20 of the Best Ways to Play Outside in Dixie County!

Sun setting over the Suwannee River with trees in the background, and reflecting in the water
Sun setting over the Suwannee River

There is no shortage of things to do outside in Dixie County. Located in the Big Bend region of Florida, it is the perfect spot for all types of eco-tourism activities that let you “play outside.” Natural North Florida is frequently called “Forgotten Florida.” I like to think of it as Florida like it used to be, laid-back and surrounded by nature. Stroll the lanes of these quaint coastal towns, and you will see stacked crab traps, clam bags laid out to dry, and other indications that the Big Bend is a haven for fresh seafood. For more information on these delicious Gulf treats, visit the Florida Fish and Wildlife website.

The Big Bend is Florida’s Hidden Coast, a rural area of undeveloped rivers and coastlines that spill into the Gulf of Mexico. The islands have a long history of dependence on shellfish for survival, attested to by the large Indian mounds scattered among the islands. Hunting is accessible on federal and state lands during the year. Visit their websites for more information if hunting is your hobby.

1. Pick Up Your Supper

No, that isn’t a misprint, and I don’t mean in the local market. Get out in the water and pick up some scallops! The short season only runs from July 1 through September 10, so plan accordingly—it doesn’t get any fresher than this!

2. Jump on a Boat for a Day Outside

Man and woman paddling a kayak
Jo and “chief paddler” Russ take to the canals and river in the Town of Suwannee

You can explore a little further (and faster!) by motorboat. The Suwannee River flows beside Dixie County until it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. You can rent a boat locally or bring your own. There are plenty of boat ramps and docks available for use. Dixie County has waterways that are the perfect place to set off for diving, snorkeling, kayaking, canoeing, or fishing. The county is bordered on three sides by water, practically making it an island! On one side, there is the Steinhatchee River, on the other, the Suwannee River, and on the third side is the Gulf of Mexico.

View of the Suwannee River from a kayak
View of the Suwannee River from a kayak

The Dixie Blueway Trails are a variety of paddling and small boat trails in the area. There is the Suwannee River Trail, Steinhatchee River Trail, and the Gulf Coast Paddling Trail. Natural North Florida has a useful spiral-bound Paddling Guide; you should request a copy if you are a serious paddler. The Friends of the Lower Suwannee have created maps available on their web page. Bonus:  there are overnight stops about every 10 miles along the Suwannee for the truly adventurous. 

3. Bring your bike (or your walking shoes, or even your horse!) for your day outside

View of one of the paved Rails-to-Trails alongside the highway with cars passing by
View of one of the paved Rails-to-Trails alongside the highway

There are plenty of places to ride, bike, or just walk. Numerous trails allow you to experience Natural North Florida. The Florida Rails-to-Trails Nature Trail is a favorite choice that follows an abandoned rail line. This trail includes restrooms, water fountains and has wheelchair-accessible sections. Fun Fact:  Florida has 846 miles of rails-turned-trails, with 441 more miles coming!

The CR 349 Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge has five unique trails for a total of 29 miles! They will tour you by seven river habitats. The shortest is the 1.3-mile Yellow Jacket Loop, and the longest is the limerock Weeks Landing trail beside the Suwannee River. It is 1.5-miles one way, ending at a small boat ramp with views of Fowlers Bluff. Stay alert—you may find alligators or snakes on this trail (it is a wildlife refuge, after all!)

The Nature Coast Greenway Trail, which starts only 2,000 feet from the Cross City Airport, is another popular choice. You can bike the Mainline but ride with caution because that is also used by automobiles.

Information is available by calling the Dixie County Tourist Development Council or visiting their website.

4. Eat a Michelin-quality Meal

At the Putnam Lodge, you will dine in style! The gorgeous 1927 inn, the staff, the foods…it’s no wonder people plan their trips through Florida to coincide with dinnertime! Check the blackboard for specials—but order the Osso Bucco—trust me! The Putnam Fried Brussel Sprouts in a special sauce make my mouth water just writing about them! And let the chef order your glass of wine—he’s a pro, after all! Arrive early for your reservation. I promise you will want to spend time at the stunning copper bar.

5. Drive the Cross City Mainline Loop

This 85-mile Loop drive starts in Cross City on the Nature Coast State Trail. The Loop takes you to the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, through the town of Suwannee, and on to Horseshoe Beach before returning to Cross City. The “Mainline” route between the Town of Suwannee and Horseshoe Beach is unpaved, so you can enjoy exploring Florida the way you picture it in your mind! But stay alert—bicyclists also use the Loop.

