By Debi Lander
The coronavirus and subsequent stay at home orders ended leisure travel and tourism. What and when flights, hotels, attractions, and even restaurants will look like when they reopen remains to be seen; however, I join many who are hopeful that we may leave our homes sometime in May or June.
I’ve selected a few driving day trips with outdoor activities that may get you going. For now, this type of action seems to be the safest way to return to travel. Be sure to verify that parks or locations are open before you go.
Driftwood Beach on Jekyll Island
Take a leisurely drive up to historic Jekyll Island, where the island itself looks like a nature preserve. My favorite spot is Driftwood Beach. There, you’ll find numerous petrified trees scattered along the shoreline. The beach always looks like a significant storm ransacked it the night before. If possible, get up early and arrive for sunrise, but Driftwood enchants any time of day. Take your camera as photographers love this spot, as do kids who climb all over the trees and overturned roots. Afterward, a drive around the small island will take you past the iconic Jekyll Island Club and Millionaires Row — summer homes of the super-wealthy in the Golden Age.
Savannah’s Historic Squares
Savannah is about a two-hour drive from Jacksonville. Georgia’s first city followed a city plan with a grid of 24 squares. Today, 22 of those green park-like squares remain. A walking tour becomes the best way to experience Savannah. Stroll among the many live oak trees, greenery, churches, museums, shops, and historic homes. The grandest square, Forsythe Park, attracts locals and visitors alike and features a stunning central fountain. Why not have a picnic in the park?
If you’ve read or seen the movie ”Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” you know about historic Bonaventure Cemetery, just outside the city. The peaceful setting rests on a scenic bluff of the Wilmington River. The former plantation site became a private cemetery in 1846 and then a public cemetery in 1907. Now, Bonaventure is a world-famous tourist destination. Walk along the old tree-lined roadways and see poignant cemetery sculptures. Many notable persons are interred here, as are the famous Ugas, the University of Georgia’s bulldog mascots.
Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
Washington Oaks State Park, located near Marineland at the southern tip of St. Augustine, offers fantastic gardens, nature trails, and an unusual beach. The formal gardens are the centerpiece of the park, with colorful displays of native and non-native plant species such as azaleas, camellias, and bird of paradise. Meander along with winding reflection ponds in the canopied oak hammock. Washington Oaks is also famous for the unique shoreline of coquina rock formations that line its Atlantic beach. This ancient rock formation creates the perfect spot for beachcombing, tidal pool exploration, and photography. Visitors can picnic and fish from either the shore or the seawall along the Matanzas River on the west boundary.
Okefenokee Swamp Park
The Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge rests at the headwaters of the Suwannee and St. Marys River. Okefenokee Swamp Park is a magnificent picture-window for this natural setting. The park’s lily-decked water trails, with their miraculously reflective waters, lead to all aspects of the near half million-acre wilderness. Watch out for alligators, but drive the scenic paths past lakes, jungles, forests, and prairies. Stop and perhaps climb a few of the viewing platforms. The park is easy to reach, located eight miles south of Waycross, Georgia.
Ocala National Forest: The forest covers almost 400,000 acres of sand pine forest, with small areas of longleaf pines that are the best birding habitat. A visit in late spring or early summer will be most productive. Breeding species to be found here include the rare red-cockaded woodpecker, as well as red-headed woodpecker, brown-headed nuthatch, Bachman’s sparrow, swallow-tailed kite, bobwhite quail, summer tanager, yellow-throated vireo, and pine warbler. The area hosts one of the largest remaining populations of Florida scrub-jays.
Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park: Osprey, barred owls, hawks, and wading birds reside south of Gainesville in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park. Sandhill cranes and other winter migrating species will have departed by spring, but you’ll find many resident species to enjoy. Be on the lookout for pileated and red-bellied woodpeckers along the Bolen Bluff Trail.
Visit www.bylandersea.com to read more of local travel writer Debi Lander’s stories and travel tips.
Photo courtesy Debi Lander
Gator in Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge