If you’re a regular reader of the site, you may have gathered how much I love finding hidden gems that showcase the natural side of Florida. You know, before the developers took over. The 413-acre wetlands of Yankeetown’s Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve is one of those hidden gems.
An Unexpected Find in Yankeetown
In March I headed down to Florida to visit my folks. Typically, I’d tie in seeing friends in Orlando and Tampa Bay, but I knew this trip would be different. With Covid still a concern and my parents among the most venerable, I was on the lookout for quiet outdoor areas with no risk of transmission. The Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve fit the bill perfectly.
I stumbled across this hidden gem in the small village of Yankeetown. As I traveled along State Hwy 40 towards the Bird Creek boat ramp, I noticed the small sign for the preserve in front of a dirt road. Luckily, I didn’t blink, or I would have missed it.
Following the narrow dirt road for about a mile, I parked under the palms just outside the Education Center. The building looked long-deserted; a victim of the Covid closures.
On the other side of the parking area a basic map sketched out the park’s three easy ½-mile hikes.
A View Above the Salt Marshes
Though it was a bright sunny morning, I lucked out with a soft cool breeze. I imagine in the warmer months bug spray would be a must.
From the tower I continued my walk along the well-defined path which looped at a small dock. On my way back to the parking lot, I ran into the only other soul I saw in the park that morning; a man dragging a kayak. At first this seemed a little strange, but as there’s no road, boats must be carried along the short trail to the launch.
Star of the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve
Before exiting the preserve, I drove to the tiny three-space parking area for the Red – Boardwalk Trail. Following the gorgeous palmetto-lined boardwalk around the bank of Salt Pond, I saw nothing immediately noteworthy. However, as I looked a little closer, evidence of an active world became clear.
Beside the minnows and timid hermit crabs, raccoon and rabbit prints littered the mud below the boardwalk. Larger prints, maybe a hog, tracked off into the bush. Piles of empty crab shells left evidence of hungry birds. In the distance, the cries of a bird of prey left me with chills.
It’s a shame I couldn’t bare witness to the residents of the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve, but there’s definitely tons of life to be seen.
If you find yourself near Yankeetown, the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve is well worth an hour or two of your time. The park is free, though donations can be made via the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve website.
You can find the preserve at 1001 SE Old Rock Rd, Yankeetown, FL 34498, just off State Hwy 40.
Check out our other posts on North Central Florida destinations.