I fell in love with this adorable city in Citrus County right away. For one thing, Inverness is bordered on all sides by majestic nature.
Ten minutes west you’ve got the Withlacoochee River, ready for airboat tours, while the lakes and swamps of the Flying Eagle Preserve are even closer.
Inverness has a small but sweet downtown, presided over by a palatial courthouse. This serves as a local history museum, with eateries, local shops, and a restored Art Deco theater at hand.
A designated Trail Town, Inverness is a breeze to explore by bicycle. Like a traffic-free highway, the Withlacoochee State Trail passes by the downtown and gets you to a host of local attractions.
1. Downtown Inverness
At the heart of a place described as a “small town done right”, downtown Inverness feels simultaneously old and brand new. Instantly, I noticed how easy it was to get anywhere on foot or by bike.
On the courthouse square is a small directory of restaurants, with plenty more on nearby streets. Meanwhile you can browse independent shops for antiques, clothing, jewelry, homewares, and bicycle accessories.
Constellated with dignified live oaks, the courthouse square knits the whole district together, and has echoes of Old Florida. From here you’re a brief stroll from the Withlacoochee State Trail, and its local network of connected spaces.
2. The Old Courthouse Heritage Museum
Inverness’s historical showpiece is the Old Citrus County Courthouse (1912), which melds several Revivalist styles and is recognized by its grand copper cupola.
The building was decommissioned in 1970, and by the 1990s was starting to crumble. There was talk of demolition until it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, and restored over the next decade.
One cool detail I learned is that the restoration work in the second floor courtroom used the Elvis Presley vehicle, Follow that Dream—filmed here in 1961—as a reference.
The museum, run by the Citrus County Historical Society, documents many facets of local history. You can find out about the county’s prehistory and Native American past, as well as its citrus industry, movie industry, and the pioneer days.
The restored second-floor courtroom tells the story of Elvis Presley’s few weeks in Inverness in the summer of 1961.
3. Fort Cooper State Park
A couple of miles southwest of downtown Inverness, Fort Cooper State Park weaves together beautiful nature and riveting history.
This is the site of Fort Cooper, which was besieged by the Seminole leader Osceola during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Every March there’s a large-scale reenactment of this event, complete with a lineup of vendors and food trucks.
On my walk I spent time poring over the informative kiosks along the trails, curling around the north and west shore of Lake Holathikaha.
The Withlacoochee State Trail passes by on the park’s western boundary, while amenities include picnic areas, canoe rentals, a playground, fishing spots, and picnic areas.
4. Valerie Theater
Like many historic theaters in America, the Valerie Theater has gone through a cycle of booms and busts. Built in an early Art Deco style the ‘20s, for much of its life it fell into disuse and disrepair.
After extensive renovations, it was finally reopened just a few years ago. It is now a popular entertainment stage, featuring movies, concerts, musicals, plays, and special events all year.
I love the old-time glamor of this venue, combined with modern sound and lighting, which make for great shows.
5. Cooter Pond Park
The place to go for an al fresco meal downtown, this park is on the eponymous pond, a few steps from the courthouse. Cooter Park Pond is the kind of space I think any city would love to have.
Right from the sidewalk you can get onto a boardwalk, snaking along the pond’s marshy shore. There’s a covered overlook at the junction of the boardwalk’s two arms.
In spring and summer you’ll see gallinules with their young, as well as turtles, plentiful fish, and no lack of alligators. In fact, hatchling alligators can be seen in their hundreds between July and September.
Cooter Pond Park is one of several public spaces in Inverness to be linked to the Withlacoochee State Trail.
6. Withlacoochee State Trail
One of Florida’s longest paved trails cuts right through Inverness. Stretching nearly 50 miles, the Withlacoochee State Trail is on a former railroad right of way, dating back to the 1890s.
The trail underpins Inverness’s status as one Florida’s most bicycle-friendly cities. You can use it to get to a whole host of places on my list from the boardwalk-lined shore of Henderson Lake to the historical Fort Cooper State Park.
Around Inverness, the path diverges from US 41, so has a more peaceful feel than on other stretches. Head north and you’ll pass along old trestles and high embankments.
Meanwhile, at Pineola, about an hour by bike to the south, you can visit the scene of a disaster in 1956, when two freight trains collided head-on.
7. Inverness Festival of the Arts
Crystal County’s longest-running art show takes over the Courthouse Square on the first weekend in November. When I went to press the Inverness Festival of the Arts had recently passed its 50th anniversary.
It’s a juried event, with $10,000+ in prize money, inviting a nationwide diversity of artists downtown. Categories include clay, glass, sculpture, printmaking, metal, mixed media, watercolor, digital art, photography and painting.
Thousands of people show up to admire these works and purchase a special something. There are also engaging interactive exhibits for all ages, as well as live music, and a range of local food and drink.
