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Cool-Weather Nature Escapes Are a Short Drive Away

These three Florida destinations are prime for spotting wildlife and enjoying the fall weather.

For the past 10 days, I have been house-sitting for my friends while they celebrate their honeymoon on the West Coast.

Every day I walk their dog, Murphy. The morning walks are not only refreshing, but they also have given me a chance to get out in nature.

One morning, I was walking down the alley with Murphy and when we turned the corner there was a red-tailed hawk. It was big and beautiful, and as it flew away I saw that it had a baby squirrel. It dawned on me that the barking noise coming from the tree above was most likely the mother. Although it was sad to see such a thing, it is the circle of life, and that in itself is a beautiful thing.

Since fall has come with cooler weather, I have seen all kinds of wildlife. In the past month, I have seen a pod of dolphins on the Manatee River, a bald eagle along that same river, a coral snake near the Alafia River, several red-tailed hawks, a screech or spirit owl and, right outside my sister's apartment complex off Gandy Boulevard, a green anole.

The wildlife is coming out to greet the fall. So why not get out there in nature and celebrate this time of year?

Here is a list of three beautiful places to visit, hike or camp in Florida to take advantage of this weather and the active wildlife.

Ocala National Forest

One of the most beautiful protected forests in Florida, Ocala National Forest is abundant with springs, ancient ferns and oak tree hammocks, and it protects the world’s largest contiguous sand pine forest. It's also the southernmost national forest in the United States.

It is great for families, friends and for romantic getaways.

Little Manatee River State Park

The beautiful swamp environment at Little Manatee River State Park has given me many wonderful memories throughout the years. I used to spend many days going up and down the river with loved ones, pausing at the sand bar to cool off and take refuge under the trees along the river. The park has six miles of hiking trails and a beautiful canoe trail. Part of the Cockroach Bay Aquatic Preserve, the river has been deemed an outstanding Florida water and promises to give you a glimpse at an abundance of wildlife.

Blue Spring State Park

With the largest spring hole on the St. Johns River, Blue Spring State Park is home to a growing population of West Indian manatees. It is amazingly beautiful in color, rich in greens and blues. I love this park because it is close to the Ichetucknee River, a wildlife enthusiast's paradise. Because you cannot camp on the Ichetucknee, Blue Spring State Park is the best way to enjoy the spring, and it is just a short drive to enjoy other springs, as well.

I hope this list inspires you to embark on your own wildlife journey. For shorter trips, you can find wildlife and fresh air in a local park, too. Whether near or far, taking time to explore nature encourages us to open our minds and find balance while creating lasting memories with family and friends.

As wilderness expert Charles Cook said in his book Awakening to Nature, "Your deepest roots are in nature. No matter who you are, where you live or what kind of life you lead, you remain irrevocably linked with the rest of creation.”

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