florida, forest, Uncategorized, USA

Miami, Florida

Mangrove Trees, Mangrove Tree Crabs and our Favorite Places to Kayak in South Florida

Last weekend was such an adventure. We ventured into the mangrove forest to make a video about Mangrove tree crabs for kidculture.org, a creative platform for kids to make meaningful and save videos. It was such a fun opportunity and the kids loved the entire process. They started with the research, planed and directed the video all by themselves and had a great time making the video. You can watch it here: https://vimeo.com/558536871

We learned many fascinating and interesting facts about Mangrove trees and Mangrove Tree Crabs.

Worldwide, there are more than 50 species of mangroves. There are three species found in Florida; red mangrove, black mangrove and white mangrove.

Red mangroves are probably the most well known species of mangrove trees in Florida. They are characterized by a tangled network of aerial prop roots extending into the soil. It appears as they are standing on the surface of the water. Red mangroves typically grow along the water’s edge and the bark is gray on the outside with a red interior. 

Mangroves are tropical trees that are the only trees that can thrive in salt water. Some species excrete the toxic levels of salt water through their waxy leaves, while others can block the salt absorption all together.

Florida has an estimated of 469,000 acres of mangrove forests and are an incredibly important ecosystem in the Southeast. They provide a protected nursery area for fish, crustaceans and shellfish while providing food for different marine species like snook, snapper and shrimp. Many birds find shelter in the roots and branches of mangroves. The branches are nesting areas, for coastal birds such as brown pelicans, osprey and roseate spoonbills.

Mangrove forests are very important. They stabilize the shoreline with their root system and protect the land from strong winds and floods. During intense storms, mangrove forests act as a buffer, reducing wave action, preventing erosion, and absorbing floodwaters.

The Mangrove Tree Crab

The video was also about the little mangrove tree crabs. It was half the fun to catch some of the little critters.

Mangrove tree crabs are tiny brownish gray crabs with yellow spots, wide-set eyes, hairy legs, and sharp tips on their pincers.

These crabs can be found on mangrove tree branches or tree tops at high tide and venture onto the ground at low tide.  They also like to burrow themselves into the sand and mud.

The crabs are very fast and it was difficult to catch them at first. They hide upside down in the leaves and branches of the mangroves. Luca caught one first , but learned that the crabs are quick to jump in the water when they are scared. The tiny creatures have lots of predators and are vulnerable in the water, so they try to get back to the safe mangrove trees as fast as possible.

 The crabs like to feed on the leaves of the trees they reside in. They will consume part of the leaf by scraping the surface of it and leaving behind brown spots. It was very interesting to study the leaves for any traces of the crabs. They also eat algae and small invertebrates if they can catch one.

We came prepared with tweezers, buckets, nets and magnifying classed that the kids had packed.

Olivia as fascinated on how much they looked like black spiders, but mangrove tree crabs are dark brown, gray and olive green depending on the light.

Even though it was difficult to part with them, we released all the mangrove tree crabs before leaving.

Anybody that visits Florida, should visit the mangrove forests and creeks at least once. The best way to explore is with a kayak or paddle board. There are lots of great places and here is a list of our favorite ones:

Our Top 5 favorite Kayaking Spots in South Florida

We have our own kayak which can easily still carry all three kids plus one adult or the kids plus a couple of friends. We have had many adventures with this kayak and once upon a time fit the entire family on the kayak. (Olivia was still a baby). We love to explore the narrow Mangrove creeks where the water gets really murky as well as the wide wavy bay exploring little islands.

Here is a list of our favorite spots in South Florida. All of the places have kayak, canoe or paddle board rentals available. They are very different from each other and I cannot decide which is my favorite, but I recommend to take enough water, sun protection and mosquito spray for all of them.

Whiskey Creek in Dania Beach

This one is my most visited place on the list and all the pictures on this blogpost where taken at this park. The Park is called Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park and is adjacent to Port Everglades. The parks 2.5 miles beach is the perfect spot for finding corals and building sand castles. It has lots of picnic tables and BBQs, a small restaurant as well as the famous Whiskey Creek. We love to paddle inside the shaded Mangrove tunnels and catch the little Mangrove Tree Crabs. The water levels fluctuate with the tides. At low tide, the water level is too low to paddle the entire creek, but a great time to exit the kayak and explore by foot.

