No need to pack and fly away for some great outdoor activities and sites.
It lacks the panache of packing a globe-trotting tote bag and sliding into a front-of-the-airplane seat, bound for an exciting vacation destination.
But look around, Sarasota is one those exciting destinations to the crowds of people who touch down at SRQ every day. So why not try to see your home as they do — a nearly tropical paradise with a lot to discover during your time off from work.
Here are a few fitness destinations worth visiting. And just because you are on vacation, you’re not immune from common sense. Some combination of drinking water, sunscreen, flotation gear, hats and helmets must be part of your planning.
Rothenbach Park, 8650 Bee Ridge Road: Paved, shady trails are the big draw. The centerpiece is the 2.75 mile Hammock Loop Trail, which encircles the park’s former landfill mound. The trail is curvy, sometimes hilly and about half-shaded. Bring a hat. Want more than 2.75 miles? There’s another 1-mile course. Top Tip: Deer and other wildlife are plentiful, particularly on the back third of the longer trail. Keep your eyes open.
Celery Fields, 6893 Palmer Blvd.: 300 acres with walking trails and (no kidding) a hill climb. The park offers a special fitness challenge — trails lead to the top of the 75-foot mound. Birds and their watchers are plentiful. Top Tip: If you plan a get-away vacation to a hilly place, use the Celery Fields climbs as a training regimen.
Red Bug Slough, 5200 Beneva Road: 72 acres with miles of hiking trails, unpaved though not terribly difficult. The parking lot is small but other walk-in access points are useful if you live nearby. Top Tip: It's right in the middle of town, so it's a simple and quick way to get in a hike without a lot of day planning.
Myakka River State Park, 13208 State Road 72: Before condos, Wawas and golf courses ruled Florida, this 58-square mile place is what Florida looked like — wetlands, open spaces and shady hammocks. Carved through it are trails for casual strolls, hikes and off-road cycling. There's also pavement suitable for road bikes. Nearly 40 miles of hiking trails are maintained by the Florida Trail Association and offer a chance to do something rare in Florida, lose sight of civilization. Don't leave without checking out the 25-foot high canopy trail, which traverses 100 feet to a 75-foot observation tower. And bring $6 for the per-car admission fee. Top Tip: This is a popular place with those other staycating residents — alligators. Heed the warning signs and assume the beasts are nearby any water body, even if you can't see them.
Heron's Lake Nature Park, 6322 Tupelo Trail, Lakewood Ranch: Right in the middle of Lakewood Ranch, there's a place to disappear from worries of work and appreciate your surroundings. Heron's Lake Nature Park is an oasis, surrounded by everyday life. The mix of paved and well-maintained unpaved pathways through the woods make for great walking, running and cycling. The nature loop covers about a mile and offers a mild elevation changes, a ton of unspoiled Florida scenery and some bird-watching opportunities. Nearby, you'll find the Greenbrook Adventure Park, where you'll find more active recreational fitness facilities, such as playgrounds, athletics fields and more. Top Tip: Keep an eye out for wildlife. Bobcats, turtles, lots of birds and more are often seen.
The shorelines and waterways around Sarasota Bay are perfect for kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders. Canoes are perfectly suited to some inland parks.
There are bound to be far more destinations and routes around the Sarasota area, but it’s probably easier to start with the dozen or so paddle-trail areas listed on the county’s paddle guide.
Start simple: Try a lap or two around the lake at Nathan Benderson Park along Interstate 75 south of University Parkway.
More adventurous? Check out the Sarasota Bay Trail, which starts near the Manatee County line and works its south toward downtown and across the bay.
Launch from Phillippi Estate Park (5500 South Tamiami Trail), and you have options. Head up Phillippi Creek for an in-town adventure or head down the narrow section of Sarasota Bay and Little Sarasota Bay between Siesta Key and the mainland.
There’s also Myakka State Park, along State Road 72 east of Sarasota, and Oscar Scherer State Park on U.S. 41, south of Sarasota. At both sites, you’ll pay $6 per car to enter. Canoe or kayak rentals are $20 an hour, with additional hours at $5 each. Other sites around Sarasota and at such parks as Bayfront in Sarasota, Ted Sperling on Lido Key, Turtle Beach on Siesta Key and soon at Longboat Key’s Bayfront Park, rentals and tours are available. Prices vary.