Looking for something to do with your free time? The Nature Coast offers plenty of outdoor places where you can exercise, enjoy nature, and find solitude without spending a lot of money, and some of them are right here in Hernando County. Why not put on your walking shoes and your sun screen and hit the trail?
If you like the woods, visit the Tucker Hill day use area in the Croom Tract of the Withlacoochee State Forest. From downtown Brooksville, take US 41/Broad Street approximately 1.5 miles north, until you reach Croom Road. Take a right on to Croom and drive about five miles past the horse ranches until you reach the parking lot at the trailheads. It’s $2 to park- pay at the self serve pay station. There are 3 interconnecting loop trails for hiking, from 7.5 to 9 miles long, through the shady, hilly terrain of pine, live oak, palms and shrubs. Near the trailhead is the Tucker Hill Cemetery, which dates back to the 1800’s. Restrooms are available.
Also in the Withlacoochee are the trails near Chinsegut Hill. The Big Pine Tract can be found on Old Crystal River Road, off Broad Street north of Brooksville. Big Pine is one of the largest contiguous tracts of old-growth longleaf pine in the state. Once a month, you can hike Big Pine with naturalist David Rakes of Tampa and learn about the various flowers, trees and insects found in the area. Check the FWC events calendar for the next hike. At the intersection of Broad St. and Snow Memorial Highway you will find parking and the the Pines to Prairie trailhead. This trail runs 2 miles or so through the sandhill to the Chinsegut Conservation Center. Along the way are side trails to a stand of cypress, and to Mays Prairie and its wildlife viewing stand. Your can start your hike at the conservation center as well; the CCC, operated by the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, is located on Lake Lindsey Road and is open and staffed Friday and Saturday from 8 – 2. Water fountains and clean, well-maintained restrooms are available every day. For a map and a hiking guide of the trails, go to the Chinsegut Conservation Center website.
Another option is the Weeki Wachee Preserve on the western end of the county. Formerly home to a quarry, this land is now owned by the Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as “Swiftmud”. The preserve has 2 entrances: one on Osowaw Boulevard, on the west side of route 19 just north of the Wal-mart; and one on route 50 in Hernando Beach, across from the Coast Guard auxiliary at 4340 Calienta Street. There are several different roads and trails for both hiking and biking through the sandhill terrain of pines, marshes, and pristine lakes. Deer sightings are common, and sharp-eyed nature lovers will occasionally spot a hawk or American Bald eagle. On the 2nd and 4th Saturdays of the month the gate is opened on the Osowaw Blvd, entrance, allowing you to bring in your canoe or kayak. Sorry –swimming is not permitted. Here is a link to map of the WWP and all of the many SWFWMD recreational areas; you can also order a free print copy.
For a shorter walk, try Bayou Drive, near Bayport. Head west on Cortez Blvd about 5 miles from the intersection Rt 19 and turn right at the Bayport Inn on to Pine Island Drive. Bayou Drive is the next left. Park to the side and walk 2 miles east through the Bayou to Cortez Blvd. You can also launch a kayak or canoe in the waters on the west side. Try going late in the day- the sunsets rival those on Pine Island.
For a complete listing of recreational activities, stop by the library and pick up a "Nature Coast Adventure Guide" , or go to naturallyhernando.org to download a copy.
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