Discover Your Nature
Connecting with nature can be as simple as a stroll in the park. Whether you like to walk, paddle, bike, or just sit quietly, time spent outdoors is good for our health and inspires us to be better stewards of the planet we share. Plus, you never know what you might learn! No matter how you like to roll — in a group, on your own, or with the kids — there are maps, guides, kits, and tours to help you explore parks, beaches, and nature preserves around the Suncoast.
Cost: Free or low cost
Organized tours deliver the fun of going off the beaten path with none of the hassle. Our recommended local ecotour guides are so passionate about the environment, they’ve made it their profession. They help you wander and ponder the natural and cultural heritage of the Florida Suncoast while minimizing your environmental footprint. Guided walks and paddles can introduce you to orienteering, birding, plants and wildlife, marine science, natural history, climate change, and more.
Can’t get out? You can still explore from home.
Multiply the fun with a dedicated group of people interested in enjoying the outdoors together, especially for activities like diving, where buddies are key. Whatever you’re into—fishing, boating, hiking, birding, diving, kayaking, or biking—there’s a local group of like-minded enthusiasts.
Volunteering brings you all the bennies of being outside and directly helps to conserve our natural places. Whether you’re into birds, trees, turtles, or bees, you’ll find a match among the many local environmental conservation and monitoring programs that need your time and energy. Volunteering is also a great way to meet people with similar interests and learn about local landscapes and species.
If you’d rather plan your own solo adventure, there are guides, maps, and resources to help you decide where to go, what to bring, and how to identify what you see. From hiking, biking, and paddling trails to boat launches and campgrounds, there are endless opportunities to get outside on Florida’s Suncoast.
Plant & Animal Guidebooks
– Sarasota Bay Watershed Field Guide
– Photo guide (pdf) to common plants and animals of Southwest Florida
– Checklist of Florida’s Birds (pdf) and Butterflies (pdf).
– Posters of common birds, frogs and toads, butterflies, mammals, wildflowers, insects, reptiles, habitats, trees/shrubs of Southwest Florida.
Apps are a great tool for identifying what’s around you, while contributing to a larger crowd-sourced monitoring database. It’s as easy as snapping a photo or recording a sound. Try iNaturalist or eBird.
Now more than ever, getting outside provides essential mental and physical therapy for kids. Families who play together, thrive together. Here are some ways to explore with kids or grandkids.
Want to level-up your ecological awareness, understanding, and respect of Florida’s natural world? Train to become a Certified Florida Master Naturalist. The program offers classroom and hands-on training in freshwater, coastal, and upland systems, land stewardship, and restoration.
Find out what’s happening and join in with our comprehensive community events listing. Look for guided eco-walks in local preserves and volunteer events to plant shorelines, restore clams, survey seagrass, monitor turtle nests, survey birds, look for horseshoe crabs, remove invasive plants, collect water samples, and more!
The Suncoast offers spectacular opportunities for camping in Florida in a variety of ways:
Oscar Scherer State Park, Myakka River State Park, and Fort DeSoto Park offer drive-in campsites for RVs, campers, or tents with amenities like water, bathrooms, showers, electrical service, and sewer hook ups. ADA paved campsites are also available. For drive-in camping near the beach, check out Fort DeSoto Park and Turtle Beach.
Hike-in primitive camping sites typically do not have electricity, bathrooms, or water and may be several miles from parking, so you need to bring everything in and pack all your trash out. For those willing to rough it, primitive camping offers a full immersion in nature and may allow access to unique experiences, like paddling a secluded part of the Myakka River in Myakka State Forest or Myakka River State Park. A few preserves in Sarasota County and Manatee County offer primitive camping. Fort DeSoto Park also offers primitive camping for youth groups.
Want to camp on a barrier island? Cayo Costa State Park , accessible only by boat, offers primitive beach camping with the perks of potable water and bathrooms.
What about gear? You don’t have to own all your own gear to go camping or enjoy the outdoors! Oscar Scherer State Park has camping kits for use in the park. Or, get camping gear rentals shipped right to you with Lower Gear or Outdoors Geek.
Need more than just a tent or sleeping bag? No problem! Kit Lender has equipment and clothing rental kits for camping and many other outdoor activities.
Need a ride? Rent RVs, camper vans, and trailers at Outdoorsy.
Yes! There are many resources for beginning birdwatchers to learn how to choose and use spotting scopes and binoculars, where and when to go birding, and how to tell a warbler from a woodpecker. The Great Florida Birding Trail’s Birding 101 is a great place to start. FWCbirdwatching-basics provides detailed advice on how to track and identify birds in the field. For shorebirds, check out this photography guide.
Want to identify a bird by its call? Check out the BirdNET app
Para una guía en Español: FWCbirdwatching-basics-spanish
There are miles of trails in the many dog friendly parks and preserves along the Suncoast where you can take your leashed dog for a hike, but Brohard Beach Park in Venice is the only Gulf beach where dogs are allowed.
Dogs may be our best friends, but they generally aren’t good for wildlife. Birds, in particular, respond differently to dogs than they do people, equating them with familiar four-legged dangers like raccoons and coyotes. The sight of a dog running along the beach can cause shorebirds, which nest directly in the sand, to abandon eggs or chicks, exposing them to deadly heat or predators. Resting birds can also be repeatedly flushed from the beach by dogs, expending energy they need for migration and nesting.
Leash laws in parks and preserves ensure a pawsitive experience for all. You’ll be keeping your furry friend safe from wildlife that can kick, bite, sting or strike, and other park users won’t be frightened or injured by an unleashed dog.
Outdoor etiquette with your pooch also means picking up those little presents they leave behind. Dog poop left on the trail is an unwelcome surprise for the hikers that follow. It also contains higher levels of bacteria and parasites than typical wildlife scat you might encounter. E. coli, tapeworm and ringworm from doggy doo can spread to people, other dogs and wild animals that share the grass.
Check below for guidance on safely enjoying nature with your pet on the Suncoast:
Submit your nature-related question to local experts. If selected, they will answer and feature your question on our FAQ. Not all questions will be answered.