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Top 10 nature walks near Sarasota

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Sometimes you don’t want to run. Sometimes you don’t want to hike. Sometimes you don’t want to break a sweat.

What you want to do, sometimes, is take an easy walk in a pretty place.

For a pleasant stroll – that’s the word – here’s a list of 10 suggestions, with a photo slideshow for each, starting with …

10. Phillippi Estate Park


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    Sarasota residents Adrienne and Len Shaw (left to right) share their bowl of soup during the Empty Bowls event held at Phillippi Estate Park. (CORRESPONDENT/KAZUAKI NAGATA)

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    The Keith Farm House, recently restored at Phillippi Estate Park in Sarasota. Photo taken by Harold Bubil.

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    Volunteers at Phillippi Estate Park clean up the nature trail. (Sept. 24, 2011; Herald-Tribune staff photo by Thomas Bender)

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    Traffic travels across U.S. 41 as it stretches across Phillippi Creek, as photographed from Phillippi Estate Park. (Staff Photo/E. Skylar Litherland)

This little Sarasota park is just off U.S. 41 – can’t get much more convenient than that. It’s just west of the highway and just south of Phillippi Creek. Look for the Edson Keith Mansion.

Paths lead from the mansion to a playground and dock overlooking the creek. Then there’s a short trail that heads into the woods along Little Sarasota Bay.

You could tour this on your lunch hour. Maybe have a picnic. Or you could swing through in the morning or evening, when the light catches the woods and the mansion just right.

Phillippi Estate Park is at 5500 S. Tamiami Trail. Visit the estate's website or call 861-5000.

Go to the next walk - 9. Pinecraft Park.


9. Pinecraft Park


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    Angela Weaver 3, left and Miriam Miller, 7, right find a park bench in Pinecraft Park a great spot to sit and eat candy.

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    Phillippi Creek winds through Pinecraft Park. (E. Skylar Litherland/Sarasota Herald-Tribune)

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    Kathy Heard pauses for a moment to readjust her sunglasses as she hunts for air potatoes, an exotic invasive, at the Sarasota Audobon Society's "Pinecraft Potato Fest and Clean Up." (Photo by Megan McHugh)

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    Brothers Logan (right) and Luke Sweeney (left) search for garbage and air potatoes, an exotic invasive, at the Sarasota Audobon Society's "Pinecraft Potato Fest and Clean Up." (Photo by Megan McHugh)


In the middle of Sarasota, just south of Bahia Vista Street, lies Pinecraft Park. Trails crisscross the woods along Phillippi Creek. It’s a place to walk your dog or clear your mind.

Pinecraft is only 22 acres, but it holds two worlds. To the south is the grandly named Mesic Hammock Trail. To the north is a community park near the heart of Sarasota's Mennonite community.

In the winter, the shuffleboard courts are crowded with generations of families. Women wear long dresses and bonnets. Men wear full beards and suspenders.

Back on the trail, there are small hills and thin streams. It feels like an escape. Near the entrance there’s a little trash and graffiti to remind you that you’re re-entering the real world.

Pinecraft Park is just south of Bahia Vista at 1420 Gilbert Ave. Visit scgov.net or call 861-5000. You can also read my Hidden Sarasota entry on Pinecraft Park.

Go to the next walk -- 8. Oscar Scherer State Park.

8. Oscar Scherer State Park


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    A foot bridge at Oscar Scherer State Park. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune/Staff Photo by Ed Pfueller)

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    A gopher tortoise peers out from his burrow at Oscar Scherer State Park. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune photo by Dan Wagner)

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    A cardinal appears during the annual Scrub Jay Walk at Oscar Scherer State Park. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune photo by Dan Wagner)

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    Oscar Scherer State Park. (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Craig Litten)

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    Hundreds of runners gather for the annual 5 mile and 10 mile scrub jay run at Oscar Scherer State Park in Osprey on Saturday, February 19, 201. (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Craig Litten)

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    Mike Kowalski of Sarasota navigates a compass course with his daughter, Nikki Kowalski, 8, at Oscar Scherer State Park. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune photo by Dan Wagner)

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    A spider catches the eye of eight-year-old Nikki Kowalski at Oscar Scherer State Park. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune photo by Dan Wagner)

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    John Koda of Nokomos navigates a compass course with his daughters, Savina, 10, and Sofia, 6, at Oscar Scherer State Park. (Sarasota Herald-Tribune photo by Dan Wagner)

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    David Jeda, left of Naples, points to a Gopher Tortise hole for his son Aviel Jeda,6, to see, as they search for clues Sunday on a treasure hunt. (Herald Tribune Staff Photo by Rod Millington)

There are 12 miles of trail through the pines and palmettos of Oscar Scherer State Park, but the prettiest stretch is also the easiest.

