Levy County is an untamed slice of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Here, you’ll find rivers winding through lush forests and a profusion of wildlife that thrives in expansive public lands. After adventures on the mainland, head out to Cedar Key to savor a laid-back community that epitomizes “Old Florida.”
Cedar Key: Great for Snowbirding
Situated on Florida’s northwest coast, Levy County sits an hour west of Gainesville. U.S. Route 98, which runs parallel to the coast, connects many of the small towns in the region, including Chiefland and Crystal River. Those venturing out to the collection of islands known as the Cedar Keys will take Highway 24 west. The largest island is home to the small town of Cedar Key, with fewer than 1,000 residents. Snowbirds are attracted to this region’s mild winters, with lows rarely dipping below 50 degrees.
Featuring a host of protected lands, the region is a prime location for hunting, fishing and wildlife watching. Cedar Key Scrub State Reserve and the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge entice hikers to explore salt marshes and grand cypress and oak trees. Nearby, the Waccasassa Bay Preserve State Park, accessible only by boat, is ideal for canoeing and kayaking in unspoiled landscapes. Keep an eye out for migratory birds, manatees, alligators and more. With both saltwater and freshwater fishing, anglers will find diverse habitats. Bicyclists won’t want to miss the Nature Coast State Trail, which includes 32 miles of a rail-to-trail conversion. The Gulf Hammock Wildlife Management Area offers more than 24,000 acres of hunting grounds that teem with whitetail deer and feral hogs.
While Florida is a tourist mecca, visitors to the Nature Coast come to escape the theme parks and crowded beaches. Here, life is a little more relaxed. Stroll the streets of Cedar Key to discover quaint restaurants, shops and art galleries. The beaches here remain unspoiled, and the diverse waterways entice kayakers, canoe enthusiasts and others.
Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge preserves nesting grounds for migrating birds on the small islands that dot the waters off the coast. Inland, Fanning Springs and Manatee Springs state parks showcase warm, turquoise waters, which are favorite spots for swimming, diving, snorkeling and watching for the magical manatees, the so-called “sea cows” that visit during the chilly months.
Come to Cedar Key for one-of-a-kind celebrations. In April, the Cedar Key Arts Festival brings a juried art show to town, with local artists displaying and selling their works. In October, the Cedar Key Seafood Festival recognizes the local seafood industry and offers up family fun and savory fares. Also, check out the Watermelon Festival in June, the Peanut Festival in October and Yankeetown-Inglis Seafood Festival in November.
Go diving in an aquatic environment that time forgot in this untamed slice of Florida’s Gulf Coast. Devil’s Den is an underground spring with crystal-clear water that stays at 72 degrees year-round. Divers can see ancient rock formations and fossil beds from 33 million years ago. With a 120-foot diameter and maximum depth of 54 feet, Devil’s Den gives explorers an unforgettable underwater experience. Rent equipment for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Discover fresh regional seafood, from farm-raised clams to oysters galore. Fine restaurants and seaside shacks serve up all kinds of seafood straight from the Gulf. Catch your own by joining a chartered fishing expedition or by finding a stretch of waters to toss in a line. The Suwannee River and Lake Rousseau are teeming with catfish, bass and more.
Airboat excursions take visitors to the waters of Cedar Key for fishing, scalloping and sightseeing. Visitors can experience the grass flats of the area and witness amazing ecological diversity. Nothing beats the adrenaline rush of zooming across the water at high speed. Check the contact information below to find an airboat trip that’s right for you.
Dolphin Spotting by Kayak
With a low profile that puts paddlers close to the surface of the water, kayaks give explorers a chance to get within touching distance of the surrounding flora and fauna. If you paddle in Cedar Key, you’ll have a good chance of seeing dolphins swimming and going about their business. If you don’t have your own kayak, several outfitters in town rent the vessels to visitors.
Window to the Past
Get an overview of Cedar Key’s history as a port city and railroad town with a visit to the Cedar Key Museum State Park. You can also learn about the Native Americans who once lived in the region and the town’s role in the Civil War. An expansive seashell collection and a restored farmstead round out the offerings. Housed in a building that dates to 1871, the Cedar Key Historical Society Museum is another pick for exploring the story of the area. Dedicated guides and a variety of artifacts bring the past to life. Those with an interest in military history will want to explore the Fort Fanning Historic Park. Located on the Suwannee River, this fort played a prominent role in the Second Seminole War.
For More Information
Levy County Visitors Bureau