5 Great Florida State Parks with Beaches
By Lauren Tjaden
You can discover some of the finest, most pristine beaches in the world at Florida’s state parks.
If you want to unplug and reconnect with nature – and at a bargain price – you can’t do better than these Sunshine State shores in our state parks.
1. John D. MacArthur Beach State Park
John D. MacArthur Beach State Park boasts tangles of mangrove swamps, trails that meander through canopies of trees, and a vast walkway that traverses a lagoon – never mind almost two miles of unspoiled Atlantic beach.
Nestled on a barrier island, this is the only Florida state park in Palm Beach County, an idyllic natural treasure in the midst of an urban jungle. It offers swimming, fishing, educational programs, special events, kayak rentals and exceptional snorkeling, as well as a nature center, gift shop, playground, and picnicking facilities.
If you visit during June or July, make sure to go on a guided sea-turtle walk, where you can watch a mother sea turtle lay her eggs under the cover of darkness.
2. Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park has it all – the best beaches in the Florida Keys, legendary snorkeling, a bounty of shore and wading birds, and a plentiful underwater population that will keep anglers smiling.
It also features a concession, a restaurant, kayak rentals, snorkeling tours of the reef, geo-seeking, and a butterfly garden. For the ultimate getaway, rent a vacation cabin or get some sand between your stakes in a full-facility campsite. Some of the sites are right next to the beach, where the sound of the surf can lull you to sleep.
Don’t miss hiking the trail up to the Old Bahia Honda Bridge; it plunges into the forest, spills out onto the old bridge, and finally, rewards you with soaring views of the entire island.
3. Big Talbot Island State Park
Big Talbot Island State Park is home to Boneyard Beach, a unique, eerie and strangely striking stretch of sand strewn with the bleached skeletons of dead trees.
Some, half-buried, rise out of the sand; some merely sprawl atop it. Some of their limbs oddly twist, others arch into the sky, ramrod straight.
There’s a simple explanation for the phenomenon: Live oaks and cedars, some a century old, grow on Big Talbot’s dunes. As the dunes erode, the trees tumble onto the beach below.
Besides offering unrivaled beauty, the trees’ remains provide shelter and food for coastal wildlife. The Florida state park is also ideal for nature study, bird-watching, and photography.
For a fascinating glimpse into its salt marsh, rent a kayak or take a guided paddle tour with Kayak Amelia (888-30-KAYAK). Kayak tours require advance reservations.
4. Lovers Key State Park
Lovers Key State Park promises two miles of natural beach, thick with white sand, that’s perfect for shelling, swimming, picnicking and sunbathing.
You might see manatees swirling in its waters, dolphins leaping from the surf, or bald eagles soaring on the salty currents of air.
This Florida state park features more than five miles of trails for hiking and bicycling, a boat ramp for anglers and explorers, as well as kayak tours and bicycle, canoe and kayak rentals.
For the ultimate romantic experience, have your wedding or renew your vows on the park’s shell-strewn shores.
5. Grayton Beach State Park
Grayton Beach State Park, a wonder of nearly 2,000 acres in South Walton, encompasses one of the most stunning, unblemished beaches in the United States.
The park also encompasses Western Lake, a rare coastal dune lake that’s ideal for both freshwater and saltwater fishing, and for canoeing, kayaking and paddle-boarding. It offers more than four miles of trails for cyclists and hikers, plus a full-facility campground and modern cabins.
Make sure to explore the nature trail; it winds over impressive dunes and through a coastal forest fringed by scrub oaks and magnolias.
All photos by Lauren Tjaden for VISIT FLORIDA