This understated rural city is on the western flank of the Clermont Chain of Lakes. In fact, a big portion of Mascotte’s area is made up of water, and there’s even more to the north and east.
Aside from lakes, the landscapes here are pasture interwoven with treed swamps and a growing number of residential subdivisions. I’ll never tire of the massive tracts of protected nature nearby.
A short drive southeast is Lake Louisa State Park, transitioning from open water to cypress swamps and stands of old-growth live oaks. Then on the west side of the city you can make your way through the famed Green Swamp along the Van Fleet Trail.
1. Lake Louisa State Park
With its many distinct environments you could compare this 4,500-acre state park to the different zones at Orlando’s theme parks. There are 11 unique communities, from piney sandhills to cypress swamps, and old-growth oak forests.
In addition to its namesake Lake Louisa, the park includes a series of smaller ponds and lakes. Naturally, fishing, paddling, kayaking, and birdwatching on the water are all big activities here.
Perhaps my ideal way to spend time at the park is picnicking under the grand live oaks on the south shore of Lake Louisa. This property also stands out for its horseback riding, with 16 miles of trails.
2. Lake Catherine Blueberries
What’s not to love about blueberries? These tasty, vitamin, and antioxidant-packed berries do extremely well in Central Florida.
Lake Catherine Blueberries is a U-Pick farm just down the road from Mascotte in Groveland. To my mind, heading out into the fields to pick my own fruit is just about the most rewarding way to spend a spring afternoon in these parts.
The farm stand here carries local raw honey, and other specialty food items like syrups and sauces.
The harvest season is generally between April and May. It’s even worth planning your trip accordingly if you’ve got a flexible schedule. If you happen to be in town in fall there’s a lot happening on weekends, with corn mazes, pumpkin painting, and live music.
3. Richloam WMA
West of Mascotte things start to feel remote, and within a short drive on SR 50 you’ll enter the Richloam Wildlife Management Area. This is one of seven tracts belonging to the Withlacoochee State Forest, and is absolutely vast.
The Richloam Wildlife Management Area is 58,000 acres of pine flatwoods with dispersed oak hammocks, cypress swamp, and bottomland hardwoods.
The Van Fleet Trail runs down the east side, and I’ll talk about this path below. But there’s also a knot of eight miles of shared trails, for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
On these trails you might come across gopher tortoises, white-tailed deer, and a slew of wading birds, from limpkins to wood storks.
4. Chase Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservancy
Fully accredited, this wildlife sanctuary not far west of Mascotte is engaged in important conservation and educational work. One of the missions of this organization is to discourage the primate pet and breeding trades.
Many of the animals in their care, from ring-tailed lemurs to sloths, are surrendered pets, and none are sold on.
Along those lines you can visit their facility for a variety of responsible animal encounters. I love how creative these experiences are, without intruding on the animals’ boundaries.
So you could have a painting class while lemurs clamber around, or try yoga with the same species. There are also interactive tours, and sloth and anteater experiences to choose from.
5. Van Fleet Trail
Mabel, five minutes west of Mascotte, is the northern trailhead for a 30-mile multi-use trail running as far as Polk City.
This rail trail is on the abandoned railbed of the Seaboard Air Line Railroad’s Miami Subdivision, laid down in the 1920s. The Van Fleet Trail is right up my street, with a wide and smooth path and very few roads to deal with.
As you make your way through the Green Swamp, the scenery is the main attraction. Raptors circle overhead, and you may catch a glimpse of alligators, nine-banded armadillos, gopher tortoises, and an amazing array of wading birds.
6. Park Road Complex
Also known as the Mascotte Recreational Complex, this facility is the main place to go in the city to watch or take part in sports.
In a quiet, residential part of the city, a little way off East Myers Boulevard, there are four lighted softball fields, accompanied by bleachers, restrooms and a concession stand, open during events.
Also at the complex is a basketball court, a soccer field and playground equipment with swings for children. Next to these features there’s a handful of picnic tables in the shade of several trees.
7. Lake David Park
Groveland’s small but charming downtown is a couple of minutes away. This is a good area to go for food, with options like coffee shops, pizza, Puerto Rican, Mexican, and fast food.
