Science class might have been boring in school, but these excursions that put visitors up close and personal with wildlife and nature are anything but dull. If you’re looking to add an educational element to your next family trip, learn more about the places you’re visiting, or just enjoy any excuse to plan an outdoor adventure, be sure to check out the great excursions below.
Science and biology meet sailing in the newest offering from St. Augustine Sailing. Sail Science Adventures offers guests a chance to set sail with resident professor Dr. Dale Edgar and learn about various topics, including local wildlife, geology, and history. Each excursion is two hours long, and guests will set sail on one of St. Augustine Sailing’s luxury sailing yachts. Private and shared excursions are available as well. Sails depart daily from the Camachee Cove Yacht Harbor marina, at the base of the Vilano Bridge. Currently, tours are available that focus on birds, manatees, turtles, and dolphins.
Enjoy a 3-mile guided kayak tour, soak in scenic views and potentially spot otter, osprey, bald eagles and bats leaving a cave at dusk during the Nickajack Bat Cave Sunset Kayak Tour. Biologically, Nickajack Cave is one of the most important caves in the Tennessee Valley, serving as a maternity roost for the gray bat. Pregnant females arrive in spring to give birth to a single pup. Pockets in the cave ceiling trap warm air, which provides just the right temperature for developing baby bats. Gray bats feed on insects over the reservoirs, consuming thousands of emerging adult aquatic insects, moths, and beetles each night. In one year, this colony may consume 274,000 pounds of insects. Cliff swallows feed on the same insects during the day. They build jug-like mud nests in the twilight zone on the ceiling of Nickajack Cave. The bats and birds share the same habitat and food source, but on different schedules. However, the cave is gated to protect the bats within the cave and no caving or climbing is permitted.
If kayaking isn’t your thing, the bats can also be seen from a viewing platform each evening between late April and early September (in the fall, they migrate to cooler caves to hibernate). To access the viewing platform, park at the Maple View Recreation Area and walk along the board walk and trail to the viewing platform.
One of America’s most biologically diverse states, Alabama is a bird-watching paradise for tourists and natives alike. The Yellowhammer State is home to no less than 430 species of colorful birds, from bald eagles to wild turkeys. For 2023, Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama Tourism Department launched the “Year of Alabama Birding.” The Year of Alabama Birding will showcase Alabama’s abundant and unique wildlife, unspoiled natural beauty and hidden outdoor attractions that are sure to interest birders and other lovers of nature. Visitors can find great places to view different species of birds here as well as in the 2023 Alabama Vacation Guide, which includes top birding trails and events.
“Growing up on a farm in rural southwest Alabama, I have always been fascinated with the wide variety of beautiful native and migratory birds gracing our skies,” said Governor Ivey. “Birding is a wonderful pastime and Alabama offers so much to the outdoor lover. The Year of Alabama Birding is dedicated to introducing both tourists and residents to many of Alabama’s ‘unsung’ feathered friends, and to encourage the personal discovery of Alabama’s wildlife and natural wonders.”
While he is committed to making birding one of the department’s popular “Year of” campaigns, Alabama Tourism Department Director Lee Sentell said the title may not give the campaign its full due.
“We aren’t ending it after one year,” Sentell said. “We will be launching components of the birding campaign during the next two years, and the impact will carry on far beyond that.”
Care to explore nature, but away from the summer humidity, sun, and bugs? There’s a destination for that, too. The Audubon Nature Institute recently completed its renovation of the Audubon Aquarium of Americas and Insectarium this summer. This project is the biggest renovation of the Aquarium since it opened on Canal Street in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1990. The new renovation includes approximately 17,000 square feet of new exhibit space constructed inside the existing walls of the Aquarium as well as 2,500 square feet of the existing Aquarium breezeway space that will be enclosed to create a shared public lobby. Tickets to visit the renovated Audubon Aquarium are on sale here.
The 120-foot dining and entertainment ship, Lady Caroline, started service this year in mid-June in Cleveland, Ohio with sightseeing cruises on Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River. Lady Caroline is equipped with four decks, three climate-controlled and one open-air, all featuring scenic views of the city skyline and waterfront. Lady Caroline departs from the Flats West Bank with a variety of cruise options, including lunch, brunch, dinner and private charter cruises.
Lodging by Field Station in Moab, Utah is conveniently located just outside of both Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Field Station isn’t your typical overnight accommodations, but is a brand focused on the outdoor community and exploration. They offer bookable experiences, community offerings, and gear rentals to make exploring the parks and region around Moab easy. rom a mountain biking tour of Moab or testing teamwork with white-water rafting down the Colorado River, Field Station’s guided tour partners help guests get safely in and out of their comfort zones.
Field Station also hosts guest speakers and regular workshops and classes, and their rental program offers everything needed for a hike in Arches or Canyonlands and other local adventures, including trekking poles, backpacking gear, kid carriers, and more. “Van Life Posts” also offer guests access to all communal areas, WiFi, hookups, bathrooms, showers, and the outdoor pool starting at just $29 per night.
“Our vision is to integrate beautiful design with welcoming hospitality in the outdoors and make it easier for people to experience nature is coming true in Moab today,” said Neil Dipaola, CEO and founder of AutoCamp Hospitality Group. “Moab, Utah is our inaugural Field Station hotel bringing lodging, retail, rental gear, outdoor education, and experiences all under one roof to offer the active outdoor community a welcoming place to engage and begin their next adventure.”