When people think of Florida, they tend to picture Magic Kingdoms and the famous mouse, or perhaps Miami and Southern Florida. What a lot of people don’t know is that there is a whole other side to Florida, not far from Disney or Orlando, but away from the crowds. You don’t have to battle with college students taking over beach towns for Spring Break or tourists from around the world coming to the Sunshine State to wait in long lines at the theme parks.
There’s so much more to this beautiful state – here are just five things you might not have known about Central Florida:
The Spiritual Camp of Cassadaga
In 1875, a young man from New York named George Colby founded a homestead in Central Florida, in an area surrounded by uncommon hills near modern-day Deland. Twenty years later, he deeded 35 acres to the newly created Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp and ever since people have been coming to the camp to live amongst a like-minded community. Now, visitors come to find out more about the history of Spiritualism or to visit one of the 25 mediums who practice in the area, mainly out of their own homes. The Cassadaga Hotel frequently hosts guests with a passion for the paranormal, as Cassadaga (meaning ‘Water beneath The Rocks) is also believed to be a vortex or portal, and considered as one of the most haunted places in Florida.
Chassahowitza National Wildlife Refuge
Established in 1941 primarily to protect the waterfowl habitat, the Chassahowitza National Wildlife Refuge is home to 50 species of reptiles and amphibians, 25 different species of mammals and over 250 species of birds. Located 65 miles north of St Petersburg and comprised of over 31,000 acres of saltwater bays, estuaries, and marshes, the best way to visit this national park is by boat tour. You’ll feel as though you are going back in time, exploring the pristine river and serene landscapes of the park.
DeLand – The Skydiving Capital of the World
Cruising through the Historic Downtown District, past the quaint boutiques, local cafes and DeLand’s popular comic book store, you would never expect this quiet town to be known around the globe as the Skydiving capital of the world. And yet, after a short visit to Skydive DeLand and chat with the training team, you would soon be convinced. Open 365 days a year, skydiving enthusiasts from all over the world come to Skydive DeLand for the fantastic training center and excellent drop conditions. If you’re going to jump out of a plane, why not do it in DeLand?
Ocala National Forest
When thinking of Florida, very few people think of forests. Covering approximately 607 square miles, the Ocala National Forest is the most ancient national forest found east of the Mississippi, having been established in 1908. Visitors come every year to stroll through the world-renowned and most significant concentration of sand pine. The forest is a great place to hike, canoe, kayak, horse ride, and fish, with over 600 lakes Natural lakes and ponds. Spend an afternoon at Juniper Springs, or stroll through the woods, keeping an eye out for black bears, gray foxes and North American River Otters, just some of the wildlife in the forest.
The Ocklawaha River
Used for steamboat transportation in the 19th and 20th century, the Ocklawaha River was part of the scenic route between Palatka and Silver Springs. Prominent figures such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Ulysses S Grant traveled along this wild and beautiful river route which remained popular until the railroad service arrived in the 1880’s. Located along the western boundary of the Ocala National Forest, the river is now a favorite place for fishing and canoeing. A visit to this area is well worth the trip, whether you are walking, kayaking or just hoping to take in the lush landscapes and fascinating wildlife.
There are hundreds of places to discover throughout Central Florida, from secret beaches to quaint little towns, stunning landscapes, and lush wildlife. All you have to do is dig a little deeper, look a little closer and avoid the tourist traps – you’ll fall in love with Florida all over again.