nature coast view by Sally White

5 of the Best Scenic Drives on the Nature Coast

By Sally White Posted on August 31, 2022

These long summer days beg for enjoying the beauty of the Florida’s Nature Coast, if only it wasn’t so dang hot.  Even in August, the summer sizzler continues with humidity so high that you’re practically breathing water. Too hot for hiking. Too hot for cycling. What can you do?

Discover the Best Scenic Drives on Florida’s Nature Coast

What if there was an activity where you could enjoy Florida’s natural beauty and stay cool? Check out these five scenic drives along the Nature Coast- all to enjoy in the air-conditioned comfort of your car. Crank up your favorite jams and hit the road for some scenic Florida drive-time.

highway 40 follow that dream parkway
Follow that Dream Parkway, Highway 40, on the way to Bird Island. Image by Sally White.

Inglis to Yankeetown Boat Ramp on Follow That Dream Parkway

  • Access point: U.S. 19/98 to SR 40, Inglis
  • Round Trip: 15.2 miles

This portion of State Road 40 was renamed as a nod to the Elvis Presley movie Follow That Dream, filmed on location on Pumpkin Island by Bird Creek.

Turn west off of U.S. 19 and follow 40. You’ll pass the Inglis/Yankeetown visitor center and a statue of Elvis on the right. Stop here for a selfie snap with the King. Elvis Presley’s presence on the Nature Coast definitely lives on here.

The road runs through Yankeetown. At the stop sign, follow the bend left (not into the campground). Up to the right is a turn off to the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve (1001 SE Old Rock Rd, Yankeetown, FL 34498), a good place to stop for a hike. Climb their observation tower for a view to the Gulf.

The landscape along the road opens up to scenes of old Florida. Hammocks of swaying palm trees dot the horizon. Tidal creeks run through salt marsh swamps. There are places to pull off and fish, and chances are you’ll see fishermen wading in Bird Creek with their lines cast out.

pumpkin island yankeetown
Pumpkin Island was once a Hollywood-created sugar sand beach setting, and is now overgrown, retaken by the cabbage palms and wire grass. A piece of history forgotten in all but local memory. Image by Sally White.

At the Bird Creek Bridge, the Elvis Island from the Follow That Dream movie- Pumpkin Island, is to the right. What was once a Hollywood-created sugar sand beach setting is now overgrown, retaken by the cabbage palms and wire grass. A piece of history forgotten in all but local memory.

Drive over the bridge. There’s a small public beach- Bird Creek Beach to the right. You’ll find picnic tables, public toilets and a small beach, which serves as a good place to launch a kayak or paddle board.

At the end of the road is literally the end of the road- the Yankeetown Boat Ramp. It’s packed on the weekends, desolate on a weekday, especially when the weather cools, but has become a sunset-watching hotspot. So, if you arrive during the golden hour (1 hour before sunset), don’t be surprised to find the sunset crowd.

withlacoochee gulf preserve yankee town
Yes, you have found the end of the road… at the Withlacoochee Gulf Preserve – beautiful sunsets available. Image by Sally White.

Dinner and a Drive

If your drive has made you hungry, turn back and head towards civilization. Turn right into Yankeetown and follow the signs to Blackwater Restaurant (6301 Riverside Dr, Yankeetown, FL 34498), a historic eatery on the Withlacoochee River in the heart of old Yankeetown. This place can get very busy- especially on weekends, but those Bacon Wrapped Scallops are worth it. Call ahead to make a reservation. Contact number: 352.441.5002

Crystal River to the Beach on West Fort Island Trail

The Fort Island Beach Boat Ramp. Image by Sally White.
  • Access Point: U.S. 19/98 to CR 44/West Fort Island Trail
  • Distance Round-Trip: 21.8 miles

Located from the heart of Crystal River, this serpentine road takes you from the busy U.S. 19 and through some of Crystal River’s iconic scenery.

Head west on Fort Island Trail from U.S. 19. You’ll drive past the Plantation Inn on Crystal River, a good place to take a boat tour on Crystal River. Once over the bridge, the green canopy hides the civilization.

Fort Island Trail by Sally White.

On the left you can stop at Redfish Hole Trailhead in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge to explore the hiking trails. Farther up ahead on the right is the Fort Island Trail Park and Boat Ramp. Stop here for a bathroom break or to stretch your legs with a short walk on boardwalk over the river. This park is packed during scallop season and can be hectic on weekends year-round.

Return to Fort Island Trail and continue west. You’ll pass Shrimp Landing Seafood Market at the bridge over Salt River (12645 W Fort Island Trail, Crystal River, FL 34429).  Here, you can catch a fishing charter, snag fresh catch of the day or grab a fish taco or burger from the onsite food truck. Then it’s over the bridge and past the iconic modernistic white structures on stilts that house the Academy of Environmental Science in the old Marine Science Center on the other side of the bridge.

Down the road, the landscape opens up to swaying grasses of tidal salt marshes. Canals run on either side the road. The areas that look like sand can be deceptive muck fit for only gators and the light steps of wading birds. There are pull-offs on the sides of the road to stop and cast a line.

