Formerly an exotic animal park, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park (www.floridastateparks.org/park/Homosassa-Springs) is now one of the most popular state parks in the Sunshine State. And although you can certainly drive over to the park on Fishbowl Drive, there’s a much more scenic way to arrive at this favorite Homosassa attraction — on an accessible pontoon boat.
The pontoon boats depart throughout the day from the East Visitor Center on Highway 19, and travel 1.2 miles along Pepper Creek to the main compound entrance over on Fishbowl Drive. There’s level access to the boats at both docks, with plenty of space in the front of the boats for a wheelchair. Even better — the 20-minute ride is included with park admission. During the ride, park rangers share information about the history of the park, as well as point out wildlife and vegetation on the way. You’ll spot turtles, ducks and alligators in the tree-lined creek; and if you time it right you might even catch a coveted glimpse of the adult osprey tending to their offspring in a nest near the west entrance.
Now an exclusive refuge for Florida native species, this state park is also home to a first-magnitude crystal clear spring and the Homosassa River headwaters. Add in the three resident manatees, and you have one of the few places in the world where you can see these magnificent creatures year-round. It’s definitely a must-see for nature lovers of all ages.
When you’re ready to leave the park, you can either take the boat back, or hop on the accessible tram. Although the boat is nice, the tram offers an entirely different view of the area, as it travels along the .75-mile Pepper Creek Trail.
Alternatively you can walk along the level paved trail. It’s quite pleasant as it’s shaded by the forest canopy, and there are benches to stop and rest along the way. Part of the Great Florida Birding Trail, this route is especially popular in the fall and spring, when you can spot migratory warblers, vireos and thrushes along the way. Take along your binoculars and take your time on the trail. Truth be told, it’s a fitting way to end a visit to this top-rated Florida wildlife refuge.