Oleta River State Park in Miami

Only 30 min located from downtown Miami, Oleta River State Park is Florida’s largest urban park. It is a haven for mountain bikers, paddlers, anglers and swimmers. The park has several kayaking trails that lead through beautiful narrow Mangrove creeks as well as big Biscayne Bay. We love to paddle to the little islands, stop at the beach with shallow water or explore the shaded mangrove tunnels.

Kayak or Paddle Board?

Loxahatchee River in Jupiter

The Loxahatchee is a National Wild and Scenic River, one of only two in the state. It is one of Florida’s most unique treasures and flows through freshwater creeks, down into a brackish estuary, and finally empties through the Jupiter Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean. You can kayak under a canopy of overhanging trees and Spanish moss. There is lots of wildlife and it is very easy to paddle

 Turner River Kayak Trail at Big Cypress National Wildlife Refuge in Everglades City

This kayak trail is full of wildlife and looks magical. We saw small alligators and all sorts of birds on our last trip. There are water lilies and swamp lilies, open swamps as well as my favorite part, the very narrow mangrove tunnels. They can get so tight and narrow that ii is easier to pull through by hand. This feels truly magical because the mangroves are everywhere.

Indian Key Historic State Park close to Islamorada

We have only visited once, but it was spectacular.  Indian Key Historic State Park is only accessible via kayak launch and is one of those small green islands that can be seen off the Overseas Highway. Indian Key is located only a half-mile offshore but feels a world away. It’s an uninhabited and undeveloped island where you still walk the roads of the original village. This 11-acre island is accessible only by boat and sits just off Lower Matacumbe at MM 78.5. (Kayaks can be rented at Robbies) One of the best ways to reach the island is by paddling over the shallow seagrass flats. 

cave, forest, free, hike, Uncategorized

Lecanto, Florida

 Dames Cave in the Withlacoochee State Forest

Most people visit Florida for its beaches, theme parks, Everglades and big cities like Miami or Orlando. But there is so much more to discover and explore like forests and caves.

The Withlacoochee State Forest is the third largest state forest in Florida with thousands of acres of trails, terrain, rivers and caves to explore. This forest is also part of the Great Florida Birding Trail. It is managed for timber, wildlife, ecological restoration and outdoor recreation.

We specifically came to the forest for the Dames Cave that I had found searching for kid friendly hikes and activities North of Tampa. The Dames Caves Trail is also called Trail 22 and is part of the Citrus Trail system of the Withlacoochee State Forest. It was very easy to find with our GPS and free parking was conveniently located right on the side of the road off of S. Lecanto Hwy (491). The caves are mostly known locally and even though there were some other hikers, it did not feel crowded.

Trail 22 is about 1.2 miles long and a sandy trail leads directly to the Dames Cave. It’s an easy flat hike on a soft path through beautiful pine flatwoods and is perfect for families.

Two of the most popular caves on this trail are called Dames Cave and Peace Cave. Dames Cave has also been called “Vandal Cave” due to the many graffiti drawings covering the walls. It may look like a giant hole in the ground at first, as the cave’s ceiling collapsed long time ago. We were able to look directly down about 15 feet into Dames Cave and it reminded me of a Mexican Cenote. On the side is a smaller cave entrance that can be climbed down.

The opening is mostly big rocks and roots of the tree and only a very short climb. Once inside the cave, there is a big open area with amazing rock formations, lots of graffiti and the opening that make it look like a cenote. Plants and roots grow on the edge of the walls.

There are several small openings that lead deeper into the rocks and connect to more caves. We explored another smaller cave that was completely dark. Even though the boys wanted to explore even further, we decided to skip any deeper and darker caves.

The Peace Cave is another bigger cave on the trail and is marked with a huge peace sign on a tree. It is more difficult to get inside and completely dark. There is lots of opportunity to hike further and several other trails connect to Trail 22 and to discover several more small caves.

This hike was the perfect combination of fun and adventure and was interesting for all of us.