8. Flying Eagle Preserve
If you’re really up for some adventure there’s an extraordinary, 10,950-acres park that can be accessed on the east side of town.
Bordered to the east by the Withlacoochee River, Flying Eagle Preserve is in a landscape dominated by water. This is a system of little lakes, with marshes and swampland giving way to islands of wooded uplands.
I appreciate the convenience of the trail, starting at E Moccasin Slough Rd. You can begin your expedition five minutes from downtown. From here you’ll have access to more than 20 miles of trails, including an easy six-mile loop.
My one word of advice is to be prepared for wet hiking, as the trails can be heavily affected by seasonal conditions, especially in summer.
9. Whispering Pines Park
West of downtown, this large community park stretches all the way to the Withlacoochee State Trail, which grazes it on the north side. On almost 300 acres, Whispering Pines Park is a tract of pine and hardwood nature filled with things to do.
Among the many features are a 25-meter pool, tennis/pickleball courts, basketball courts, a lot of picnic spots, two whole 18-basket disc golf courses, a playground, and a seasonal splash pad.
To my mind, Whispering Pines Park is an excellent place for a stroll or bike ride. If you have time, you could do a loop, via the Withlacoochee Trail starting and ending downtown.
10. Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours
The ultimate way to explore the Withlacoochee River and untamed surrounding swamps is in classic Florida style on an airboat. Awaiting you on the riverbank just east of downtown is Wild Bill’s Airboat Tours.
Even by airboat standards, this is a high-speed adventure, aboard a boat with 600 horsepower. You’ll zoom past magnificent cypress and maple trees in search of alligators, turtles, deer, eagles, turkeys, wading birds, snakes, and maybe even bears.
The entertaining guide/driver is a big part of the appeal of these tours. Back on the company’s property, younger family members can have their picture taken holding a baby gator.
11. Citrus County Speedway
Across US 41 from Fort Cooper State Park there’s a ⅜-mile asphalt oval with an action-packed calendar from January to November.
Saturday is race day at the Citrus County Speedway, with a long list of categories to checkout. When I wrote this article these were Sprint Cars, Pure Stocks, Pro Trucks, Mini Stocks, Bandoleros, Legend Cars, to name a few.
What you get is roaring engines, enthusiastic fans, and an exhilarating atmosphere. Even for non-race fans, it’s an experience that shouldn’t be missed.
Kids and teens will be amped for the Night of Carnage, normally in January. This brings mayhem like a figure-eight race with school buses.
12. Liberty Park
West of Wallace Brooks Park on the Withlacoochee State Trail is Liberty Park, which is in a clearing by Henderson Lake.
Not so much a place for sports, Liberty Park is somewhere to soak up the astonishing natural scenery in Inverness’s backyard.
A boardwalk, the Liberty Trail, connects the lakefront in both parks. My favorite way to start a new day in Inverness is at the little shelter/overlook by the water.
On the state trail opposite Liberty Park is Inverness’s Depot District, with preserved railroad infrastructure. When I took a look, the old train station from 1892 had just been repurposed as the Train Station restaurant.
13. Ziggy’s Haven Bird Sanctuary
An inspiring place to visit, this not-for-profit bird sanctuary has been operating in Inverness for more than 20 years. I was pleased to find out that you can just show up during office hours, Monday through Saturday for a tour.
Ziggy’s Haven Bird Sanctuary is a strictly no-kill/no-breed facility, taking in exotic birds that are mostly unwanted pets. One look at these macaws, cockatiels, and parakeets and you’ll know that they’re well cared for.
You can find out the work that is done to look after these birds, and admire their large and stimulating habitats/aviaries. The sanctuary works on the philosophy that people have a responsibility for tame birds, and arranges adoption, subject to bonding.
14. Just Horse’n Around Horseback Riding
Seeing the landscapes around Inverness, one of the first things that came to my mind was how nice it would be to experience the countryside on horseback.
You can do this with Just Horse’n Around, which offers trail rides in a 9,000-acre preserve. The trails meander through a stunning pine ecosystem, and you can choose from one-hour to three-hour rides.
If you’re just starting out, you might opt for a one-to-one lesson from the farm’s friendly and knowledgeable instructors. There are also magical full-moon rides, and you need to check the calendar for the next one.
15. Florida’s Best Blueberry Farm
In spring, a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours outside around Inverness is at this blueberry farm. The blueberry harvesting season varies year to year, but is normally sometime around April.
At this time of year, Florida Best Blueberry Farm has acres of bushes, open for U-Pick, with ripe, juicy berries by the bucketload. The little farmstand here sells blueberry jam, raw honey, and freshly picked flowers.
For a romantic activity with a loved one, I’d look out for one of the evening picking sessions.