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Picturesque parks and natural areas

Set your sights for an adventure in the South Florida wilderness. Perhaps you'll navigate a shady path through a lush forest. Or perch yourself on a riverbank where herons are wading in the water. Tune in to the visual displays, scents and sounds of the outdoor environment.

Some parks, botanical gardens and protected natural areas in Miami-Dade, Broward and greater Palm Beach offer free entry and free parking. 

An outdoor excursion in nature is ideal for a frugal activity for yourself, with family and friends, or on a date.

Gumbo Limbo offers a free DIY scavenger hunt activity for kids. Pick it a list at the front desk for an opportunity to earn a prize. Photo/Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, Boca Raton

Pick your favorite park. Lots of regional and neighborhood parks with playgrounds and other recreational amenities include nature paths. Protected natural areas usually offer fewer recreational amenities, emphasizing the natural habitat and its wildlife.

Participating Broward libraries loan bird-watching backpacks, which include binoculars. For borrowing backpacks, you'll need a library number, which is free for eligible residents. Phone your favorite library and inquire if backpacks are available.

Read on for examples of South Florida's outdoor treasures.  Please return to this feature as other parks and natural areas are added.

Photo/Broward Parks

Miami-Dade

Fun things to do at Miami-Dade Parks

Get out and enjoy the fresh air at Miami-Dade's Parks. Try mountain biking trails at Virginia Beach Park, batting cages at Tropical Park, flying a kite at Haulover Park and all kinds of water sports at Amelia Earhart Park, to name a few. Browse online to find this and more to do at parks!

Bike Trails

There's so much variety when it comes to biking in nature around Miami-Dade. The Village of Key Biscayne alone features several bike trails and paved areas. They include the Rickenbacker Causeway Trail, the paved trail at Crandon Park and the historic Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park where you can see the lighthouse. 

Commodore Trail and Old Cutler Trail offer picturesque views under a sweeping tree canopy. Bike by Matheson Hammock Park, The Deering Estate, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Alice Wainwright Park and Vizcaya Museum & Gardens. Feature: Biking  in Miami-Dade.

Gardens in Miami-Dade

Perhaps you'd prefer to spend the long weekend strolling through some of Miami-Dade's historic and lush, tropical gardens. There are certainly plenty to choose from and you could visit a different one each day of the long weekend.

  • The ones we recommend are located in Coral Gables, Coconut Grove and Miami Beach. Expect to find hundreds of varieties of orchids and palms, an edible garden, succulents, cacti, swampy areas, freshwater ponds, sculptures and fountains. Features:
  • Miami Beach Botanical Garden is free
  • Gardens  in Miami-Dade 

Palm Beach County

Photo/Natural Areas Palm Beach county

Pondhawk Natural Area

The natural area in Boca Raton  includes restored wetlands and scrub habitat, drawing a variety of butterflies and birds. Amenities include a platform overlooking the wetlands and StoryWalk, which features pages of a family-friendly storybook displayed along a path. Pondhawk is on the western side of Spanish River Library, 1501 Spanish River Boulevard, Boca Raton, free entry. Feature: Pondhawk Natural Area with StoryWalk

Frenchman's Forest

With several ecosystems, the natural area features over 500 animal species and 200 plant species, and a boardwalk over a cypress swamp.

Barbara Bobsein of the Natural Areas Program in Palm Beach County offers her perspective.

“Frenchman’s is an 155 acre preserve in Palm Beach Gardens which contains several habitats including estuarine, freshwater swamp, pine flatwoods, scrubby flatwoods, oak hammock, and cypress swamp.  The variety of habitats makes Frenchman’s Forest an excellent location for birding during migration season.  The canopy of the oaks and pines create shady trails to hike on.”

“You are likely to see gopher tortoise and many birds. Other residents here include fox, bobcat, raccoon, squirrels, opossum, armadillo to name a few. The foliage ranges from mangroves around the southern perimeter canal and overlook, to large slash pines, beautiful old oaks, and … palmetto, shrubs, and grasses.”

Frenchman's Forest, 12201 Prosperity Farms Road, Palm Beach Gardens, free entry.  

StoryWalk at Pondhawk. Photo Boca Raton Public Library

Broward County

Deerfield Arboretum

Photo/Deerfield Beach

Deerfield Arboretum offers free entry and trees from different parts of the globe.

Tours are offered usually 10 a.m. first Saturdays, and it's a good idea to phone the park at 954-480-4494 to verify the tour is on the day you are interested in. Tours are free. For group tours, a donation of at least $25 is required.

The arboretum, which is part of a public park, is at 2841 W. Hillsboro Boulevard, Deerfield Beach 33442.

Fern Forest

Fern Forest features an elevated boardwalk and over 30 species of ferns,  201 Lyons Road South, Coconut Creek 33063, 954-357-5198, Feature: Nature Trails & Free Entry at Fern Forest in North Broward

Secret Woods (not open during maintenance work)

Nature paths wind through assorted habitats and along a river at Secret Woods in Dania Beach.

Parks Naturalist Julie Morris: “My favorite place is on Laurel Oak Trail, it’s where I feel like I have left society and the world behind when I step onto the wood-chipped surface. I can feel the gentle press of the woods along me as I walk with the presence of shiny leaf wild coffee, fragrant marl berry, Sabal palm, the ancient laurel oak and towering cypress trees, the fruit of coco plum and pond apple lay along the trail to draw out the raccoons and crabs, which in turn draw out the Yellow Crowned Night Heron. Butterflies occasionally flitter onto the flowering plants along the trail and you can always hear an undertone of skittering as the fiddler crabs anticipate your approach.”

Secret Woods Nature Center, 2701 W. State Road 84, Dania Beach, 954-357-8886, website. Feature: Secret Woods in Dania offers free entry, free parking & nature walks

Deerfield Island. Photo/Broward Parks & Recreation

Deerfield Island (not open during maintenance)

Deerfield Island is a natural area on The Intracoastal Waterway. Nature walks, and picnicking are the prime activities.  Deerfield Island includes  a boardwalk, butterfly garden and barbecuing equipment. A platform overlooks the Intracoastal. Picnic tables are on site.

The island is accessible by boat and entry onto the island is free.  Free water shuttles are usually available Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, weather permitting. Feature: .Free water shuttles to Deerfield Island park on The Intracoastal

Other parks, gardens & natural areas in South Florida

Vista View Park. Photo/Broward Parks & Recreation

Broward

Palm Beach

Miami-Dade

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Patti Roth

About Patti Roth

Patti Roth, the editor of Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap, scouts out state and national deals, discounts and coupons for our readers, finding the real deals and presenting them in an easy-to-read format. A veteran newspaper and magazine writer and a longtime South Florida resident, she has written for The Miami Herald, The Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Florida Travel and Life, E Environmental Magazine, Dog Fancy, Cat Fancy, US Architecture and Earth911.com. Send your cheap tips to her at info@fortlauderdaleonthecheap.com.

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