A fascinating blend of Old West and Old South, Arcadia lies at the heart of Florida’s cowboy country. Huge crowds of “Florida Crackers” convene for Arcadia’s famous rodeo and cattle auctions, while citrus farm tours, wild hikes, fossil hunting and gentle canoeing along the Peace River Valley form some of the area’s signature activities.
The scenic Peace River offers family-oriented outdoor recreation with a dose of paleontology. In town, the Creation Adventures Museum houses a selection of Florida specimens as well as fossils from all over the world. Displays focus on rich findings from the Peace River, renowned for its paleontological discoveries; when the river runs dry, novice fossil hunters can dig in the shallows.
The Lions, Tigers & Bears wildlife sanctuary provides refuge to endangered species and rescued animals within an upland oak habitat and pastureland. The sanctuary operates daily tours and “night safaris,” complete with animal feedings. At the fifth-generation Joshua Citrus, you can take a wagon ride through an orange grove and then try all manner of orange-infused creations at the Joshua Citrus Grove Stand.
At the Arcadia Fall Rodeo in October, visitors can experience Florida’s traditional cowboy culture. Crowds gather to watch bull riding, steer wrestling, bareback bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and reenactments of shootouts. The DeSoto County Fair in February dates to 1953 and provides another nod to Arcadia’s cowboy heritage, with livestock shows and sales, bull rides, classic midway rides and deep-fried fare.
To dine with the locals, head to the Nav-A-Gator Restaurant at the DeSoto Marina. At this boisterous fish-camp style restaurant overlooking the Peace River, you can combine gator-bite delicacies, homemade key lime pie and craft beers with an airboat ride and live music.
Gentle Strolls and Epic Hikes
For a perfect introduction to Arcadia’s local flora and fauna, including floodplain forest and live oak hammocks, it’s worth a visit to the 75-acre Brownville Park, which features a family-friendly loop nature trail as well as more challenging hikes. For wilder terrain and excellent hiking, the fecund wetlands and rivers of Myakka River State Park lie just 36 miles west. The 39-mile Myakka Hiking Trail immerses experienced hikers in Myakka’s captivating mosaic of habitats, including grasslands and shady oak hammocks, while keen cyclists can explore miles of trails.
Wild at Heart
At Brownville Park, fishermen cast lines from riverbanks for bream, bass, mullet, snook and tarpon, while kayakers paddle north up the picturesque Peace River, then gently float back. As Florida’s first designated Wild and Scenic River, the Myakka River is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts with superb opportunities for boating, fishing, canoeing and kayaking amidst unspoiled wetlands, prairies, hammocks and pinelands teeming with omnipresent wildlife.
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