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Scenic Drives Of Central Florida

Scenic Drives Of Central Florida

Posted at Thu, May 18, 2023 11:00 AM

Go ahead. Take the two-lane. Wind through the trees or meander along the river. In Central Florida, you might be surprised and delighted by what you find.

Try one of these scenic drives and see where your imagination takes you.

Ridge Scenic Highway

The Ridge Scenic Highway.

This pleasant drive takes you through the heart of Polk County’s historic citrus-growing region. The road, Highway 17, winds along the Lake Wales Ridge, a string of ancient white sand islands that, in total, stretch more than 100 miles through the middle of Central Florida.

The 40ish miles of this scenic corridor offer up-close views of agricultural areas, lakes, natural lands and only-in-Florida landmarks and attractions. Historic towns and communities along the way include Frostproof, whose name was intended to convince potential citrus growers that the weather never got cold enough to damage the valuable crop – unfortunately, that prediction proved incorrect.

Length: 39 miles, along U.S. 17 from just south of Frostproof to the intersection with US. 17-92 in Haines City. 

Worth a stop: Lake Wales, for Bok Tower Gardens, known for its Singing Tower carillon and outstanding gardens, and Spook Hill a magnetic or “gravity hill” where cars parked at the bottom and placed in neutral appear to roll uphill. It’s the only known magnetic hill in Florida and in 2019 was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Florida Black Bear National Scenic Byway

Florida Black Bear National Scenic Byway

You want adventure? You want off the beaten path? You want Tarzan territory? Grab the bug spray and embark on the Florida Black Bear National Scenic Byway.

This route runs through the middle of the Ocala National Forest, and you can choose whether to do it east-west along State Road 40 between Ormond Beach and the outskirts of Ocala or north-south, largely along U.S. 19 from the tiny crossroads of Pittman almost to Palatka.

Let’s get the celebrity stuff out of the way first: parts of Creature from the Black Lagoon and many of the original Tarzan movies were filmed in the tropical environs of Silver Springs.

Bears, on the other hand, can be found almost anywhere in Florida but are particularly numerous in the national forest. Sightings near the roads are common. If you’re hiking or camping in the area – and the options are bounteous – you have to bear-bag your food or use an approved bear canister.

Length: 123 miles

Worth a stop: Take a dip in a spring! Alexander Springs’ shallow pool and sandy beach are popular with families while Juniper Springs is one of the oldest and best known.

River of Lakes Heritage Corridor

The history and natural beauty of the St. Johns River are the focus of this 156-mile route through an area that’s simultaneously well developed yet still quite wild. And like the Black Bear byway, it offers multiple entry points that you can customize to your interests.

The main portion begins in Oak Hill on the Atlantic coast and moves west to encircle Lake Monroe before turning north through Deland and continuing on up U.S. 17 to just south of Crescent City. A spur takes you up State Road 11 until it crosses U.S. 40 while a side trip branches west out of DeLand to Hontoon Island and Crows Bluff on the rover and east to Cassadaga and Lake Helen.

Along the way there are birding, hiking, boat tour and kayaking opportunities to delight outdoor enthusiasts while arts, culture, cuisine and recreational cycling are popular in cities like Deland and Sanford. 

Length: 156 miles

Worth a stop: Cassadaga, where psychics and mediums will tell your future, if you dare.

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