There are around 200 national and state parks in Florida, which makes dwindling the number down to 17 a terrifying yet fun activity.
Florida is home to vast swamplands, stunning barrier islands and everything in between. You can quickly fill up your itinerary equally between hiking, biking, kayaking and relaxing swims in the balmy Gulf of Mexico.
The diverse landscapes ensure the state and national parks in Florida are just as varied. The Sunshine State has a long past which covers Native American history and early Spanish settlement. You’ll find examples of both in many protected parks, thanks to forts and ancient mounds. With the addition of spectacular maritime worlds and natural springs, many of the state’s best parks blend culture, history and nature to perfection.
17. Blue Spring State Park
It took migrating manatees who guided researchers toward Blue Spring for this state park to be established in the 1970s. The stroke of luck has led to protecting one of the best natural springs in the state.
Visitors to Blue Springs State Park can rely on the water being a consistently balmy 72 degrees. After diving in, you can swim right up to the spring with the limestone rocks warming the water beneath your feet.
The state park remains one of the best places to spot manatees in the wild. You can also tube down the tranquil river, go for a snorkel or grab a paddle and venture off on a kayak.
16. Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
Visitors to Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park will be able to immerse themselves in history with a journey back to the Civil War and beyond. You’ll find this state park on the southern end of Key West and construction began in the 1840s.
Today, you can explore the fort and learn about its position in both the Spanish American War and the battle between the Union and the Confederacy. In the Civil War, the fort was a major deterrent for potential Confederacy invasion via sea. You can also discover the nation’s biggest collection of weaponry from the war.
Afterwards, pay a visit to one of the best beaches in Key West, which is found within the park.
15. Caladesi Island State Park
Along the Gulf Coast, Caladesi island State Park is found on an untouched speck of land that’s teeming with natural splendor. Visitors can only arrive here by boat, whether that be a private craft, ferry or kayak. On arrival, you can wander along the picturesque beach that offers some of the best beach combing in the state.
Hiking trails guide you to the Scharrer Homestead and a look into the early human history here. Soon the turquoise waters will call your name, to swim and to snorkel. Later, jump on a kayak and explore the incredible coastline that features mangrove tunnels where exotic birds hang in the canopies.
14. Fort Clinch State Park
For a great blend of nature and history, it’s hard to pass up a visit to Fort Clinch State Park. History buffs and outdoor enthusiasts will be busy with a full slate of activities. If you consider yourself to be both, then you’ll be flat out.
Within the park, you’ll find rows of ancient cannons that tell the tale of the Civil War. Venture into the fort to experience life here in the 19th century as a Union Soldier. There are also regular demonstrations of historic weaponry.
But the rest of the park is a sprawling preserve that boasts maritime hammocks, centuries old oaks and hiking trails to memorable views.
13. Wekiwa Springs State Park
In central Florida, Wekiwa Springs State Park is the perfect escape from the organized chaos, otherwise known as the theme parks in Orlando. The state park will be a welcome change of pace after days of rides. But the springs are also well worth traveling from further afield.
There are dozens of miles of hiking trails through the surrounding nature. They help show off beautiful landscapes that quickly disperse to make way for glistening lakes, streams and springs. Trade in the hiking shoes for a kayak to experience the beauty of the park’s water or chuck on some snorkel gear for a better view.
You can stay overnight at the 60 campsites. There are also concession stands for a midday feed.
12. Gulf Islands National Seashore
Minutes from Pensacola is the Gulf Islands National Seashore, one of the largest protected coastlines in the US. The seashore is found along a barrier island that can be accessed via one of two bridges. But within minutes, you’ll leave civilization behind and experience true paradise.
The powdery golden sand makes for majestic beach days, long walks and epic sunsets. It’s a place to relax away from the crowds and without any signs of modern development. Beyond the beautiful beaches and bright blue water is a lush ecosystem home to an abundance of birds, like osprey and herons. They’re interrupted briefly by a trio of historic forts.
11. Silver Springs State Park
The many springs found around Florida make for wonderful day trips for locals. But if you’re traveling to Florida and have to pick one, it would be Silver Springs State Park. It was here, around 150 years ago, that tours were led to the springs, making it one of the state’s original attractions. Today, its popularity is yet to wane.
You can explore the park as they did back then on a glass-bottomed boat or jump on a kayak. The springs and surrounding waterways show off a remarkably diverse collection of flora and fauna. Gaze through the crystal clear waters to spot manatees or look up into the canopies and see wild monkeys swinging about.
10. Canaveral National Seashore
Spread along a barrier island off the east coast of Florida, Canaveral National Seashore comprises dunes, coastal hammocks and pristine beaches. This undeveloped shoreline is your release from the nearby beach towns of New Smyrna and Titusville. It’s a sanctuary for flora and fauna, while harboring an interesting look into the lives of the Timacua people.
Most of your time here will be focused on enjoying the spectacular coast. Forget resorts and beachfront bars. You’ll be in the heart of a wild, beautiful and uninhabited shoreline. That is, if you don’t count the hundreds of animal and bird species.
After swimming, check out the nature trails which guide you along the coast, showcasing over 1,000 plant species and past ancient Native American mounds.