The Lester Finley Nature Trail follows South Creek near the entrance to the Osprey park. The short path is wheelchair-accessible, built in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It is also lovely.

Gung-ho hikers often skip this trail, because it’s so short and simple, but that’s a mistake. Views of the creek change with each turn in the path. Benches practically beg you to kick back, relax and look for one of the park’s many scrub jays.

Oscar Scherer State Park is 483 N. Tamiami Trail, Osprey. Visit the park's website or call 483-5956.

Go to the next walk -- 7. Siesta Beach.

7. Siesta Beach


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    At Point of Rocks on Siesta Key, beach walkers pass by objects not ordinarily found on a beach as a wedding ceremony is prepared nearby. (STAFF PHOTO/ELAINE LITHERLAND)

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    Nick Dooley, visiting from Chicago, fishes along the Point of Rocks on Siesta Key. The rocky hotspot, located on the southern tip of Crescent Beach, is a popular destination for snorkeling and fishing. (STAFF PHOTO/ELAINE LITHERLAND)

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    Beach Access #13 winds out to south Crescent Beach and Point of Rocks. (STAFF PHOTO/ELAINE LITHERLAND)

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    Small shells are washed inside crevices of coquina at Point of Rocks on Siesta Key. (STAFF PHOTO/ELAINE LITHERLAND)

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    Snorkelers wade into the water off Point of Rocks on Siesta Key. (STAFF PHOTO/ELAINE LITHERLAND)

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    A narrow sea wall offers the only access to the Point of Rocks on Siesta Key at high tide. (STAFF PHOTO/ELAINE LITHERLAND)

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    Bill Dooley, and his son, Nick, visiting from Chicago, fish along the Point of Rocks on Siesta Key. (STAFF PHOTO/ELAINE LITHERLAND)

The whole Gulf of Mexico shoreline is a sandy path, but you can’t walk the whole thing. (Well, you could, but it would take awhile.) Decisions must be made.

Start with Siesta Beach. Everybody else does. The most popular direction is south along Crescent Beach to what’s called Point of Rocks.

It’s a long walk, more than a mile each way, but you don’t have to do the whole thing. This gently curving stretch of beach is pleasing to the eye. There’s people-watching, too, if that’s your thing.

Siesta Beach is at 948 Beach Road, Siesta Key. Visit the website or call 861-5000. You can also read my Hidden Sarasota entry on Siesta Key's Point of Rocks.

Go to the next walk -- 6. Caspersen Beach.

6. Caspersen Beach


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    The Buchan family leaves Caspersen Beach after visiting it for the first time from Sarasota. (Staff Photo: Nina Greipel)

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    A beachgoer hangs out along the boardwalk at Caspersen Beach in Venice. (Staff Photo/E. Skylar Litherland)

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    Beach goers are surrounded by clumps of white Manatee grass at Caspersen Beach. (Staff Photo/E. Skylar Litherland)

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    An access point along the Caspersen Beach boardwalk. (Staff Photo/Kim Hackett)

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    Vickie Lucas works on her painting for the Paint-Out in Paradise art contest on Caspersen Beach. (Danielle Rappaport/Sarasota Herald Tribune)

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    Tom Learmont enjoys a 2-mile walk along Caspersen Beach. (Sarasota Herald Tribune/ photo Armando Solares)

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    Aline Fuchs and her brother, Pascal, of Germany play in the surf along Caspersen Beach in Venice. (Staff Photo/Bert Cass)

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    Greg Reichel, 16, of Pennsylvania casts a net to catch bait at Caspersen Beach in Venice. (Herald Tribune staff photo/Armando Solares)

If you’re not into people-watching, head to Venice and Caspersen Beach, then turn south. The farther you walk, the fewer people you see.  Soon it’s just you and the beach and the surf and the sky.

How does that sound?

Remember that every mile you walk south means a mile on the return trip. Bring water for anything like a long trip. Bring lunch, too, while you’re at it.

If you walk far enough – maybe 4 miles – you reach the northern end of Manasota Key. There used to be a road that followed the key south. Crumbling bits of asphalt still line a bluff along the beach.

