The Best Nature Trails for Kids in South Florida

As playing outdoors takes a backseat to surfing the Internet, watching television, and playing video games, now, more than ever, it is important to find fun and engaging physical activities for children to participate in. In this article, we will look at some of the best kid-friendly nature trails in South Florida, certain to get your kids up off the couch and moving!

Family Friendly Nature Trails

Surprisingly, South Florida has its fair share of family-friendly nature trails, though not all hikes are created equal! To help you weed out the bad from the good (or just plain mediocre), here are some of the best trails for kids throughout South Florida.

Sugar Sand Park, Boca Raton


We would be remiss if we left Sugar Sand Park off our list of great nature trails. Located off Military Trail in Boca Raton, this park has so much to offer that your kids might not ever make it to the actual nature trail. Featuring a full-blown "Science Explorium" (we highly recommend this!), theatre, science playground, and its own carousel, Sugar Sand Park ranks high on our list of must-visits for parents.

Of course, this article is all about nature trails, and Sugar Sand Park has a few great ones. The first - dubbed the Sand Pine - can be found nestled near the Science Playground and is a terrific spot for you to introduce your children to some of Florida's endangered plant life, and can be a great segue into a conversation or lesson about wildlife conservation and environmental issues. The second nature trail is Slash Pine, a serene walkway through a forest of - you guessed it - Pine trees and other greenery. Both trails are self-guided, which is great for bonding moments or for children who are a little shy or like a more gentle hike.

Secret Woods Nature Center, Fort Lauderdale


One of our favorite family-friendly nature trails in Fort Lauderdale has to be the Secret Woods Nature Center. The name alone evokes a sense of wonder for children, who will have plenty of sites and space to get their imaginations going. In addition to the two hiking trails featured at the park, Secret Woods is also home to a 3,800 square foot walking butterfly garden and the Monarch Interpretive Center, where children can learn all about the local flora and fauna, including reptiles, plants, marine life, and even bees.

The first trail - dubbed the Laurel Oak Trail - is 1200 feet of winding, mulched trail providing an interesting stroll through a tidal marsh, where you and your young ones can view oak trees, palms, and many other types of marshland trees, as well as wildlife in the form of birds, crabs, and several varieties of reptiles.

The second offering is the New River Trail, which weighs in at 3200 feet and comes boardwalk-style. You start the journey in a hardwood hammock and end it in another tidal marsh. The main theme of this trail is scenery, scenery, scenery, and offers many great photo opportunities.

Everglades National Park, Miami

Making a list of nature trails in South Florida without adding Everglades National Park would be blasphemous. Dubbed the "largest subtropical wilderness" in the United States, the park is home to a bevy of adventures that will keep your family coming back time and time again. Whether you enjoy canoeing or boating, fishing, bird watching, or hiking, the Everglades has it all.

It goes without saying that the 'Glades is full of wildlife. Your children will easily get their fill of alligators and manatees, and may even get to see an eagle or two. If your kid is more into plant life, you won't find too many areas that offer more lush flora.

One great tip we can offer you if you are planning on visiting Everglades National Park (aside from making sure you plan thoroughly to get the most bang for your buck) is this: check out one of the ranger programs or consider having your child become a junior ranger. The program offers youngsters a great opportunity to connect with nature and will create memories and life-lessons that last a lifetime.

http://www.nps.gov/ever/index.htm

National Key Deer Refuge (NKDR), Key West

Key West may not be the first place you think of when it comes to nature trails – what with its party life, great restaurants, and ocean views. However, you may be surprised to discover that it has its fair share of scenic view as well. One such place is National Key Deer Refuge, a “safe haven” for a tiny species of deer that are native to the region.

 

The NKDR was originally created to help prevent the extinction of this diminutive deer – appropriately named the “Key Deer”.

At its inception, a little over 20 of the fawn were in existence. Today, over 800 roam the 9,200 acre reserve and park.

 

Other fauna inhabiting the refuge include the keys marsh rabbit, sea turtles, alligators, the silver rice rat, Eastern diamond back rattlesnakes, and over a hundred other species of wildlife. There is a good amount of flora as well, spread out across a mix of tropical hardwood hammocks, marshes, mangroves, and rocklands.

 

There are two main nature trails in National Key Deer Refuge. The first is the "Nature Trail", which is just under a mile long and offers a great view of slash pine and thatch palms, and has a special "Mannillo Trail" for the handicap, disabled, or elderly family members with mobility issues.

 

The second hiking trail is "Blue Hole" and is famous for its wildlife encounters, particularly the alligators in the rock quarry and the aforementioned Key Deer, who use it as a natural water source.

http://www.fws.gov/nationalkeydeer/

Nature Trail Tips for Kids

 

Sometimes when we bring our kids along for little “adventures” we forget that their attention spans are different than ours and that their little legs may not be able to handle as much exercise as an adult’s. Because of this, and other issues that might arise, we’ve gathered a few tips to keep children interested and make sure they enjoy their hiking experience.

 

Kid-Friendly Hiking Tips

 

Always keep children in view - never let them run ahead of you.

 

Keep children hydrated and well fed. Be sure to bring snacks and water. Consider adding a little piece of watermelon or fruit to the water if your children prefer something with a little more flavor versus sugary sodas of juice boxes.

 

Bring along additional entertainment. Remember, a child's interest may wander. In addition, if you are planning an extended trip, it is important to have a fun activity for your kids to partake in as you travel to and from your destination.

 

Take advantage of educational opportunities along the hike. Trail guides, bird watching, and Q&A sessions centered around environmental issues are all great ideas. Be sure to keep the learning light and fun. Reward points and make a game out of it!

 

Have a safety plan in place before you hit the trail. Bring along whistles for each family member in case you get separated and make sure they know to use them. Agree upon a meeting place in case anyone gets lost and make sure each child has a copy of a map marked with any agreed upon meet-up spot and important safety stations (such as a ranger's hut). Brightly colored clothing can help make your kids easier to spot and pick out of a crowd or wooded area, and will help emergency officials find them if they do wander off.

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