On the horizon to the right, you’ll see the cooling towers of what is once the Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant. The power plant was shut down in 2009 and is on plans to be decommissioned completely by 2027 by Duke Energy Corporation, who has since turned their direction to other power sources.

The road curves and splits at Fort Island Beach (16000 W Fort Island Trail, Crystal River, FL 34429). Once the ‘in’ place of the 80’s, this quiet beach sees more action from the local sea gull population who love to hog the beach. Park up here to enjoy the beach or stroll the boardwalk to the fishing pier over the water. Pause by the algae covered rocks at the old jetty to watch the sand pipers playing ’dodge the surf’.

Fort Island beach sunset by Sally White.

This road ends at the Fort Island Beach boat ramp. Head back to Crystal River from here.

Brunch and a Drive

Out for a Sunday drive? Take advantage of the Sunday Brunch at the Plantation on Crystal River (9301 W Fort Island Trail, Crystal River, FL 34429). Enjoy carved prime rib and a selection of entrees, salads and desserts before taking your Sunday drive to the beach on Fort Island Trail. It can get busy, so call ahead to make a reservation. Contact number: 352.795.4211.

Finding Old Florida on the Ozello Trail

ozello trail ozello florida
Ozello Trail is a magical drive right off US 19. It twists and turns through salt marshes. Image by Sally White.
  • Access Point: U.S. 19/98 to West Ozello Trail
  • Distance Round-Trip: 22.4 miles

The chaos of road construction in Crystal River on U.S. 19 falls away when you take this coastal detour. The road, not as well maintained as the others, is reminiscent of the back roads in the Florida Keys. Worn and tired to some, or a barefoot escape to others.

The road travels through old-Florida communities, broken up by salt marshes, muddied dark waters and stands of palms, their tops twisted off by hurricanes past. As you travel through Crystal River Preserve State Park, you’ll drive past wetlands and murky ponds with gnarled sun-bleached trees rising from them like swamp lagoon creatures.

ozello trail ozello
The road travels through old-Florida communities, broken up by salt marshes, muddied dark waters and stands of palms, their tops twisted off by hurricanes past. Image by Sally White.

You’ll pass over a bridge where mangroves huddle around the creek, crowding each other out to provide home a safe harbor to the fish and birds.

Drive past the a restaurant on the water- it’s the only place around. Then cross the causeway, where locals set up their fishing spots early for long days out.

Turn right at the road’s end and follow the signs to Pirate Point Park (Ozello Community Park), 398 N Pirate Point, Crystal River, FL 34429.  Stop to admire the views of mangrove islands and oyster bars in the St. Martin’s Aquatic Preserve that stretches out as far as the eye can see.

Fiddler crabs dart from their holes and skid away where you walk and shore birds chill on the rocks at the water’s edge. You may even spot the tell-tale whorls of manatees in the waters around the boat ramp.  

This is literally the end of the road. Turn around and head back to U.S. 19 from here.

end of the road ozello trail
This is literally the end of the road. Turn around and head back to U.S. 19 from here. Image by Sally White.

Dinner with a View

Stop at Peck’s Old Port Cove by the causeway (139 N Ozello Trail, Crystal River, FL 34429) for a bite on the deck with a view or the cooler environs inside. Peck’s can get busy, especially on the weekends. Call ahead to check on table status. Contact Number: 352.795.2806

Scenic Weeki Wachee on Shoal Line Boulevard

jenkins creek bridge
Jenkins Creek Boardwalk continues with a bridge. Manatees are commonly seen around here. Image by Sally White.
  • Access Point: Commercial Way (US 19/98) to Cortez Boulevard (West)
  • Distance: 12.6 miles (US 19 to US 19)

This smaller drive is packed with stops and scenery.

Turn off of Highway 19 onto Cortez Boulevard and head west. 3.4 miles down the road, Shoal Line Boulevard will be a turn of the left- there’s a turn lane for this road. The road makes a super sharp turn by a gas station and then leads through Weeki Wachee Gardens and over a bridge. Roger’s Park is to the left, as is the Weeki Wachee Kayak Shack (5414 Darlene St, Spring Hill, FL 34607) and a restaurant along the river. Roger’s Park (7244 Shoal Line Blvd, Spring Hill, FL 34607) with its sandy beach and swimming area is a popular stop.

linda pedersen park hernando beach
Linda Pedersen Park features cabbage palm forests, an observation tower for climbing and a free kayak launch. Image by Sally White.

Continue on. The road cuts through a forest of cabbage palms and swamp. Up ahead to the right is Jenkins Creek Boat Ramp (6401 Shoal Line Blvd, Spring Hill, FL 34607). Stop for a wander on the boardwalk or to try a fishing spot on the bridge or on the little island. Restrooms and boat ramp are available and parking is $10 per person.

