In reporting hundreds of these travel columns, I've had the chance to drive many of Florida's scenic roads.
West of Tallahassee on State Road 12, the rural path through tiny destinations unpublicized in guidebooks — Greensboro, Bristol, Blountstown, Clarksville — features farmland, rolling hills, grazing cattle and weathered barns along red clay roads.
In Lake County, there are fragrant orange groves and rolling hills on S.R. 19 in Groveland. On the west coast, the stretch along U.S. Highway 98 next to the Gulf of Mexico mixes picturesque waterfront views and quaint, old-Florida business districts in Carrabelle and Eastpoint.
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Hobe Sound, FL, USA
Even after so many miles, it's still possible to be surprised by the quiet beauty of an unspoiled Florida highway. It happened again on a recent road trip to Hobe Sound on Florida's Treasure Coast.
About 150 miles south of Orlando on Interstate 95, Hobe Sound is the home of Jonathan Dickinson State Park and its 12,000 acres of biking, hiking, kayaking and other outdoor activities along the Loxahatchee River. There's also a pretty downtown, where Bridge Road (Martin County Road 708) offers one of the most beautiful beach entrances anywhere.
Head east over the Intracoastal Waterway and the two-lane road is immediately sheltered by a canopy of banyan trees that dead-ends at the beach. A small parking lot and covered picnic pavilion are within yards of the dunes. The waves are a big attraction for surfers, but leisurely Beach Road (parallel to the shore) is a popular bicycling spot.
More bike-friendly paths meander through Dickinson State Park (floridastateparks.org/jonathandickinson), where ranger-guided, two-hour pontoon boat tours explore the 1930s pioneer homestead of Trapper Nelson, known as the "wild man of the Loxahatchee."
Explore the park's nature trails by foot, on horseback or with an audio tour that can be played in your car. At 86 feet above sea level, Hobe Mountain Observation Tower is Florida's highest point south of Lake Okeechobee.
Like the road to Jupiter Island, the view is impressive.