This 85-mile Loop drive starts in Cross City on the Nature Coast State Trail. The Loop takes you to the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, through the town of Suwannee, and on to Horseshoe Beach before returning to Cross City. The “Mainline” route between the Town of Suwannee and Horseshoe Beach is unpaved, so you can enjoy exploring Florida the way you picture it in your mind! But stay alert—bicyclists also use the Loop.

6. Sleep Tight

Spend the night at the historic Putnam Lodge in Cross City—if it’s good enough for Al Capone…well… *smile.* Yes, the notorious Prohibition-era gangster kept two rooms reserved and had a dumb waiter for delivering product to his second-floor abode! Rumor has it that the area springs had “sweet water,” perfect for distilling premium moonshi…uh…medicinal products! While you’re there, take the house tour to learn more!

Antique furnishings in a bedroom
A bedroom at the Lodge

The rooms are quiet and tastefully decorated. The common areas are original, complete with columns made from pecky cypress and hand-painted by Seminole Indian artisans. Take a stroll around the backyard to work up your appetite (or walk off your dinner!) The fountain provides white noise to enjoy your privacy.

7. Eat or Sleep – or both!

Who Dat Restaurant is located at the Good Times Motel in Jena, right on the banks of the Steinhatchee River. Great food, great drinks, and a great view!

Porch of Good Times with Adirondack chairs
Kay relaxing on the deck overlooking the Steinhatchee River

8. Living Outside on the River

campground on the river
Step out of your camper and into your boat!

The Suwannee River Bend RV Park in Old Town offers river life at its finest if you are camping. The park features 50 waterfront lots shaded by ancient live oaks. Imagine stepping out of your “house” and stepping into the Suwannee River. You can dock your boat, kayak, or canoe just steps from your door, and the Nature Coast State Trail is right there. Plus, there are trails for biking or walking in this natural spot. Fanning Springs is just across the river. There are plenty of fish in that water too, so with just a little luck, you can catch your supper!

9. Explore an Underwater Archaeological Preserve

If you are a diver, you’ve come to the right place! North Florida is filled with springs and underwater caves. The Dixie Artificial Reefs hold diving opportunities. And in Dixie County’s section of the Suwannee is the City of Hawkinsville. No, it isn’t a town; it’s a sunken steamboat! The ship became Florida’s third Underwater Archaeological Preserve in 1992 and was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001. It is the only Preserve located in Natural North Florida.

In the 17th century, steamboats were the primary mode of shipping materials, goods, and even the U. S. Mail from Cedar Key up the river to Fort White and Columbus. This route ran through dangerous shoals. Today that area is well-known for swift water canoeing.

More than 50 steamboats ran the Suwannee for over a hundred years, and the remains of a dozen or more line the river’s bottom. The City of Hawkinsville was the largest and the last steamboat stationed on the Suwannee River. She was in service until 1922 when railroads began to replace river transportation. 

This ghost ship lies in shallow water on the west bank of the river, just south of the Old Town railroad trestle. The current is strong, and visibility is low, so do your research before you plan your dive; this is a trip for advanced divers. The 1896 steamer was instrumental in transporting the lumber for the bridge construction, so I find it fitting that her final resting place lies in silent watch over the bridge.

10. Pack Binoculars and Your Telephoto Lens

If your passion is birding, you will be amazed by the variety of birds in the area, especially raptors. I spotted herons, egrets, anhinga, double-crested cormorants, pileated woodpeckers, peregrine falcons, osprey, and eagles in just two days. Not to mention armadillos, deer, and peacocks (pets roaming around at the Putnam Lodge!)

Beautiful places for landscape photography are easy to spot. Keep your camera ready as you explore the Big Bend Shellfish Trail. The coastal villages are picturesque, and there are breathtaking vistas (yes, in Florida!) Check out the road to nowhere!

Two eagles in the top of a tree along the river
A pair of eagles keep watch as we pass by on the boat

11. Visit the Last Frontier

Horseshoe Beach is a Gulf-front community shaped, you guessed it, like a horseshoe. It has easy access to Florida’s backcountry for serenity or wildlife viewing in this untouched place. Famous for its scalloping, plan to visit during the summer months to give it a try.

