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Inn at Wildwood: Play golf or hike, fish and swim among yellow-billed cuckoos

Tim McDonaldBy Tim McDonald,
Wildwood Inn
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The Wildwood is a relatively isolated, low-key inn in a county overwhelmingly made up of state parks and national forests. (Courtesy of innatwildwood.com)

The Inn at Wildwood is a Florida golf resort that is within reach of a myriad of outdoor activities on Florida's "Forgotten Coast."

CRAWFORDVILLE, Fla. - The Inn at Wildwood advertises itself as an "eco-friendly, nature-based lodge" and that's obvious from the start, both from its wooded location, so close to the Gulf of Mexico and a variety of freshwater and brackish rivers, and the fact that they let you know at check-in there's a $200 fine for smoking in your room.

It's 30 minutes south of Tallahassee, which puts you in one of the last, relatively undeveloped areas of Florida. It's sometimes referred to as the "Forgotten Coast."

The inn itself is clean and comfortable, with a fitness center, pool and tennis courts, and of course the golf course, Wildwood Country Club, but the real attraction here is the surrounding nature areas.

There are all sorts of excursions on nearby rivers, like the Econfina, Ochlockonee and Wakulla, as well as Apalachee Bay: riverboat and sunset cruises in nearby Sopchoppy, a variety of hikes and recreational pursuits like world-class fishing, hiking, biking, kayaking, diving and horseback riding.

No neon here; this is a relatively isolated, low-key inn in a county overwhelmingly made up of state parks and national forests. You come here to get into the woods while being comfortable. The hotel is surrounded by more than a thousand square miles of protected land, and the staff will set up an excursion for you.

If you're a nature enthusiast, in addition to being a golfer, there are a lot of options. The Wakulla Springs State Park has one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, bubbling up from the deep with some of the cleanest, purest water on earth.

The park has daily guided riverboat tours and glass-bottom boats when the water is clear. Wakulla Springs Lodge was built in 1937 and is a National Natural Landmark.

Much better for the bird enthusiast is the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, established back in the 1930s as a winter habitat for migrating birds. This refuge has some of the best bird watching in the country, a place where you can spot exotic species like yellow-billed cuckoos, snow geese, loons and purple gallinules - the bird that I have personally designated as the most beautiful bird in Florida.

The refuge is a huge place you can get lost in: 68,000 acres along the Gulf Coast, including coastal marshes, islands, tidal creeks and estuaries of seven North Florida rivers. The St. Marks lighthouse is still in use today.

The Apalachicola National Forest is the largest national forest in Florida and home to the endangered, red-cockaded woodpecker.

If you're a hiker, the national forest encompasses 70 miles of the Florida Trail, some of the most remote hiking in Florida.

If you'd rather glide over the rivers, some of the prettiest in the country, there is the Wakulla River canoe trail where you can spot manatee, otters, alligators and more. Try the Hideaway Rental at the U.S. 98 bridge over the Wakulla Rover - you can't miss it. They rent kayaks, including fishing kayaks, and canoes. The manatee season runs from April through October.

There are also birding and wildlife tours, history, archaeology and geology tours and nature photography trail rides.

Then there is the fishing - which seems to go together with many golfers. Your best bet around here is probably light tackle fishing for speckled sea trout on the grass flats from Ochlocknee to the Aucilla River. This is a beautiful stretch with few houses along the coastline, a rarity for Florida.

You can also try for redfish along the marsh grasses and oyster bars, and up in the creeks, cobia, often mistaken for sharks, and tarpon, one of the classic, all-time fighters, can be found. Tarpon season is from the first of June through the end of August.

Of course, you'll want to get comfortable after a long day of outdoor exertion. The inn has a variety of rooms, all with free, high-speed Internet.

The double queen is designed for families and has the most sleeping space. There is also the king and queen suite, the king sleeper suite with a pull-out sofa/sleeper couch and the executive suite, more than twice the size of the regular suites. It has a garden Jacuzzi tub, king sleigh bed, leather sofa and love seats, and a view of the golf course.

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The Inn at WildwoodWildwood Country Club

Veteran golf writer Tim McDonald keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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