After a storm, especially, smart shellers love to walk Caspersen and look for perfect conchs and whelks. Fewer people means less competition. And a quiet walk along the shore.

Caspersen Beach is at 4100 Harbor Drive, Venice. 861-5000. You can also read my Hidden Sarasota entry on the South Venice Beach Ferry.

Go to the next walk -- 5. Little Manatee River State Park.

5. Little Manatee River State Park

A walk in this park just might be worth the drive north of Bradenton. You can take I-75 or the scenic route of U.S. 301. Either route takes you to a wilderness area popular with campers, paddlers and hikers.

If you have the time and feel ambitious, a 2.5-mile loop trail winds through oak hammocks and pine flatwoods. Side paths lead to playgrounds and camping areas. A shaded section dips down in the woods to cross Cypress Creek.

The Little Manatee River State Park is at 215 Lightfoot Road, Wimauma. Visit the park's website or call 813-671-5005.

Go to the next walk -- 4. Jelks Preserve.

4. Jelks Preserve


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    Arnie Haer, Public Communications and Outreach Coordinator, Ed Freeman - Environmental Specialist and Jeff Webber - Environmental Specialist Sarasota County Government, survey a section of property down by the Myakka River in the Jelks Preserve just east of Center Road in Venice.

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    Wild flowers along one of the trails at the Jelks Preserve near Venice. (Sarasota Herald Tribune/ photo Armando Solares)

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    One of the trails inside the Jelks Preserve near Venice. (Sarasota Herald Tribune/ photo Armando Solares)

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    An Osprey sits atop this bare tree which is in the Jelks Preserve just east of River Road in Venice.

Short walks. Quiet woods. Splendid views of the Myakka River.

That’s what you’ll find at the Jelks Preserve east of Venice. It’s downstream from Snook Haven, which draws 50 times as many visitors. This is a good thing for walkers who want less company and more quiet.

The Jelks Preserve actually has more than 5 miles of trails. Brochures at the entrance will guide you through all 600 acres of the place. The best path, though, leads directly to the prettiest overlook on the river.

It’s less than a mile.  You can stride to the river in just a few minutes, but don’t do that. Better to take your time and savor your walk.

Jelks Preserve is at 2300 N. River Road, just south of I-75, exit 191. Visit the park's website or call Sarasota County at 861-5000 or the Sarasota Conservation Foundation at 918-2100.

Go to the next walk -- 3. Rothenbach Park.

3. Rothenbach Park


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    At Rothenbach Park a 2.75-mile bike loop circles a 90-foot capped landfill mound, winding its way through a hidden trail of palmettos and oaks, dripping with Spanish moss. (STAFF PHOTO/E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND)

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    At Rothenbach Park a 2.75-mile bike loop circles a 90-foot capped landfill mound, winding its way through a hidden trail of palmettos and oaks, dripping with Spanish moss. (STAFF PHOTO/E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND)

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    At Rothenbach Park a 2.75-mile bike loop circles a 90-foot capped landfill mound, winding its way through a hidden trail of palmettos and oaks, dripping with Spanish moss. (STAFF PHOTO/E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND)

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    At Rothenbach Park a 2.75-mile bike loop circles a 90-foot capped landfill mound, winding its way through a hidden trail of palmettos and oaks, dripping with Spanish moss. (STAFF PHOTO/E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND)

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    At Rothenbach Park a 2.75-mile bike loop circles a 90-foot capped landfill mound, winding its way through a hidden trail of palmettos and oaks, dripping with Spanish moss. (STAFF PHOTO/E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND)

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    At Rothenbach Park a 2.75-mile bike loop circles a 90-foot capped landfill mound, winding its way through a hidden trail of palmettos and oaks, dripping with Spanish moss. (STAFF PHOTO/E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND)

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    At Rothenbach Park a 2.75-mile bike loop circles a 90-foot capped landfill mound, winding its way through a hidden trail of palmettos and oaks, dripping with Spanish moss. (STAFF PHOTO/E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND)

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    (3.2.2011)(STAFF PHOTO/E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND) At Rothenbach Park a 2.75-mile bike loop circles a 90-foot capped landfill mound, winding its way through a hidden trail of palmettos and oaks, dripping with Spanish moss, as photographed on Wednesday, March 2, 2011.

