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Discover Charlotte County

By Apryl Thomas

Florida is known for many things - beaches, oranges, theme parks, skylines and its raw natural beauty.  Situated in the Southwest Gulf Coast, the halfway point between Tampa and Naples, Charlotte County may be one of the state's best-kept secrets.  There aren't any thrill rides or massive skyscrapers - just miles of trails, numerous preserves and ample shoreline.

With barrier islands, such as Don Pedro Island, and small towns, such as Punta Gorda, that evoke an old-Florida feeling, Charlotte County definitely stands out.

It is home to the second-largest bay in the state, Charlotte Harbor.  According to Captain Ralph Allen of King Fisher Fleet in Punta Gorda, life here is centered on the harbor waters.  "Not only are most of the homes in Charlotte County nestled on or near the harbor or among the miles of waterways that connect to the harbor, but most of our lifestyles revolve around the harbor as well," he explains.  "Charlotte Harbor, most of which is protected through its status as an aquatic preserve, offers world-class fishing for Snook, tarpon, redfish and others.  Also, there are endless opportunities for cruising and sailing."

He adds that land-based eco-tourism thrives here "because of the huge expanses of undeveloped land" including 60,000 acres at the Webb/Babcock Wildlife Management Area.

This is just the beginning of what the area has to offer.  With more than 830 miles of shoreline and more than 70 parks and preserves.  Charlotte County is the ultimate destination for nature lovers and those who want to reconnect with the outdoors.

Don't just spend a couple of hours at the Webb/Babcock Wildlife Management Area; guests should plan to spend a half or full day exploring the grounds.  The hiking and mountain biking trails are perfect for exploring and spotting native birds and indigenous wildlife.  For water lovers, there is canoeing or fishing on 395-acre Webb Lake, and the large area is open to hunters throughout the season.

Places to view wildlife are abundant.  Walking along the trails at the Cedar Points Environmental Park, one is sure to come across a bobcat or even an American bald eagle.  The trails eventually lead to Lemon Bay, an aquatic preserve.  Another site on Florida's Birding Trail is Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park.  The third-largest upland state park in Florida describes itself as a "birdwatchers dream." The various trails, ranging from one to two miles in length, provide guest with unobstructed views of the habitats.  Additional trails on the birding trail include the Amberjack Environmental Park and the Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center.

Visitors who are not into hiking but want to see wildlife up close can take a kayak or canoe out for a paddle.  Guide tours are offered by many outfitters to explore parts of the Blueway Trails, and extensive collection of 53 trails, totaling nearly 200 miles.

For those who like to explore on two wheels, the Cape Haze Pioneer and Gasparilla Island-Boca Grande should be explored.  The five-mile Cape Haze Pioneer trail slices through the county, wile the 6.5-mile Gasparilla Island-Boca Grande Trail extends the length of the island.

Charlotte County is quickly becoming one of the top fishing destinations. Anglers can find amberjack, mangrove snapper, pompano, yellowtail snapper and more.  Guests can bring their own boats and launch at one the many parks' piers.  Charters and guides are available.

Don't forget about the beaches.  With all the other outdoor activities, it can be quite easy for visitors to overlook them.  Chadwick Park/Englewood Beach and Port Charlotte Beach Park have numerous activities to offer guest, including bocce ball and horseshoes.  Stump Pass Beach State Park is a little more secluded, with hiking trails and summertime guided beach walks. The beach is great for shelling and is top spot to end the day watching the sunset.  Those wanting seclusion should take the ferry to Don Pedro Island State Park, a barrier island considered to be an untapped beach in Florida, to hike, fish or just relax.

Guests can still find parts of untouched and unspoiled Florida if they know where to look.  Charlotte Count is waiting for visitors to discover or rediscover nature through all its area treasures.

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