What knits the district together is picturesque Lake David, with a park that had just been improved when I passed through. There’s a super view of the lake, and you may see an astonishing array of birds, from egrets to eagles.
At the north end is an events pavilion, while the park continues down the eastern shore. A few of the elements here include two boat ramps, a skate park, a playground, observation areas, and a splash pad.
8. Wild Horse Rescue Center
It seems the people around Mascotte have kind hearts when it comes to animal welfare, as there’s a ranch close by in Webster, rescuing and rehabilitating mustangs and burros.
Established in 2000, the Wild Horse Rescue Center intervenes in cases where mustangs have been taken from the wild and ended up in neglectful situations.
These wild horses are given the care they need to live a dignified life, either at this ranch or in a carefully chosen new home. The center moved to its current property in 2019, complete with a large barn, covered paddocks, and eight stalls.
If you’d like to see the Wild Horse Rescue Center, I’d recommend a tour. These are available by appointment, and you’re encouraged to bring a bag of carrots for the residents, which include donkeys, and a few rescued dogs.
9. Paradise Airsports
Strewn with lakes, the landscapes around Mascotte are prettiest from the air. One way to see them is on a tandem hang gliding flight.
Paradise Airsports, a couple of minutes away in Groveland, offers exactly this. Now I’d normally associate hang gliding with hilly regions. But there’s a motorized solution to get into the air.
You’ll be towed by Dragonfly up to a specific altitude—from 2,500 to 5,280 feet, depending on the experience. From there you’ll be released to glide back to earth with a certified pilot in control.
The flying season is mainly in spring and fall, when the weather tends to be clearer.
10. The Monarch at Royal Highlands
The premier golf in the area open to the public is the semi-private The Monarch at Royal Highlands. Laid out in a 55+ community, this course has bermuda fairways and greens, always in tiptop condition.
Something that appealed to me was the relatively open and forgiving layout. The front nine is wilder, leading through wildlife rich wetlands, home to sandhill cranes and a couple of gators.
The back nine is a change of scene, a little tighter and with more elevation changes, requiring careful drive placement.
A ten-minute drive east will get you to Clermont, which broke out as a hub for the citrus industry at the turn of the 20th century.
Honoring this heritage is the 226-foot Florida Citrus Tower (1956), built at a time when the citrus groves swept out for miles in all directions. Those days are now gone, but the building is now a monument to early tourism in Central Florida.
Clermont has a beautiful location, on the southern shore of Lake Minneola. Waterfront Park is a picture-perfect venue for a ton of outdoor events, while there’s an effervescent historic downtown, and a farmers’ market well worth checking out on Sunday mornings.
12. Mi Tierra Taqueria Mexican Food
One of the area’s best-kept secrets, Mi Tierra Taqueria is the place to get your Mexican food fix.
It’s a humble hole-in-the-wall, counter serve spot, and easy to miss if you’re driving past. If like me you do make the stop, you won’t regret it. All of the essentials are here, from tacos to tamales, tostadas, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, and chiles rellenos.
Both the salsas (spicy red or mild green), and tortillas are homemade, which always makes a big difference. The best protein by my experience was the perfectly tender carne asada, with special mention for the carnitas and llengua.
13. Swiss Fairways Golf Course
When I played this course it had just been reconfigured from 18 holes to 9. Swiss Fairways Golf Course, is by the Swiss Waterski Resort, which creates an interesting backdrop for the waterside holes.
Abundant water, tight fairways and relatively small greens make the course challenging and fun. Also I have to say that the prices are very reasonable by Florida golf standards.
Weather can cause some disruption, especially after rainy spells in summer. But although the course probably isn’t up to Pebble Beach standards, it’s a fine pick for a round near Mascotte.
14. Rainbow Family Restaurant
Dating back to 1964, the Rainbow Family Restaurant is the perfect dining destination for those who want a laid-back environment, tasty, unpretentious fare, and reasonable prices.
Rainbow’s reputation has been built on delivering classic dishes with lots of fresh, local ingredients. A few perennial favorites are the chicken fried steak, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and beef melts, while my bacon and eggs were prepared perfectly.
For convenience, you could try the AYCE buffet, available for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Meanwhile, if you’re up for an indulgent sweet treat, don’t pass on their delicious homemade donuts.