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    At Rothenbach Park a 2.75-mile bike loop circles a 90-foot capped landfill mound, winding its way through a hidden trail of palmettos and oaks, dripping with Spanish moss. (STAFF PHOTO/E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND)

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    At Rothenbach Park a 2.75-mile bike loop circles a 90-foot capped landfill mound, winding its way through a hidden trail of palmettos and oaks, dripping with Spanish moss. (STAFF PHOTO/E. SKYLAR LITHERLAND)

This park is kind of freaky – it’s a former landfill with a 90-foot-tall mound in the middle – but if you can get past that, there’s some beautiful scenery.

The Hammock Loop Trail circles the park, winding through palms, palmettos and dozens of great oaks draped with Spanish moss. Deer wander through the woods. Cyclists, skaters and joggers enjoy the trail.

There’s room for walkers, too, on and off the 3 miles of paved path.

Rothenbach Park offers a lake, playground and picnic pavilion equipped with stone fireplaces. Pretty fancy. The trail and facilities are almost enough to make you forget you’re enjoying a landfill.

Rothenbach Park is east of I-75 at 8650 Bee Ridge Road, Sarasota. Visit the park's website or call 861-5000. You can also read my Hidden Sarasota entry on Rothenbach Park.

Go to the next walk -- 2. Bay Preserve, Osprey.

2. Bay Preserve, Osprey


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    The Bay Preserve, 400 Palmetto Avenue, Osprey, is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Burrows-Matson House is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. There are monthly nature tours and tours by request. Admission is free. (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Tom Becnel)

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    On the grounds of the Bay Preserve at Osprey, member of the Sarasota Crew youth rowing program launch their racing shells into Little Sarasota Bay. (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Tom Becnel)

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    On the grounds of the Bay Preserve at Osprey, member of the Sarasota Crew youth rowing program launch their racing shells into Little Sarasota Bay. (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Tom Becnel)

Rich people pay big bucks to have their weddings here, but you can take a walk for free. The Bay Preserve is open to the public, but most people don’t know that, so often you can have the place to yourself.

The whole preserve is only 4 acres, so your walk will be short. Take your time. Enjoy the extraordinary view of the Burrows-Matson House and Little Sarasota Bay.

During the morning, the preserve is peaceful and quiet. During the afternoon, young rowers with Sarasota Crew launch boats into the bay. During the evening, the bayfront glows under a glorious sunset.

It's easy to find the Bay Preserve — just follow the signs to Historic Spanish Point in Osprey. Then follow the arrows pointing to the preserve.

The Bay Preserve, 400 Palmetto Ave., Osprey, is open daily from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Burrows-Matson House is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit conservationfoundation.com or call 918-2100. You can also read my Hidden Sarasota entry on the Bay Preserve.

Go to the next walk -- 1. Myakka River State Park Canopy Trail.

1. Myakka State Park Canopy Walk


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    Myakka River State Park's canopy walkway includes a 74-foot scenic overlook tower. (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Dan Wagner)

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    Oak trees are covered with ferns and moss at Myakka River State Park. (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Dan Wagner)

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    A peninsula cooter crosses the road at Myakka River State Park. (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Dan Wagner)

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    Oak trees are covered with ferns and moss at Myakka River State Park. (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Dan Wagner)

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    Myakka River State Park's canopy walkway is suspended 25 feet above ground. (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Dan Wagner)

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    Myakka River State Park's canopy walkway is suspended 25 feet above ground. (Herald-Tribune staff photo by Dan Wagner)

OK, this woodsy walk means a drive out to Myakka River State Park, but that’s a pretty relaxing trip, anyway. Halfway down the park drive you’ll see a sign for the Canopy Walkway. Park your car and stretch your legs.

A nature trail winds through the woods, but you can take a shorter walk straight to the Canopy Walkway, which hangs 25 feet off the ground. An observation tower at one end stands 74 feet tall, which gives visitors a chance to look down at birds in the treetops of the park.

Kids of all ages get a kick out of this place.

If you’re scared of heights or don’t feel like climbing stairs, no problem. Take a seat on a bench and wait for the rest of your party to come back down. They’ll be in a good mood.

Myakka River State Park, 13208 State Road 72, is about 10 miles east of I-75. Visit myakkariver.org or call 941-361-6511. You can also read my Hidden Sarasota entry on Top 10 Things To Do In Myakka State Park for more fun.

 

Last modified: February 17, 2012
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