Get fit with nature’s gym

July 21st, 2015 by Red Hills

winter walk

published in Tallahassee Democrat 10/30/14

Tired of sweaty, crowded gyms packed with grunting and grimacing workout partners? Try a breath of fresh air. Really fresh air.

Consider replacing what amounts to a month or so of a gym membership with an annual state park pass, good at any state park in Florida 365 days a year. What a deal! An individual state park pass is only $60 a year while a family pass (good for up to eight people) is $120, with discounts for military and others.

Training outdoors, immersed in nature also provides additional mental benefits and stress reduction; a sense of well-being multiplies exponentially.

At Maclay Gardens State Park, walkers can find two short nature trails that meander through the woods overlooking sparkling Lake Hall. Hikers, bicyclists and equestrians can enjoy five miles of shared-use trails and five miles of designated biking trails winding through the woods surrounding Lake Overstreet. Maclay’s Lake Hall also provides inviting opportunities for swimming, fishing, canoeing and kayaking.

After work, take a short drive to Wakulla Springs State Park to experience a hike, run or off-road bike ride on the six-mile shady nature trail starting near the lodge. Then hop in the springs for a refreshing swim. Soak up the beauty of Wakulla Springs by swimming laps between the dive tower and boat dock for a challenging workout. Delight in glimpses of manatee and leaping mullet, osprey soaring overhead and a chorus of happy “cannonball” shouts from the dive tower.

The popular Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail offers a wide paved surface perfect for walking, skating or running with friends. Superb off-road biking on the Munson Hill trails in the Apalachicola National Forest bordering the St. Marks Trail entices riders with swooping thrills. In spring and fall, the colorful wildflowers are stunning while tall pines encircled with white bands provide habitat for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.

Lake Talquin State Park offers a 1.2-mile nature trail winding through shady woods with views and breezes from sparkling Lake Talquin, perfect for a gentle stroll or running laps.

With a little “weekend warrior” attitude, load up friends, family and gear and head for Three Rivers State Park or Ochlockonee River State Park to enjoy wildlife viewing, hiking, biking, paddling and fishing. Drive a little farther to popular St. George Island State Park and rent kayaks for the family and paddle an easy mile to a primitive campsite. Wake up to an incredible view of the bay and hike through the shady pinewoods to one of the world’s finest beaches.

Are you psyched to get fit in the best gym possible?

Liz Sparks is the Florida Paddling Trail Coordinator with the DEP’s Office of Greenways and Trails.

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