navigate the water into the river. Want to just swim? There's even an area for that at the top by the boil. Note: water related activities are prohibited during manatee season (mid November-March). You can rent the tube if you don't have one handy. Enter at the top, float down, take the boardwalk back up and do it again.

The park also hosts the Thursby house, built by Louis Thurby in 1857 and has been preserved as a museum and interpretive center.

The park is open from 8 a.m. until sundown 365 days a year but this popular park reaches capacity during popular times of year.

Get Your Spirits on at Cassadaga

Before there was Disney. Even before the beaches of Miami were lined with their hotels. There was a group of spiritualists making their home in the central Florida town of Cassadaga.

Established in 1894, the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Meeting Association is the oldest continuously active religious community in the Southeastern United States. In 1991 the Camp was designated a Historic District and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The town now home to many healers and mediums who welcome seekers and visitors with a variety of both free and fee-based experiences. Every Thursday at 11 AM there's a healing meditation circle. The first Saturday of every month there's a morning meditation (donations accepted) followed by Healing on the Porch. The requested donation is a piece of fruit which goes into their Sunday refreshment fund. Church services are held Sunday mornings. There's also fee-based tours and spiritual counseling, healing, and readings.

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Neala McCarten

Photographs courtesy of Neala McCarten

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