Why should anyone drive roughly three and a half hours from Miami just to put a kayak in the water? Because Myakka River State Park offers fantastic paddling unlike anything in these parts. This is Florida's largest state park (roughly 45 square miles), and the Myakka is a rare gem, one of only two state-designated "wild and scenic" rivers. It flows for fourteen miles through the park boundaries, with many more miles downstream through protected lands -- all the way to Charlotte Harbor. The stretch between Upper Myakka Lake and Lower Myakka Lake meanders through a gorgeous landscape of moss-covered oaks, palm groves, and reedy marshes. A bazillion alligators live here, including some true leviathans. Up-close encounters are common. Between the lakes and the river, an earnest paddler would need at least a couple of full days to get a good feel for the place. And the place is much more than water, of course, including 39 miles of hiking and biking trails, plus camping facilities that range from primitive to comfy (the five historic log cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s). So plan ahead, make reservations (cabins book well in advance), and take a long weekend to enjoy an unforgettable kayaking experience.

According to no less an authoritative source than the Tropical Audubon Society, the southern portion of Everglades National Park is "one of the best winter birding locations in the United States." Check out Tropical Audubon's Website (www.tropicalaudubon.org) for a comprehensive list of species and specific locations, but suffice it to say that the sightings run from warblers (more than twenty species) to the endangered Cape Sable seaside sparrow to flamingos (real ones) to impressive natives such as bald eagles and every subtropical wading bird imaginable.

At 62 acres it is much more than just a neighborhood park, but not enough people outside the immediate vicinity make the effort to seek out A.D. Barnes. Their loss. Besides the amenities you'd expect at a park this size (swimming pool, basketball courts, barbecue huts, picnic pavilions), Barnes can boast two attractions that distinguish it: elaborate accommodations for the handicapped (including a wheelchair-accessible tree house) and an "urban nature preserve." Located in the northeastern section of the park, the preserve is a thickly wooded slice of untamed nature in the middle of suburbia. A network of cleverly designed hiking trails lead you through the forest primeval and among the many creatures that inhabit it. Keep your eyes open for everything from raccoons and nesting birds to colorful insects and spiders.

In Miami anything can be arranged -- for a price. For example, if you have an uncontrollable urge to race over the ocean in an ear-splitting, teeth-rattling go-fast boat, the folks at Club Nautico on Miami Beach could make it happen. Of course, owing to steep insurance costs and the need for an experienced skipper, you'll have to put up your firstborn and your house as collateral. Instead the Club Nautico agents suggest their 29-foot Bowrider, a sleek little wave skimmer that will get your adrenaline pumping at speeds up to 45 miles per hour. Also available -- and highly recommended -- is their larger and more luxurious 450 Sundancer, a speedy yacht with two spiffy staterooms and space for six cruisers. More than a dozen boats are on hand at Nautico for half-day or full-day charters at prices ranging from $300 to $3500. To hire a captain, add roughly $100 per four-hour rental period.

It's spacious (no throngs of sunbathing tourists) and it's always windy as hell. What else does a kite-flying enthusiast need? Sure, there are wide-open spaces in barren parts of Miami-Dade, but we don't want to send you to the middle of nowhere. Crandon Park is easily accessible, and provides beautiful scenery when you're not looking up. But we also don't recommend taking your eyes off your kite for too long. Wouldn't want to hit a little kid or something. The grassy athletic field between the north and south parking areas is an ideal spot to catch the prevailing southeasterly wind and unspool a few thousand yards of string.

Guerrilla skaters here regularly used to be escorted out by campus security, but today, thanks to Gov. Jeb Bush, a thrasher can ride for hours without being snagged. Simple reason. According to administrators, state funding cuts (the Bush connection) have forced a reduction in the campus security force of about twenty percent. Bad for late-night student stragglers trekking to their car in a distant parking lot. Good for thrashers. FIU's smooth concrete meanders throughout the center of the campus, with an angled descent into a central patio. The rest of the sprawling university is loaded with rails, small steps for wicked Ollies and McTwists, and plenty of handicap ramps. The courtyard area's smooth finish is perfect for smaller freestyle wheels and trucks, but if you want to go retro like a Z-boy, gleam the cube with an old-school, single-dip Vision or Santa Cruz board. Just don't eat it without a helmet. The health-and-wellness center is understaffed too. Thanks, Jeb!