Across the road you’ll find the fee-free Linda Petersen Park (6401 County Rd 597, Spring Hill, FL 34607). Climb the observation tower for a view of the area, launch a kayak at the end of the Bayport Linda Pedersen Paddle Trail or just take a bathroom break.

The beach area at the swimming hole at the back of the park is still closed. Manatees like to hang out in the spring-fed water there, especially on the chilly winter days.

nature coast view by Sally White
Some amazing views can be had from the observation tower at Linda Pedersen Park. Image by Sally White.

The road follows the backside of the Weeki Wachee Wildlife Management Area and Weeki Wachee Preserve on the left and the coastal wetlands to the right. You’ll soon reach civilization and a line of restaurants, making this a true drive and dine.

Drive and Dine

Grab an ice-cream at the Papa Clyde’s Ice Cream or dine next door over a canal filled with turtles at the Silver Dolphin (4036 Shoal Line Blvd, Hernando Beach, FL 34607).

Continue on Shoal Line and turn left at Osowaw Boulevard to reach U.S. 19 again, or back-track to Cortez Boulevard and head west to catch a Gulf sunset at Alfred A McKethan Pine Island Park (10800 Pine Island Dr, Spring Hill, FL 34607) or Historic Bayport Park (4140 Cortez Blvd, Spring Hill, FL 34607).

rolling hills brooksville
Take in the rollings hills, forests, and farmland on this scenic drive from Inverness to Brooksville. Image by Sally White.

Farmlands and Forests on Inverness to Brooksville Drive

  • Access Point: West Main Street to S. Pleasant Grove Road (Inverness)
  • Distance: Loop Part 1: Inverness to Brooksville 21.9 miles CR 581 to U.S. 41 21.8 miles one way
    Return Part 2: Brooksville to Inverness via U.S. 41 through Floral City 21.9 miles one way

When you’ve had your fill of coastal Florida, head inland to the picturesque town of Inverness for this last adventure. Grab a coffee in the quaint downtown at Cattle Dog Coffee Roasters (210B Tompkins St, Inverness, FL 34450) and admire the architecture of the historic Citrus County Courthouse, now a museum housing local history and artifacts, rotating exhibits and even a re-creation of the courthouse scene from the Elvis Follow That Dream movie, complete with Elvis cut-outs.

elvis presley
Sally White, author, and Elvis Presley (likeness) at the Citrus County Historic Courthouse. Image by Sally White.

When the sun starts burning, hop back in the car and take a left on South Pleasant Grove Road. Once the signs of suburbia fall away, this passage cutting through parts of the Citrus Wildlife Management Area and Withlacoochee State Forest will reward with deep pine forests and red clay reminiscent of Georgia.

There are places to stop along the way for hiking, like Mutual Mine Campground 4771 Trail 16, Inverness, FL 34452 (reservations required to access area).  Contact number: 352.797.4140.

The scenery changes, and you’ll find yourself driving on gentle hills through green pastured farmlands. Florida’s flatlands are forgotten here. Live oaks bend over to form a road canopy, their hearty limbs trailing with Spanish moss.

lake lindsay mall and deli
The Lake Lindsay Mall & Deli,14351 Snow Memorial Hwy, Brooksville, FL 34601, is a great place to “fill yer belly” with an amazing Cuban sandwich. Picnic tables and chairs outside, as well as a few tables inside to enjoy their hospitality. Image by Sally White.

There’s a stop sign and a trailhead for the Chinsegut Wildlife Environmental Area to the left. Stop for a hike at the nearby Chinsegut Conservation Center (23212 Lake Lindsey Rd, Brooksville, FL 34601) or turn right at the stop sign. Chinsegut Hill Manor sits on a hill to the right, but the trees and greenery protect it from view. Stop at the manor house to stretch your legs (22495 Chinsegut Hill Rd, Brooksville, FL 34601) or keep driving.

You’ll pass a few antique stores and signs civilization is here. After passing the Brooksville Elementary School, the road curves and rises and soon you arrive in the heart of Brooksville. Stop and explore the Florida Mermaid Trail. Cycle or hike the Withlacoochee State Trail or explore the historic downtown.

Head back on U.S. 41 to loop through historic Floral City back to Inverness or backtrack on 41 and turn left onto CR 581/Pleasant Grove to backtrack on the same road.

Brooksville & a Kitschy Diner

No visit to Brooksville is complete without a stop at the Coney Island Inn (1112 E Jefferson St, Brooksville, FL 34601) – home of the foot-long hotdog and enough memorabilia to keep you entertained while you dine. Catch a selfie with Elvis (he supposedly dined here) or Betty Boop, or try your hand and a game of Pac-Man.

Set up your playlist and hit the road to explore Florida’s Nature Coast with one of these scenic drive and dining ideas.

Comments

Sally White says

Roger’s Park on Shoal Line Boulevard is now open! (Weeki Wachee drive)

Sylvia Wulf says

Nice collection – saved for when I have time and gas money.

Florida's Original NatureCoaster™ says

Thanks! I hope that’s soon. This inflationary time is challenging – maybe split the cost with a friend?

Sally White says

Or several friends?

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