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10 Things To Do for Nature Lovers in Indian River County

BY MEGAN RIBBENS with Trips To Discover

Some of Florida’s best attractions can be found in the great outdoors — and we’re not just talking about beaches. From amazing wildlife and world-class fishing to historic trails and pristine lakes, you’ll find these amazing outdoor adventures and more in Indian River County, Fla. From the shores of Sebastian to the town of Vero Beach, this east coast destination combines ecological wonders with miles of waterways to create a mecca of activities for nature enthusiasts. Here are 10 ways you can explore the best outdoor adventures during your stay in Indian River County.

Beach to scout out sea turtle nests. It’s possible you can catch a Loggerhead sea turtle laying eggs, disguising her nest and returning to the ocean during your journey. In 2019, sea turtles were observed during 38 of the 44 Turtle Walks at the park — so there’s a good chance you’ll see these turtles in action. Turtle Walks are offered five days a week, Friday – Tuesday, during June and July – and be prepared to stay up late, as the walks start at 9 p.m. and can last until 1 a.m. Reservations are required and can easily be made online. And if you’d like to get even more involved with turtle conservation, Coastal Connections, a non-profit dedicated to educational interactive sea turtle encounters and community conservation programs, offers Turtle Dig experiences in July and August where you can learn about sea turtle biology and ways to protect them.

Kayaking on Blue Cypress Lake

Kayak the Magnificent Blue Cypress Lake

Grab a paddle and explore this jewel on Florida’s Treasure Coast. Blue Cypress Lake in Fellsmere is the largest lake in Indian River County, stretching seven miles long and three miles wide with 21 miles of shoreline. Here, bright blue skies meet deep blue waters and 130-foot Cypress Trees tower above the water’s surface. These impressive trees will appear blue in the morning sun’s reflection, so be sure to head out early so you don’t miss the sunrise. And while you kayak through the soaring cypress trees, be on the lookout for Osprey nests, as the lake is a top nesting site for these magnificent birds. The lake is surrounded by 29,000 acres of marshes, swamps and Cypress forests, so don’t be surprised if you spot a gator or two, as well as plenty of fish and the occasional bald eagle. Kayaking here is one of the most beautiful and rewarding experiences you’ll find on Florida’s east coast.

The historic Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge

Tour America’s First National Wildlife Refuge

Nature and history combine for a unique wildlife experience in Indian River County, which is home to America’s first national wildlife refuge. Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge in Vero Beach was the first federally protected nature reserve to be designated as a wildlife refuge. It was established by President Theordore Roosevelt in 1903 to protect egrets and other birds from extinction. Today, hundreds of species of animals — including birds, fish and mammals — call this 3-acre island and its surrounding 2.5 acres of protected waters their home. You can experience this small, but very important piece of history for yourself through guided and self-guided tours. Other activities on the island include fishing, environmental education programs, and three hiking trails to explore the animal and plant life on the island. Don’t forget your camera so you can bring back memories from this incredible wildlife experience.

The Historic Jungle Trail

Peddle Down the Famous Jungle Trail

This old Florida trail off A1A in Vero Beach is not only great for hikers and bikers to enjoy an afternoon outdoors, but it’s also where multiple pieces of history converge to give you a glimpse into Indian River County’s past. This nearly 8-mile stretch of scenic, sandy road is where citrus growers would haul produce in the 1920s. As you peddle down the trail, you’ll also be able to see Pelican Island, the first national wildlife refuge, and the historic Jones Pier, the oldest pier in the county. As you travel under the lush canopy of trees, you’ll enjoy gorgeous views of Indian River Lagoon and there are plenty of spectacular lookout spots for bird watching. It’s truly a nature lover’s paradise that winds through old Florida history.

Fort Drum Conservation Area

Hiking, Biking & More at Fort Drum Marsh Conservation Area

Lace up your hiking boots and get ready to explore the diverse wetland habitat at Fort Drum Marsh Conservation Area. You’ll find nearly 5 miles of trails to explore the dry prairie, pine flatwoods, hardwood swamp and freshwater marsh habitats that are home to Florida sandhill cranes, bald eagles, white-tailed deer and more native wildlife. One of the highlights of your hike is the wooden boardwalk that winds through the hardwood swamp and leads to Hog Island, where you’ll find more trails as well as a primitive camping site. The boardwalk is an Instagram-worthy photo op, as the sunlight peeks through the canopy of sabal palms and cypress and cedar trees. Canoeing, horseback riding, picnicking, fishing and bicycling can also be enjoyed during your time in this conservation area.

