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10 Trails, Bikes And Beaches Off Miami's Party Circuit

By Andrew Belonsky


The Everglades

The myth goes that Spanish conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon was looking for the fountain of youth when he stumbled across Florida and its native people.

The existence of such a fountain in Florida makes sense, since the sweltering, mysterious Everglades are a fitting place to hide a forbidden oasis.

And South Florida remains an enchanting destination for nature lovers, boasting a wide array of majestic trails, magical underwater dives, and outdoor adventures that legends are made of. Here are ten of our favorite places to get back to nature.

First up, The Everglades...

The premier Florida park, the luscious 1.5 million acres of The Everglades are home to almost 1,000 different fish, plant, mammal and reptiles, including 36 threatened or protected species like the Florida panther and West Indian manatee.

Hardcore hikers may enjoy the Coastal Prairie Trail, while those looking to avoid biting flies and mosquitoes - they can be a problem while trekking through the wetlands' overgrown trails — may want to embark on an airboat tour through the Everglades' labyrinthine marshes and waterways.

You don't want to just look at the surface of the ocean, do you?

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Get deep into it by signing up for a snorkeling or scuba tour of Biscayne National Park's underwater environs.

Tropical fish swim in and out of delicate coral reefs and eerily enchanting shipwrecks. As we all know, there's an entire world under the sea, and it would be a shame if you came so close and didn't explore.

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A quick car ride south of Miami you'll come across the verdant Fairchild Botanical Gardens.

First opened in 1938, this pay-to-play attraction is worth the price of admission: an astounding aboretum homes 700 species of tropical flowering trees, more than 4,000 exotic palms are spread out throughout the property and thousands of butterflies flutter through their own conservatory.

You're not going to find a place like this anywhere else, so take advantage of it.

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In 1936, locals Franz & Louise Scherr decided to create a 22-acre sanctuary for birds, primarily parrots, to fly free. He called it Parrot Jungle, and it was an instant hit, eventually expanding its scope and outgrowing its in town digs. Thus, Jungle Island was born.

Constructed on Watson Island just off the coast, Jungle Island now homes hundreds of different critters large, like giraffes, and small, such as lemurs.

The original Parrot Jungle, however, remains: it's now called the Pinecrest Gardens and still boasts plenty of flowering trails and animal-related activities for you to explore.

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Not one for airboats and getting water in your ears?

Try a bike ride from Miami Beach, through the Venetian Islands, past the breathtaking views from the Rickenbacker Causeway and down to the recently renovated Virginia Key Beach Park, an epicenter for decades of the civil rights movement in Florida.

The views of the ocean and cityscapes from the road, with the wind at your back and the sun on your face, can't be beat, and you'll have no problem renting a bike on the cheap. Or, if you're not one to bike, why not do the drive? You get the views without any of the mess.

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George Sukeji Morikami was a born dreamer. The Japanese-born farmer joined dozens of his countrymen in an early-20th century sojourn to south Florida, about an hour north of Miami, where they planned to create a utopian farming community. It went no place.

While most of the other men and women left, Morikami stayed on for decades, finally dedicating his land to the state, which maintains it as the sprawling, intricate and magical gardens named after the generous idealist.

Unfortunately, there is an admission fee for this natural wonder.

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The elusive and endangered Florida panther keeps to itself in the Big Cypress National Preserve, a 729,000 acre freshwater swamp that border the Everglades, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try to spot one during dry-season hikes over the Florida National Scenic Trail or wet-season otter watching expeditions. Or perhaps one will pop up on the shore as you canoe through the 10 mile Turner River Paddling Trail.

There's so much to do in this natural paradise that you may very well want to stay the night.

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Back in town, and very much on the beaten path, check out the essential viewing at 12th Street Beach, the main LGBT spot on South Beach.

If that seems too overwhelming, stroll about 20 minutes north to Haulover Beach, a less crowded — and more clothing optional — spot where the local gays have taken to sunning themselves, or 20 minutes south to Bill Baggs State Park, another natural wonder where you can sun, swim or stroll near the park's famous lighthouse.

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Local mountain bikers have only good things to say about this park's 16-miles of trail.

Moderate to challenging routes through the lush terrain are satisfying for more experienced riders, and a great workout for those hoping to stay in shape for the beach, while easier trails may be more suited for people hoping for a more casual forest ride.

Cabins for rent can keep you close to the river for those who want to spend a few days canoeing or kayaking along the park's namesake river.

Why should Miami have all the fun?

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Neighboring Ft. Lauderdale is replete with out-of-doors, in-town excursions, including Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, a private estate-turned-public park along the Atlantic. Strain free, the park's kayaking, hiking and fishing are a perfect way to get some fresh air without working up too much of a sweat.

Nearby Tree Tops Park also has trails, both for hiking and horseback riding under the canopy, and about 40 minutes north of Ft. Lauderdale, check out the canoe trails at Arthur R. Marshall Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge.

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