Florida is the No. 1 wildlife-viewing destination in the United States for good reason. The Sunshine State has hundreds of top-notch birding and wildlife-viewing sites, including world-famous locations such as Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Everglades National Park and Honeymoon Island State Park. For those willing to venture off the beaten track, however, exceptional wildlife-viewing experiences await in Floridas less-traveled rural counties.

Would it surprise you to know that nearly half of Floridas counties are officially designated as rural? Not surprisingly, all have great wildlife viewing opportunities. However, rural counties have historically been underrepresented on the Trail.

In fall 2011 Trail staff launched an outreach initiative to boost the birding sites in rural areas. They visited and evaluated each nominated site in spring and summer 2012. All nominations and staff reviews are also shared with a steering committee to ensure that each site meets the criteria for inclusion on the Trail.

As a result, 23 sites in 15 counties were formally accepted as part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail in 2013. These sites are owned and managed by many state and local government agencies, as well as private landowners. Three counties - Calhoun, De Soto, and Union - are included for the first time, and all but three of Floridas counties now have at least one GFBWT destination.


New Panhandle birding sites

Chipley Park/Lake DeFuniak (Walton)

Chipola River Greenway: Hinson Conservation & Recreation Area; Chipola River Greenway: Butler Tract and Apalachee Wildlife Management Area: Zone A (Jackson)

Blountstown Greenway Complex/ Sam Atkins Park (Calhoun)

St. Joseph Bay State Buffer Preserve (Gulf)

Apalachicola River Ramble Trail and Boardwalk (Franklin)