It’s known as the Nature Coast. The unspoiled shorelines of northern Pasco, Hernando, and Citrus Counties. The Nature Coast continues north into the Big Bend Region of Florida Take a roadtrip through the sawgrass and small burgs of Hernando County’s coast.
The journey will begin in Pasco County, north of the town of Hudson. Hudson is where the coastline makes the transition from suburban sprawl and strip malls to a more natural shoreline.
Aripeka Road (County Road 595) begins on US Highway 19 and makes its way west. The scenery starts out in sandhills and pine trees.
On the right side of the road is the Aripeka Sandhills Preserve. A small parking lot sits near the road.
The next intersection is with Old Dixie Highway.
On the right side of the road immediately after turning onto Old Dixie Highway, there’s a small lookout point over a lake that was a sand mine. It’s part of a future subdivision called Sunwest Harbourtowne, but is for now a small private park and a place to watch sunsets.
Partially in Pasco County and Hernando County is the sleepy village of Aripeka. County Road 595 crosses into Hernando County at the bridge crossing of South Fork Hammock onto Palm Island.
Aripeka was named after a Miccosukee Indian chief, who occupied land near the Kissimmee River, over 100 miles to the southeast of Aripeka. Aripeka was originally settled in 1873, approximately seven years after the chief’s death, and was originally named Gulf Key. The first land was bought in the area in 1859. Ultimately, Gulf Key became Aripeka in approximately 1906.
A post office was originally built in 1888.
County Road 595 winds through town with a speed limit of 20 miles per hour. In Hernando County, Aripeka Blvd. becomes Osowaw Blvd.
The town is mostly residential with a few locally-run stores.
North out of Aripeka the road is surrounded by sawgrass with views of the water. The open Gulf of Mexico is also in the distance.
A handful of houses are present along the way. The living quarters are built on stilts and elevated 10-15′ above the ground. Carports and storage rooms occupy ground level.
Making a left turn onto Shoal Line Blvd (County Road 597), you’ll soon run into the community of Hernando Beach.
A canal community with very few gulf-front homes and no beach, the name Hernando Beach is a misnomer. Nevertheless, it’s a fine seaside community. Homes are all on canals. Some canals flow directly to the Gulf of Mexico. Other canals can be accessed to the Gulf through a boat lift.
Canals line both sides of Hernando Beach’s main drag, Shoal Line Blvd. Residences are practically if not entirely on the Gulf side of the road. Hernando Beach is home to an array of small businesses on both sides of the road.
Located just north of Hernando Beach is Linda Pedersen Park, a county park.
The highlight of this park is the observation tower, looking out over the local marsh and the Gulf. Unfortunately, it is temporarily closed due to storm damage.
Just up the street from Linda Pedersen Park is Jenkins Creek Park.
Being on the gulf side of the road, there is a boat ramp with plenty of trailer parking, as well as picnic pavilions overlooking the marsh.
Weeki Wachee Gardens
The community of Weeki Wachee Gardens is built along the shores of the spring-fed Weeki Wachee River.
“Weeki Wachee” was named by the Seminole Indians, and meant “little spring” and “winding river”
Nearby is the famous Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, a few miles to the east on US Highway 19.
Like with Hernando Beach, Shoal Line Blvd. is the main route through town. Though not as large as Hernando Beach, there are a handful of stores, restaurants, and a marina.
Rogers Park is at the Shoal Line Blvd. crossing of the Weeki Wachee River. The park provides picnic space as well as a view of the spring waters of the river.
As Shoal Line Blvd. comes through and exits Weeki Wachee Gardens, the landscape goes from marsh and sawgrass back into pine forest, the path going slightly east away from the water.
At the end of Shoal Line Blvd. is Cortez Blvd.
Two local men were selling boiled peanuts and produce on the side of the road near the intersection. We bought a cup of boiled peanuts and a Mason jar of homemade bread and butter pickles. We also got to sample some very delicious tangerines.
Making a left on Cortez Blvd., you’ll head in the direction of the communities of Pine Island and Bayport.
Going back west, once again marsh and sawgrass soon reappear.
On the right side of the road is Pine Island Road, next to the Bayport Inn.
A 2-1/2 mile drive through the marsh leads to Pine Island, home to Hernando County’s only public beach.
Pine Island Beach Park is easy to find, being at the end of Pine Island Road, after passing through the small community. Admission fees at the park are $5.00. Unlike the other area parks, this one has a manned toll booth and gate.
After coming back down Pine Island Road and turning right on Cortez Road is the community of Bayport.
In the 1800s, Bayport was a significant port for Hernando County. Items such as cotton and lumber passed through the port. Remants of the former port no longer exist. The community now is entirely residential.
Bayport Park sits at the end of the road. It’s a small Hernando County park of about three acres, and includes a boat ramp.
Unspoiled coastal Florida at its finest.
Hernando Beach is the most populated of towns along the coast, with noticeably more traffic than the other towns. Bayport and Pine Island were particularly quiet due to them being at the end of the path.
Weeki Wachee Gardens was a nice little place, centered around the Weeki Wachee River.
Aripeka had the most older structures, and seemed to be very laid back. People drive through town slowly. A few residents were riding their bikes down the streets to get around town.
While all the amenities of Spring Hill are just a few miles away, the coast is its own world. The area is a terrific, uncongested getaway an hour north of Tampa.
Overall, a great place to spend a weekend, spend a few weekends a year, or even retire.