MOCCASIN LAKE NATURE PARK, 2750 Park Trail Lane (off Drew Street, east of U.S. 19), Clearwater (727-462-6024). The park consists of 50 acres of wooded area, a lake, a large educational facility with nature classes and sheltered picnic facilities. Open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on Sat.. Admission is $2.79 ages 13 and up, $1.85 ages 3-12.
MYAKKA RIVER STATE PARK, 13208 S.R. 72, Sarasota (941-361-6511). Fifty-three square miles of wetlands, prairies and woodlands constitute one of Florida's oldest and largest state parks. Developed in the '30s, many of the historical buildings (including five rental log cabins) are still in use and family, group and primitive camping is offered as well. Guided tours, bikes, kayaks and canoes are all available for a fee. You may need to use all of them, too; with 39 miles of trails, there is a lot of ground to cover here. Open 8 a.m.-sunset. Admission is $5 per vehicle (two to eight people). myakkariver.org.
OSCAR SCHERER STATE PARK, U.S. 41, six miles south of Sarasota, Osprey (941-483-5956). This park stretches over 1,300 acres and features scrubby flatwoods, mesic flatwoods, tracts of depression marshes, pine forests and a blackwater stream called South Creek. Florida scrub jays abound here, along with bobcats, river otters, bald eagles and alligators. Take the self-guided nature trail, dip into the freshwater lake, rent canoes or have a picnic at this lovely park. Also on the premises is the Lester Finley Nature Trail, specially built to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities. Open 8 a.m.-sunset. Admission is $4 per carload of up to eight people.
PHILIPPE PARK, 2525 Philippe Parkway, Safety Harbor (727-669-1947). Named for Count Odet Philippe, who introduced citrus culture to Florida, this 122-acre park is one of the prettiest in the area. Amenities include a boat ramp, fishing, picnic facilities, a nature trail, two playgrounds and ball fields with restrooms. Part of the original Philippe plantation, the park also claims a large Indian mound, where you can sometimes find old arrowheads, implements and other artifacts left from the earliest natives of the Bay area. There's also a great view from the top of the mound. Open 7 a.m.-dark.
PINELLAS TRAIL, middle entrance at 12020 Walsingham Road, Largo (727-549-6099). Converted from an unused railroad corridor, this 34-mile paved trail is a favorite among hikers, bikers, skaters and more. The trail starts in South St. Petersburg and winds northward through Largo, Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor and Tarpon Springs. Rest stops, service stations, restaurants, pay phones, bike shops, park areas mile markers, water fountains, benches and other various amenities are located along the trail.
SAWGRASS LAKE PARK, 7400 25th St. N., St. Petersburg (727-217-7256). This site boasts nearly 400 acres of natural land that encompass both Sawgrass and Arrow lakes, and features one of the largest maple swamps on the Gulf Coast. The park features a boardwalk/nature trail, an outdoor classroom, environmental education center, and lots of trees and squirrels. Picnic facilities and restrooms are also available. Open 7 a.m.-dusk daily.
SHAMROCK PARK AND NATURE CENTER, 3900 W. Shamrock Drive, Venice (941-486-2706 or 941-316-1172). Eighty-two glorious acres offering fun activities for active and non-active types alike. Sporty types can jog the trails and play tennis or basketball. Those less inclined to break a sweat can take leisurely strolls through preserved natural habitats for endangered plants and animals, or just swing at the playground. Nature study classes are offered at the environmental center.
SHELL KEY PRESERVE, located at the southern end of Pass-A-Grille Channel (727- 464-4761). Each year, thousands of birds take refuge on this 180-acre barrier island/preservation area. Natural features include mud flats, mangrove islands and seabed flats. Don't forget to bring sanitary supplies if you decide to go camping here, because there are none located near the campsites.
E.G. SIMMONS PARK, 2401 19th Ave., 2 miles northwest of Ruskin on Tampa Bay (813-671-7655). This 469-acre bayside park features mangrove shallows and beach line along the shore, making it a popular area for water sports. A boat launch and an 88-site campground with water, electricity and a bath house are available. Open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily in Summer, hours vary in other seasons.
UPPER TAMPA BAY PARK, 8001 Double Branch Road, Tampa (813-855-1765). This 2,144-acre park includes an environmental study center jointly operated by the county Parks Department and Hillsborough Community College. The site includes brackish and saltwater marshes, oyster bars and a mangrove forest — viewable from a boardwalk. Though most of the area is preserved, three nature trails, a playground and picnicking facilities are available. Open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
WALSINGHAM PARK, 12615 102nd Ave. N., Largo (727-549-6142). Split by a 100-acre lake, this 350-acre park features boat launches and parking for boat trailers, as well as eight picnic shelters, grills, water fountains, restrooms and playgrounds. The park is partially landscaped with sidewalks through the magnolia, pine and oak trees. Open 7 a.m.-dark.