12. Walk the Plank

Well, ok, it’s a pier. Walk the Shired Island pier. Maybe even toss a line in the water. Or relax outside on the beach, swing awhile, and just soak up the sea air. Shired Island Campground has camping spots available, a beach, restrooms, and public picnic shelters. It is an excellent place for heron- and osprey-watching, too!

Woman walking a path in the grass along the Gulf toward a pier
Kay heads for the pier

13. Stay on the Steinhatchee River

The Steinhatchee River Club has private ramps and slips for your boats and exclusive river access. No boat? No problem! They rent pontoons, tritoons, skiffs, and see-through kayaks. Spend your time in your own RV or stay in one of the luxurious cabins on the property.

Small cabin with screened porch
Cabin for rent–come on down!

14. Catch Your Limit

Some of Florida’s most pristine fishing grounds are found in Dixie County. Try your luck in the creeks, inlets, and oyster bars where you can catch red drum, spotted seatrout (yum! I hooked some of those!), sheepshead, and flounder. You can fish from the bridges along the road, and fill your cooler that way! Further out, among the artificial reefs, you will find grouper, seabass, snapper, and mackerel. The county has three communities along the Gulf waters. Experienced fishing captains are ready to take you out, even if you just want to cruise the river and do some birding. A local company to contact is Suwannee Guides & Outfitters in Suwannee.

Stay in the peaceful community of Suwannee at Bill’s Fish Camp Motel & Campground, and fish right in your front yard. Bill’s has a dock on a canal that provides the perfect spot for fishing or just watching the sunset. There is also a fire pit for those chilly nights. The mouth of the Suwannee River is only a five-minute boat ride from Bill’s, providing access to saltwater and freshwater in only a matter of minutes.

screened-in building next to dock
Community Room at Bill’s Fish Camp

15. Watch the Sturgeon Jump

The Yellow Jacket RV Resort, right on the Suwannee River in Old Town, offers natural views under moss-laden oak trees. Yellow Jacket has the space to accommodate all types of campers from primitive to pull-through. The resort has cottages, so if you are a non-camper (like me!), you can still enjoy a stay right next to the wildlife refuge. Yellow Jacket has river access to nearby native springs, and public beaches on the Gulf. No boat? They have you covered—they offer boat rentals on the premises. Oh…did I mention the heated pool and spa? Ahhhh…

Pool, tables with umbrellas, deck chairs
The perfect place to spend the afternoon

16. Buy Your Supper

If you lack those fishing and scalloping skills (like me!), you’ll be relieved to know you won’t have to survive on PB&Js. There are no less than six seafood markets in Dixie County. Just google it, or check the Big Bend Shellfish Trail brochure for a complete list! If you are staying in a cabin, most have access to a kitchen so you can enjoy cooking an occasional meal.

17. Dine, al Fresco

dining room with a view of the river
The Suwannee Belle’s upstairs dining room

Dining outside on the dock at the Suwannee Belle Landing is a must-do. And what you must do is order the bowl of shrimp and grits. The lunch size can easily feed two. And it is oh, so good! Plus, it sticks to your ribs, as they say, so that means you can paddle all afternoon free from hunger pains. Before you leave, take a photo in the biggest deck chair you ever saw!

woman in gigantic deck chair
Kay poses in the gigantic deck chair

18. Don’t Miss Sunset

Dining at Salt Creek Restaurant & Marker 29 lets you sit back and enjoy the sunset on the Suwannee River. The deck is the perfect place to capture sunset over the water—with your camera or just with your heart.

The sun sets over the Gulf, viewed from a deck
The sun sets over the Gulf, viewed from the deck at Salt Creek

19. Go Back to School

old 2 story cream colored building
Historic Old Town Elementary School

Visit the Dixie County Historical Society Cultural Center, housed in the Old Town Elementary School. David McCullough says, “History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” Learn about the history and view the artifacts of Dixie County. This two-story, four-classroom school was built in 1909 and served the children of Old Town until 1999. Truly of local construction, even the bricks were fired on site.

20. Party Hearty

If you happen to be a “festival junkie” like I am, plan your visit to coincide with these dates:

  • Lower Suwannee Arts & Nature Festival, Suwannee, 3/12 (local artists, crafters, food vendors, and music. Maybe even sign up for a guided paddling trip!)
  • Cross City Airport Fly-In, 4/2 (think helicopter and plane rides, flyovers, and plenty of excitement!)

Natural North Floridalet the adventure begin!  Old Florida is there for you to explore. Contact the local tourist development office to request information and start planning your trip!