9. Apalachicola National Forest
Close to Tallahassee, Apalachicola National Forest is a blend of rivers, lakes and swamps alongside cypress and longleaf pine. It all combines to form the largest forest in Florida, yet as you’d expect, there’s just as much to do on water.
The national forest boasts over 80 miles of hiking trails. The top trail covers multiple days as you make your way through the heart of the interior Bradwell Bay Wilderness Area. There are also a half dozen shorter interpretive trails that peel back the curtain on this beautiful park.
Swimming and kayaking are two other common activities. There are white sand beaches on the edge of Silver Lake along with picnic areas and nearby campsites.
8. Biscayne National Park
It can be hard to comprehend how close Biscayne National Park is to the Art déco buildings and rowdy nightclubs of Miami. But it’s the closeness and the beauty of the national park that makes it one of the best day trips from the south Florida city.
Around 95% of Biscayne National Park is water. It’s a veritable wonderland, with small specks of emerald isles, baby blue water and vibrant reefs. On dry land, you can explore Elliott Key on guided adventures or camp overnight under the glistening stars.
But be sure to bring your swim gear so you can explore the world beneath the surface, or go paddling along the coast of the keys.
7. Henderson Beach State Park
In Destin, Florida, along the Gulf of Mexico, are the resplendent sand dunes within Henderson Beach State Park. All up, there are 35 towering dunes that lead you down to the balmy Gulf waters, creating a beach day that will linger long in your memory.
The dunes reach the soaring heights of 30 feet and can be explored from a distance on the beautiful nature trail. This takes you by the dunes and through the last coastal scrub remaining in this part of Florida.
Aside from taking a leisurely stroll, it’s a popular spot to fish. There are several large picnic areas with BBQ grills and bathrooms. While the picturesque waters invite you in for a swim and you may even spot turtles and dolphins.
6. Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Many of the protected lands in Florida revolve around incredible scenery on land and in the water. But Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, in St. Augustine, offers travelers a different experience.
Work on the castle began in 1672, making it over 350 years old. It’s one of the oldest structures in Florida and was built to stave off potential invasion of what was then Spanish territory.
Visitors will enjoy a fascinating look at the beginning of modern day Florida. Insightful ranger tours take you through the impressive fortress and along the way you’ll discover historic weaponry, life in the fort and regular firing of the ancient cannons.
5. Big Cypress National Preserve
Bigger than Rhode Island and the first national preserve in the United States, Big Cypress National Reserve is as impressive as it is underrated. Here, visitors can explore uncharted territory, of vast swampland that remains untouched and utterly wild.
The preserve has been the home of Seminoles and Miccosukees for centuries, two communities who played a major role in the establishment of the preserve. Today, you can enjoy both the stunning nature and culture of the park, including the many tales from eras past.
The best way to get around is on a kayak. From the water, you can appreciate the varied nature, enjoy bird watching and even keep your eye out for the artful panther.
4. Bahia Honda State Park
Often lost among the beauty of the Florida Keys is Bahia Honda State Park. But we are here to tell you, you shouldn’t skip it on your way to Key West. It features one of the best beaches in a region overflowing with amazing stretches of sand. While visitors will find ample campsites and cabins to wake up in paradise.
The aforementioned beach is Calusa Bach. It’s a crescent-shaped shoreline with glistening turquoise water that is as clear as glass. Snorkel or kayaking along the calm surface and enjoy amazing visibility. Those paddling can also venture all the way to Little Bahia Honda. Other sites include the impressive Bahia Honda Bridge.
3. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Covering 70 nautical miles, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was the first park of its kind in the US. The state park is roughly an hour south of Miami, just off Highway 1 that continues all the way to Key West. The park is unique and offers a vast stretch of protected reef that leads to unforgettable snorkeling and scuba diving.
If you’re tired of hiking, don’t worry. All the fun here is under water. Ditch the hiking boots, put on your snorkel gear, and get exploring. Along with the reefs, you’ll find tropical hammocks and rich mangroves teeming with marine life. To see it all and stay dry, you can even jump on a glass-bottom boat!
2. Dry Tortugas National Park
Spanning seven gorgeous isles, Dry Tortugas National Park is a spellbinding sight. The park comprises amazing nature alongside fascinating history being the location of Fort Jefferson, which was built in the 1800s.
The national park is a lengthy journey south of Miami, yet the drive and ensuing ferry ride is well worth it. After scooting along the Keys, you’ll arrive in a quintessential tropical landscape. The golden sand envelopes the islands, leading you to prismatic reefs and colorful marine life.
After spotting turtles in great numbers, explore the fort, which is the biggest masonry structure in the United States. Stick around for the epic sunset and with eight campsites in Dry Tortugas National Park, you don’t have to rush to return to the mainland.
1. Everglades National Park
Forget the state of Florida, the Everglades National Park is a vast and distinct park that belongs in the national conversation. It’s a swath of land like few others in the country, a place to spot lingering alligators looming beneath the surface and kayak through vast swamps that lead to glistening lakes.
The Everglades is a wild, ever changing place and so utterly Florida. It’s warm, jungle-like and attracts a varied collection of animals, both prey and fodder. You can explore the many ecosystems on hiking and biking trails that snake throughout. Or embark on tours that bring you close to nature and the many hundreds of bird species that frequent the national park.
With so much of the park wetlands, you also can’t miss out on kayaking along the Wilderness Waterway.