Whether you're waiting to catch a glimpse of a Florida scrub jay or seeking shady solitude beneath the branches of a live oak, there are plenty of places to find a calming respite in Charlotte County. Check out this list of five peaceful parks and preserves that are worth adding to your Punta Gorda/Englewood Beaches "must-visit list."
- Ollie's Pond Park, Port Charlotte. Ollie's Pond Park is the perfect sanctuary for nature photographers and bird watchers. Meander down a one-mile gravel loop trail to take in open views of the pond, or relax on a bench while watching a variety of native birds. Look for purple gallinules, pileated woodpeckers, great blue herons, roseate spoonbills, black-bellied whistling ducks, and even a great horned owl.
- Audubon-Pennington Nature Park, Port Charlotte. Take a meditative walk around a ¾ mile loop trail that guides you underneath canopies of live oaks, red maples, Florida elms, and cypress -- just don't forget to bring your binoculars. Audubon-Pennington is known as a "birding hotspot" given the fact that more than 80 different species of birds have been observed in this park. Guided tours can be arranged by writing to the Peace River Audubon Society at least two weeks in advance of your visit.
- Prairie Creek Preserve, Punta Gorda. Known as a secluded hiking, birding, and paddling destination, Prairie Creek has a diverse number of habitats that range from scrub, scrubby flatwoods, palmetto prairies, pine flatwoods, and marshes. You'll have the opportunity to spot an array of Florida wildlife, such as the endangered scrub jay, downy woodpecker, gopher tortoise, bobcat, and white-tailed deer. As an added perk, the preserve has a sand launching area for canoes and kayaks as part of the Charlotte County Blueway Trails system.
- Tippecanoe Environmental Park, Port Charlotte. Tippecanoe's main entrance may be somewhat tucked away behind the Charlotte Sports Park off of El Jobean Road, but that's part of the park's charm. Well-maintained boardwalks provide hikers with the chance to observe bird life out in the mangrove communities and marshes, but one of the main highlights is the hike to the top of Mount Tippecanoe for a particularly scenic view of the Myakka River and Charlotte Harbor.
- Allapatchee Shores Park, Punta Gorda. Situated on the South Fork of Alligator Creek, this park is primarily known for canoeing, kayaking, and fishing -- a place to escape the crowds and decompress on the water. If you don’t have a canoe or kayak, you can fish from the pier or dock for snook, juvenile tarpon, and largemouth bass.
Now that you know about a few more peaceful parks in Charlotte County, it's time to pack up your binoculars, insect repellent, walking shoes, sunscreen, and a fishing rod. There's no such word as "stress" when you're spending time at one of these must-visit spots.