In Florida, we tend to be all about the outdoors. There’s just too much sunshine year-round to stay cooped up inside. But if you think that means just lounging pool-side, you need to hit up Florida’s Sports Coast.
Just north of Tampa, Pasco County is filled with loads of high-energy attractions. There’s scalloping and kayaking, hiking and snow tubing (yes, really!), and so much more. For those travelers looking for a dose of adventure with their vacation, here are the five most unique outdoor attractions in the area.
1. Go Wakeboarding
Ever been wakeboarding or kneeboarding? If this sport is new to you, don’t worry. The folks at The Lift Adventure Park can help.
They have a package for beginners that includes a lesson, but even if you want to just learn by trying, your cable operator can give you pointers before you head out. I recommend starting with a kneeboard to get a sense of how the cable pulls you. Once you’re up, it’s an adrenaline rush that can’t be beat. Your teens will think you’re cool for going here, but I saw kids even younger wakeboarding better than some adults.
The Lift has more activities, including kayaking and paddleboarding, the Aqua Park, which is like a floating playground, and the Aqua Chimp obstacle course. You can get a pass for one or all of these. Our favorite hands-down was the Aqua Chimp, open to ages 8 (and 47 inches) and up. It’s such a fun way to challenge yourself with three levels to keep everyone entertained, and when you can’t quite finish those monkey bars, you just fall into the water and laugh about it. I could come here every weekend.
Parking is at SunWest Park where there’s also a public beach and concessions if you want to spend the day.
2. Swing Through the Trees
Since I told you the Aqua Chimp course was our highlight at The Lift, it probably won’t surprise you that we loved TreeHoppers Aerial Adventure Park.
It’s the biggest aerial adventure park in Central Florida, filled with over 100 elements like ziplines, rope bridges, and ladders. There are multiple courses at each of the levels (beginner, intermediate, hard, and expert), so you can really push your limits.
It’s also one of the most kid-friendly treetop courses I’ve ever seen. The 10 courses are built around a central area with picnic tables where families can hang out and watch if they’re not climbing. Plus, there’s a ground-level Little Lemurs course especially for ages 1-6.
You’ll get clear safety instructions before you start and will practice to get familiar with your gear. The guides are on hand to help if you need it, but you’ll be surprised what you can do as you cheer each other on. You feel absolutely amazing after completing each obstacle, and it’s one of those things that feels like a personal and a group accomplishment — great for team-building.
Lunch: You’ll be famished after your climb. Luckily, TreeHoppers has pizza and ice cream on-site so you can fill up or get a quick snack in between courses if you want one..
3. Climb, SUP, and Slide at the Lagoon
Just opened this summer, Mirada Lagoon is the largest lagoon in Florida, covering a whopping 15 acres in San Antonio. There’s a definite beach vibe here with lounge chairs, live music, food trucks, and plenty of sand. And while you can rent a cabana and chill, this article is about adventure, so we’re focusing on the thrills.
There’s a water slide, a splash park for kids, and an inflatable obstacle course with some really high places to jump off in the water that don’t look that high when you’re climbing up, but then once you’re up there, they are.
And there’s kayaking and paddleboarding. This is actually the first place I ever tried stand-up paddleboarding with a few pointers from their staff. SUP is a must if you’ve never tried it, and it’s another sport kids can do too.
Just a few minutes south is Epperson Lagoon, which is pretty similar, so pick whichever fits your travel plans.
4. Take a Camel Safari
Feed a lemur. Ride a camel. That’s just a normal day at the 47-acre Giraffe Ranch.
While I’ve been horseback-riding a number of times, I actually found riding a camel, with its rhythmic side to side, even more comfortable. As you ride, your guide will point out the different species that call the grasslands and wetlands home. These include waterbuck, zebra, ostriches, antelope, deer, and warthogs, among others. If you haven’t seen a pygmy hippo or scimitar-horned oryx from your vantage point atop a camel’s hump, have you really lived?
And in case you’re wondering, no, it doesn’t hurt camels to ride them. They’re known as ships of the desert, able to carry hundreds of pounds for several hours in blazing heat.
More ways to tour: Not up a camel ride? You can also take a Segway safari or ride in one of their trucks. If you’d rather drive your own car, that’s also an option. You can listen to the guide’s narration right from your radio.
5. Try Skydiving
The most extreme sport on this list, skydiving really is a rush — nothing holding you back, physically or mentally, as you plunge in a freefall of up to 110 mph for about a minute.
Just like the four destinations listed above, at Skydive City in Zephyrhills, you don’t need to know how to do this high-adrenaline activity before you come. If this is your first time, you’ll do a tandem jump with an experienced instructor. (Skydive City has been helping newbies for over 30 years, and they do around 70,000 jumps a year, so they know a thing or two about it.)
This is something to do with your grown-up “kids” or just for yourself. While those under 18 won’t be able to jump, family members who aren’t participating can watch their brave skydivers from a large covered deck with picnic tables. You can bring folding chairs and cameras to capture the action, and Skydive City also has an on-site restaurant, a mini-museum with skydiving memorabilia, and a tiki bar where you can play cornhole and watch skydiving videos.
Plan to spend about half a day here. And don’t leave without the ultimate souvenir: a video of your jump taken by your instructor. Now you gotta admit, that’s cooler than mouse ears.
Florida Is for Adventure
The Sunshine State isn’t just about twirling teacups and chilling on the beach. Skydiving, wakeboarding, camel rides — pick your favorite or try all the adventures we have to offer.
Looking for more thrills? Read our family-friendly guide to Ocala, Florida, and gear up for horseback riding, mountain biking, zip-lining over canyons, and more.
About the Author
Cheryl Rodewig is storyteller, marketer, and award-winning feature writer specializing in travel. Her Venn diagram includes minimalism, waterfalls, French, and the em dash. Find her at cherylrodewig.com or on Twitter at @cherylrodewig.
Feature Photo Credit: Florida’s Sports Coast