Editor’s note: Please check each individual website for information regarding temporary closures due to COVID-19.
Florida’s balmy weather beckons, and if getting back to nature floats your boat, there are plenty of outdoor activities to enjoy in north Manatee County.
Emerson Point Preserve is on the far west end of Palmetto’s Snead Island, where the Manatee River meets Terra Ceia Bay. Kayak and canoeing trails wind through the 365-acre county-owned recreation area, and fishermen will find plenty of access to the river and bay. Picnic pavilions, hiking trails and an observation tower that rewards you with views of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge also make this a popular outdoor destination.
The fishing’s great, too—both saltwater and freshwater—at nearby Terra Ceia Preserve State Park, a 2,000-acre nature preserve on the mouth of Tampa Bay managed by the Florida Park Service. Kayaking is a popular pursuit, with water trails that meander through thick mangrove tunnels. And there are nine miles of hiking trails. You’re guaranteed to spot lots of water birds.
Three other county parks provide easy access to the Manatee River. The 145-acre Rye Preserve on the narrow, winding upper Manatee River in Parrish has nature trails that lead you through sand pine scrub and oak hammocks. The Rye family cemetery, dating back to the late 1800s, is preserved here. At more than 21,000 acres, Duette Preserve, at the headwaters of the river in the farming community of Duette, is Manatee County’s largest nature preserve; it offers hiking, bicycle and horseback trails as well as a primitive campground. And tiny Fort Hamer Park has a well-used boat ramp and picnic pavilion.
For kayakers and canoers, the Paddle Manatee river trail guide is an indispensable resource that maps out some 75 miles of waterways, many of them, like the Terra Ceia Trail, the Bishop Harbor Trail and the Emerson Point to Skyway Trail, in north Manatee County.
For golfers, north Manatee County courses include the public Buffalo Creek Golf Course , the semi-private golf course, Moccasin Wallow Golf Course, Terra Ceia Bay Golf Club and Palm View Hills Golf Course.
Take your train-obsessed kids (and aren’t they all at some point?) to the Florida Railroad Museum in Parrish. It offers a look-see at 11 classic train cars, plus a 90-minute round-trip ride on a diesel train. You also can rent a red caboose for birthday parties.
And if you can’t take the heat, the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, adjacent to the mammoth Ellenton Premium Outlets mall (for those who consider shopping a sport), hosts public ice skating sessions and hockey leagues; it’s even been known to train Olympic skaters.