Take an airboat ride in Indian River County, FL

Take an airboat ride in Indian River County, FL

Glide Through Marshlands on an Airboat Adventure

Old Florida fun at its finest, an airboat adventure is a great way to explore the Florida ecosystem. Indian River County has a variety of airboat excursion outfitters that can take you and your friends or family through the marsh to learn about the landscapes and native wildlife. As you speed through the swampy waters, there’s no doubt you’ll stop to see a few alligators lurking around and you’ll also likely get a glimpse of a few Osprey nests too. An airboat tour combines a thrilling adventure with an educational eco-tour as airboat captains share informative facts about Florida’s storied marshlands.

Paddleboarding at Round Island Park

Go Paddleboarding at Round Island Park

If you’re looking for a new way to explore the great outdoors, paddleboarding offers an immersive experience on the water — not to mention a great workout. One of the best places to paddleboard is at Round Island Park in Vero Beach, which has access to both the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon. While you paddle around, you’ll likely see some friendly manatees. These gentle giants are known for being playful and curious, and some may swim up to your board to say hello. You can also venture on land to hike and observe local wildlife or have lunch at one of the two picnic pavilions.

Waterlilies at McKee Botanical Garden

Waterlilies at McKee Botanical Garden

Visit the Historic McKee Botanical Garden

Once one of the largest natural attractions in Florida, McKee Botanical Garden in Vero Beach is an 18-acre tropical oasis home to a diverse collection of 10,000 native and tropical plants. It’s also home to the area’s largest collection of waterlilies, with more than 100 varieties grown here each year. The garden was established in 1932 and was once among the top attractions in the Sunshine State, with more than 100,000 visitors each year. Today, this lush landscape is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and its winding paths immerse visitors in nature as you walk through towering, twisting trees and colorful blooms. Pass by ponds with old wooden footbridges and walk through the magnificent Hall of Giants, where you’ll find the world’s largest single-plank mahogany table at more than 40 feet long.

Environmental Learning Center

Explore Nature at the Environmental Learning Center

Take the hands-on approach to nature with the activities and excursions at the Environmental Learning Center in Vero Beach. Hop in a see-through canoe and explore the Indian River Lagoon like never before or sit back, relax and learn about the local wildlife aboard a pontoon-style eco-tour. Meanwhile, kids and kids-at-heart can safely interact with a variety of marine animals in the ELC’s Touch Tank, including horseshoe crabs, sea urchins and spider crabs. Both the indoor and outdoor facilities provide educational opportunities, while also offering a chance to unplug and immerse yourself in nature.

Experience world-class fishing in Indian River County, FL

Experience world-class fishing in Indian River County, FL

Get Hooked on World-Class Fishing

Cast a line and reel in the memories in one of the best fishing destinations on Florida’s east coast. Sebastian Inlet is a premiere saltwater fishing spot where anglers of all ages go to catch snook, grouper, redfish, Spanish mackerel, as well as various species of shark. Off the Sebastian coast in the Atlantic, you’ll fish for more challenging catches like sailfish, swordfish, tuna, amberjack and more. The best inshore fishing spots can be found on the Indian River Lagoon and the St. Sebastian River, where you’ll find trout, tarpon and redfish, just to name a few. Whether you take your own boat, hire a charter boat or enter a fishing tournament, you’re sure to get hooked on the endless fishing options in Indian River County.

Fort Drum Conservation Area

Fort Drum Conservation Area

Combining outstanding outdoor pursuits with historic old Florida charm, Indian River County has something to offer for every type of nature enthusiast. Whether you explore land, lake or ocean, it’s easy to get lost in adventure and immerse yourself in the ecological wonders of this unique destination. This carefully preserved nature oasis is calling, so start planning your next outdoor adventure in Indian River County.