Florida's Five Most Secret Places - Page 2

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Manatee, Crystal River, Florida
Manatee, Crystal River, Florida  (iStockphoto)

Crystal River, Citrus County
About seven miles north of Homosassa Springs is one of the top spots in the state of Florida to see manatees in the wild. Every year, more than 300 manatees spend the winter months in Crystal River. Visitors can swim, snorkel, or scuba dive alongside the gentle sea cows in the warm natural springs of Kings Bay. The river is so popular with manatees that you might find yourself surrounded by 30 or 40 of these creatures at one time. The manatees don't seem to mind the intrusion and even seem to play along, often nudging or caressing their visitors. If you want to watch the manatees but don't care to mingle, visit the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, where an underwater observatory provides views of manatees in a rehabilitation facility.

Nike Hercules Missile Base HM-69, Everglades National Park
The wild Everglades National Park, with its isolated islands, thick forests, and prime location on Florida’s southern tip, was once the site of secret Cold War operations. History buffs will not want to miss the well-preserved Nike Hercules Missile Base HM-69, a relic of the Cold War and brainchild of President John F. Kennedy and his advisors. A mere 160 miles from the Cuban shore and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers right after the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the base served to protect the United States from Soviet attack. The government turned the base over to Everglades National Park in 1979, but it wasn’t until 2009 that the site opened to the public. Ranger-led tours offered December to April include the missile assembly building, three barns where 12 missiles were stored, and an underground control room.

St. George Island State Park
Far from high-rises and shopping malls, one of the nation's most magnificent beaches is hidden away on secluded St. George Island, about seven miles from the historic fishing village of Apalachicola on the Florida Panhandle. Access to the island is only via a four-mile-long bridge. In the park, you'll find nine miles of prime, undeveloped Gulf shoreline, a top spot for swimming, kayaking, and angling in the calm, warm water. In summer, local birds, including the snowy plover, least tern, black skimmer, and willet, make their homes here. The summertime beachcombing is especially fine as well—you might even spot sea turtles laying their eggs on shore. Overnight visitors can stay in one of the park's full-facility or primitive campsites reached by walking trail, kayak, or canoe (available for rent at the park).

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