Top 4 Reasons to Visit Levy County, Florida, in 2018
As you make your travel plans for next year, you’ll want to put Levy County, Florida, at the top of your list. From the food and fishing to birding and diving, Florida’s Nature Coast has the best of it all. Here are the top four reasons Levy County is the destination to discover in 2018.
As soon as you arrive in Levy County you’ll see why it’s called Florida’s Nature Coast. With almost one-fifth of the county designated as state and national wildlife areas, it’s the place to be if you love being outdoors, and that’s especially true for birders. You’ll find a wide variety of migratory species and shorebirds that call the coast, swamps, salt marshes and hardwood forests of Levy County home. Inland, Andrews Wildlife Management Area in Fanning Springs is located along the Suwannee River and has platforms for viewing the wildlife. Inland, Andrews Wildlife Management Area, a member of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, acts as a refuge to many species of birds such as Little Blue Heron, Osprey, Wild Turkey, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler and Eastern Wood-Pewee. See the wildlife from the many platforms in the area and don’t miss the wetland boardwalk (listen for owls, woodpeckers and frogs) on the Suwannee River Trail and the wildlife viewing blind off Fanning Rd.
Cedar Lakes Woods and Gardens in Williston has well-marked trails through 20 acres of botanical gardens built into a lime rock quarry. In addition to birds of prey, owls, doves, songbirds and swans, you may spot alligators and a 100-pound blue catfish named Big Ben in the lakes.
On the gulf coast, visit Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge by kayak or tour boat and you’ll be rewarded with unspoiled sights of reddish egrets, roseate spoonbills, white pelicans and more. The refuge is made up of 13 coastal islands near Cedar Key.
These three wildlife areas are a taste of all the birding opportunities in Levy County. For more birding spots, check out this helpful guide.
From the rivers to the gulf, Levy County is a haven if you’re a fishing enthusiast, no matter your experience level. Try your luck for a chance to catch speckled trout, bass, redfish, cobia, tarpon and more.
Go fishing on the Suwannee River at Andrews Wildlife Management Area, which has bank fishing along three miles of shoreline as well as boat and dock fishing. Here you’ll find redbreast sunfish and Suwannee bass.
For more freshwater fishing, go to Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland. Cast your line from the boardwalk along the spring run or take a small boat out on the Suwannee River. Boat rentals are available on-site, for a day of fishing for largemouth bass, catfish and a variety of panfish.
Waccasassa Bay State Preserve Park has both freshwater and saltwater fish. It’s accessible only by boat, with boat ramps available in Yankeetown, Gulf Hammock and Cedar Key. A ride along the Waccasassa River will give you unspoiled views of nature and is one of the less frequented areas for fishing in Levy County.
At the southern end of the county, the Lower Withlacoochee River flows from Lake Rousseau, past Inglis and Yankeetown, out to the Gulf. It’s a popular spot for fishing for largemouth bass. There are a number of public access points along the lake and the river, including one in Yankeetown.
If it’s fishing in the Gulf of Mexico that brings you to Levy County, head to Cedar Key. A number of fishing tours offer half-day and full-day trips. You’ll find shoreline fishing at Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge, which is accessible by boat from Cedar Key. You can also fish right off the Cedar Key Fishing Pier on Dock Street.
Diving in Levy County doesn’t just get you up close to the Nature Coast’s fish and sea life—it also gives you a unique chance to explore the past, with views of underwater fossils.
The Blue Grotto in Williston is the largest accessible clear water cavern in Florida. It benefits from excellent visibility and a year-round temperature of 72 degrees. There’s an air bell filled with compressed air at 30 feet below the surface—a bonus safety feature that lets you pause and take in the views mid-dive. Adding to the safety is a 1 million candle-powered underwater light system. At 50 feet below the surface, you’ll come to a crescent-shaped cavern where you’ll see shell fossils embedded in the walls. The cavern angles down to a maximum depth of 100 feet. Blue Grotto has a fully equipped dive shop, picnic pavilions and cabins for overnight stays.
Devil’s Den in Williston is an underground spring inside a dry cave. It gets its name from the steam that can be seen rising through the chimney opening on cold winter mornings. A dive in the 72-degree water takes you to a maximum depth of 54 feet, where you’ll encounter fossil beds and ancient rock formations. Fossils of extinct animals, dating to the Pleistocene Age, have been excavated from Devil’s Den; they’re now on display at University of Florida's Museum of Natural History. Devil’s Den also offers night dives and snorkeling. There are picnic tables, charcoal grills, a heated swimming pool and lawn games to round out your exciting excursion. If you want to stay longer, cabins are available for rent as well as spots for tent and RV camping.
Visit Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland during the cooler months and there’s a good chance you’ll spot West Indian manatees. Throughout the year the state park has open water, cavern and cave diving, swimming, boating, fishing, hiking and biking. The entrance to the diving area is at the main spring or Catfish Hotel, a sinkhole that has a deck and stairs for water access. Entering at Friedman Sink requires full-cave certification. Depths in the cave vary from 35 feet to 90 feet, so having experience diving is must, and also having a guide makes for a better diving experience. Manatee Springs State Park has picnic facilities, a playground and camping sites. Click here for more information on diving in Levy County.
World-Championship Clam Chowder
After birding, fishing or diving, you’ll certainly have worked up an appetite. Among all of Levy County’s delicious restaurants, one has earned accolades well beyond north Florida. Tony’s Seafood Restaurant in Cedar Key is known for its award-winning clam chowder; it was crowned world champion three years in a row at the annual Great Chowder Cook-off in Newport, Rhode Island. With the “three-peat” win, the chowder was retired into the competition’s Hall of Fame. Tony’s chowder debuted in summer 2005, just one month after the restaurant opened. Chef Eric, Tony’s founder and owner, makes the chowder from a secret recipe. After you experience the world-champion clam chowder for yourself, you can take some home with you. Tony’s sells clam chowder in cans at the restaurant and on its website.
Cedar Key is famous for its clams and is one of the largest producers of farm-raised clams in the country. One taste of the local seafood and you’ll definitely want more. If you plan to visit Levy County in the fall, check the festival schedule to see all the upcoming events. The Cedar Key Seafood Festival takes place in October, and the Yankeetown Seafood and Art Festival are both held in November.
To learn more about commercial shellfish farming in Levy County, view this itinerary.