Water parks, hiking trails, museums and more

A complete guide to summer recreation on land and water

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BOCA CIEGA MILLENIUM PARK, 12410 74th Ave. N., Seminole (727-588-4882). The Pinellas County Millennium Time Capsule is located at the entrance to this 184.6-acre park. Other amenities include an observation tower, a canoe launch, picnic shelters, restrooms and bicycle/pedestrian paths. The park's marshy layout has its environmental benefits as well: The five ponds on the park property serve to treat stormwater runoff and hydrate the wetlands before moving on to Boca Ciega Bay. Open 7 a.m. to dark.

BROOKER CREEK PRESERVE and BROOKER CREEK PRESERVE ENVIRONMENTAL OUTREACH CENTER, 3940 Keystone Road, Tarpon Springs (727-453-6800). This 8,500-acre wilderness preserve is located in northeastern Pinellas and it supports populations of white-tailed deer, wild turkey, otter, gopher tortoise, bobcat, and coyote, which aren't found anywhere else in the county. The education center features hands-on displays and free educational lectures and activities every week. The 4-miles' worth of hiking trails are open from 7 a.m. to dusk daily, with two-hour guided hikes every Saturday beginning at 9 a.m. The center is open 9 a.m.-8:30 p.m. Wed., 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Thurs.-Sun.

THE CHILDREN'S GARDEN, 1670 10th Way, Sarasota (941-330-1711). With whimsical, delightful sections such as the Sunflower House, Safari Land, Moon Garden, Flamingo Road and Mint Mountain, you're unlikely to find another local park or garden like it. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Sun. Admission is $10 for ages 13 and up, $5 for ages 3-12, and free for kids under 3.

CRYSTAL RIVER PRESERVE STATE PARK, 3266 N. Sailboat Ave., and CRYSTAL RIVER STATE ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE, 3400 N. Museum Point, Crystal River (352-795-3817). The clear, spring-fed waters around this 30,000-acre refuge are a favorite for manatee sightings, fishing and bird watching. The archaeological site includes a museum of artifacts and some of the largest Indian mounds found in Florida. Guided walking tours are available but require reservations two weeks in advance. The visitor center/museum is open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; the park, 8 a.m.-sunset. ($2 per vehicle, $1 per person, pedestrian, bicyclist, extra passengers, etc.)

DADE BATTLEFIELD STATE HISTORIC SITE, 7200 C.R. 603, South Battlefield Drive, exit 63 off I-75 (352-793-4781). This site marks the battle that started the Second Seminole War. A visitor center contains artifacts and exhibits about the battle; the surrounding park features horseshoe and volleyball courts, a picnic area with covered shelters, and a large rental hall and kitchen. Camping is not allowed. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset; the museum, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission is $2 per car (up to eight people).

EUREKA SPRINGS PARK, 6400 Eureka Springs Road, Tampa (813-744-5536). This 31-acre botanical park features a greenhouse, trellised walks, interpretive trails, boardwalks, and a picnic area. The prime attraction remains the large collection of rare and unusual plant life collected and nurtured by the late Albert Greensburg, who donated the property to Hillsborough County in 1967. Open 8 a.m.-6 p.m. daily. Greenhouse is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

FORT DE SOTO PARK, 3500 Pinellas Bayway S., Tierra Verde (727-582-2267). This 1,136-acre park encompasses five islands at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Camping, fishing, boating and swimming are the most popular pastimes here. Two fishing piers and a bait store attract anglers while the remains of an early fort poke out of the sand at the southern tip of Mullet Key. There's a donation box for visitors, with money benefiting the Friends of Fort De Soto. Open daily 7 a.m-dark.

FRED HOWARD PARK, 1700 Sunset Drive, Tarpon Springs (727-943-4081). Named in honor of a former Tarpon Springs mayor, this 155-acre bayside park offers fishing and swimming opportunities, playground activities, a sheltered picnic area, and a ball field with restrooms and shower facilities. Open 7 a.m.-sunset.

HILLSBOROUGH RIVER STATE PARK, 15402 U.S. 301 N., Thonotosassa (813-987-6771). This 3,950-acre park follows a good stretch of the Hillsborough River and offers visitors a deep glimpse into the charm of old Florida. Native flora and fauna — including alligators — abound in this area and are easily spotted by the quiet seeker. Canoe rentals ($8 per hour/$20 for four), a large swimming pool, and two large camping sites make this a popular, sometimes crowded destination. $4 gate entry fee per carload (up to eight people).

HISTORIC SPANISH POINT, 337 N. Tamiami Trail, Osprey (941-966-5214). Burial mounds more than 1,000 years old, a restored 19th-century pioneer home and some elaborate gardens are set against the backdrop of south Sarasota County wilderness. This 30-acre site is convenient enough for a day trip, but offers enough middle-of-nowhere charm to keep visitors coming back. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Sat. and noon-5 p.m. Sun. Admission is $9 for adults ($8 Florida residents and seniors), $3 for ages 6-12 and free for members and children 5 and younger. historicspanishpoint.org.

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