This is not just a place for supermodels to sweat off water weight or body builders to stretch out their quads. What distinguishes Yogashala from the plethora of yoga studios and gym yoga classes in Miami is owner, director, and instructor Fred Busch. His positive attitude and serious attention to correct form and proper breathing not only enable people from all walks of life to get into yoga, he allows yoga to get into people from all walks of life. The studio offers classes in Ashtanga yoga, a branch of Hatha yoga. Nicknamed "Marine yoga" because of its vigorous nature, Ashtanga is a sequence of postures that synchronize movement and breath to create a moving meditation. It has become a favorite with one-word stars such as Sting and Madonna, but Yogashala is no temple for the body perfect. It's a sanctuary for those who want to calm the mind as well as strengthen the body. The space is minimalist in design, leaving room for Busch's soothing, almost liturgical voice to reverberate between its walls as practitioners of varying levels twist, turn, sweat, and om toward flexibility, strength, and serenity. Like any other yoga space, Yogashala on any given morning or evening heats up with sweating bodies, but it also radiates with something you won't find in a gym yoga class -- inspiration.

For offshore reef snorkeling we highly recommend Biscayne National Park (reservations: 305-230-1100). But for viewing sea creatures, and for convenience and price, nothing beats the rock jetty that demarcates the northern edge of Government Cut. You don't need an inflatable life vest. It's great to have a quality snorkel and swim fins, of course, but in truth all you need is a mask. The only other thing you'll pay for is parking in the lot at South Pointe Park, where Washington Avenue ends at Government Cut. Head out on the north (Miami Beach) side of the jetty. The farther you go, the deeper the water and the bigger the fish. You'll encounter virtually all the species you'd find out on the reefs further south, including grunts, butterflies, angels, parrots, eels, barracuda, and more.

Readers Choice: John Pennekamp Coral Reef and State Park

So close yet so far from the commercial frenzy of upper Biscayne Boulevard and Aventura, Greynolds Park is an oasis of green and calm from the minute you turn off West Dixie Highway. Designated picnicking areas, some with barbecues, abound. For a quieter, more contemplative time, consider a shady spot near the West Lake or one of the tables tucked away in clearings, the latter of which makes for an idyllic setting for sun-dappled, winter-afternoon nuptials. Should you need to burn off the eats, the park is crossed with paths, open fields beckon Frisbee players and kite flyers, and playgrounds are on hand for the smaller fry. And of course, duffers in the crowd can hit the links at the golf course. Operating hours at this county park are 8:00 a.m. to sundown. Admission is free on weekdays and just four dollars per car on weekends and holidays.

Readers Choice: Crandon Park

Over the years we've recommended nearly all the viable hiking trails accessible from the park's southern entrance. The Long Pine Key trail network and especially its unnamed but gorgeous offshoot just beyond Pine Glades Lake (details from the main visitors' center). The five-mile round-trip Rowdy Bend trail just north of Flamingo (don't bother with the nearby but monotonous Snake Bight trail). The Christian Point trail (four miles round trip) also near Flamingo. The Coastal Prairie trail (thirteen miles round trip) that begins at the western end of the Flamingo camping area and features an array of landscapes. Each trail has its charms and challenges, depending on the season and time of day. But here's something new. The park recently reopened its Mahogany Hammock trail, which wanders through one of the most lovely hardwood hammocks you'll ever see. But the boardwalk loop is only a half-mile long. So we suggest you park your car at the Mahogany Hammock turnoff from the park's main road and walk from there. Your passage will carry you into the vast sawgrass savannah, whose subtle wonders are impossible to appreciate from a car. Traffic on your asphalt trail will run from very light (weekdays) to moderate (weekends). Your reward at the end is the new boardwalk loop and the inviting coolness of the hammock. A round trip hike from the main road and through the loop is just under five miles.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®