Nature-Based Tourism in Florida: Letting Nature Work for You1

Mechelle N. Best and Taylor V. Stein 2

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Florida contains a diversity of natural and cultural wonders. Although national and state parks and forests abound throughout the state, many of Florida's private landowners also have the potential to show off some of Florida's unique natural and cultural attractions. Nature-based tourism is a comparatively new industry in Florida, and it is rich with potential benefits for Florida's landowners and business operators. Relatively few businesses have taken advantage of nature as a tourism opportunity and opened their lands to visitors, but they offer valuable lessons for other businesses potentially interested in sharing their resources with visitors.

This catalog provides case studies of ten private nature-based tourism businesses throughout Florida. Each case study provides a brief description of the site, presents the start-up and operational challenges encountered, and highlights the lessons learned by the various owners/operators. Finally the benefits to the owner/manager and the reasons why they stick with it are provided.

In compiling these case studies, considerable effort was made to select sites from across the length and breadth of Florida and to include sites that reflected the spectrum of natural resource-based tourism offerings in the state. In spite of this variety, several common threads became apparent by the end of the site visits and interviews.

  • Operating a nature-based tourism site requires a great deal of dedication and flexibility.

  • Many owner/operators were unaware of resource persons or agencies that could assist them in both getting their businesses off the ground and dealing with ongoing operational challenges. This was particularly the case for farmlands which were being partially or fully converted to recreational purposes.

  • Visitation to these privately owned or operated natural areas is dominated by residents of Florida with some visitation from nearby Georgia and Alabama.

  • The Internet has become a tremendous marketing tool for small and larger businesses alike, while word- of-mouth advertising remains a very cost effective, yet significant one.

It is impossible to tell the full story of all these sites in just a few short pages. Every owner and manager has an important and valuable story to tell. All information in this catalog came from the owners themselves, and we did our best to use their wording to describe their challenges, benefits, and lessons, where possible. We hope that the insights shared by our participants will at least encourage landowners or managers to see that using natural resources for tourism has many benefits and that hurdles can be overcome with a lot of determination and some creativity.


1. This document is CIR 1517, one of a series of the School of Forest Resources and Conservation Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Original publication date August 2007. Reviewed January 2017. Visit the EDIS website at
2. Mechelle N. Best, PhD candidate, Department of Tourism Recreation & Sport Management, College of Health & Human Performance, University of Florida; and Taylor V. Stein, associate professor, School of Forest Resources and Conservation; UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.