There is more to Florida than beaches and theme parks! This scenic byway which passes through West Volusia County exemplifies all that locals and tourists can enjoy which is rooted in local Florida culture, history and nature.
The Native Americans of the area, the Timucua, referred to the St. Johns River as the “Welaka,” which meant “River of Lakes.” The St. Johns River and the series of lakes it connects were the lifeline and the roadway for centuries of inhabitants, settlers, travelers and tourists. From the Timucua, to the early Spanish and English settlers and plantation owners, to Civil War supply lines and the 1800s Steamboat Era, the River of Lakes provided the passageway, the supply line, and the source of life.
The River of Lakes Heritage Corridoris a Florida Scenic Byway which connects travelers to the numerous cities, towns, heritage and cultural sites. The River of Lakes Heritage Corridor (ROLHC) embodies a unique blend of sophisticated contemporary culture, rich historic preservation, and gorgeous natural Florida.
The charm of this area has drawn many new developments in recent decades, with four-star restaurants and regal art galleries thriving alongside good old BBQ joints and antique architecture. Spanish moss sways over the sidewalks during the many festivals and concerts. You are never too far away from nature along this byway – and many locals have their bikes and kayaks at the ready.
Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway is packed with hidden treasures, and calls out to the Discoverer in all of us, luring us to get out of the car “touch the forest”, as local author Dana Ste. Claire puts it. Unlike a road like Blue Ridge Parkway, where you can gaze at mountains from the car, this byway demands you get off-road to see why it’s a nationally designated site of beauty.
This road leads you to a mosaic of natural sites and communities surrounding one of Florida’s most distinctive ecosystems, known as the Big Scrub. The Big Scrub is the largest continuous sand pine forest created from ancient sand dunes capped with vegetation adapted to a lack of water. Traversing eastern Marion County and parts of Lake, Putnam and Volusia counties, the 60-mile long corridor along SR 40 serves as the backbone for a network of scenic roads and interpretive trails.
The surrounding land includes the Ocala National Forest, Lake George State Forest, Heart Island Conservation Area and Tiger Bay State Forest. A main attraction of the area is the many springs glittering along the byway, as well as the proximity of waterways for travel and recreation. The Florida black bear is at its highest population density here; these ambassadors of the byway are often close to the road, so look out for them!