For prime manatee watching, head to Blue Spring State Park or Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

    For prime manatee watching, head to Blue Spring State Park or Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

    - Carol Grant for VisitCitrus.com

    Florida State Parks: 175 Natural Adventures, for Every Personality

    By Jodi Mailander Farrell          

    Up for a wild adventure? Or is a remote, secluded island more your speed? Florida has a state park for you.

    From thrill seekers and nature lovers to dreamers and history buffs, the planet has custom-designed the wilderness here to please every personality.

    Covering more than 1,250 square miles, Florida’s natural theme parks possess the best of the state’s raw resources, offering clear, 72-degree spring waters and waterfalls, award-winning beaches, and mysterious caves. With Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park near Gainesville recently becoming Florida’s 175th state park, there’s a planet-friendly space here to match every superlative.

    Why stop at one? Purchase a Florida State Parks Annual Pass to save money and explore many. Plan your journey on the Florida State Parks website or use this brief guide to jump-start a trip.

     

    Christ of the Abyss is an iconic underwater statue at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.

    Christ of the Abyss is an iconic underwater statue at John Pennekamp State Park in Key Largo.

    - Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA

     

    Best park for snorkeling

    The first undersea park in the United States, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is Florida’s underwater version of the Grand Canyon. The park in Key Largo spans 70 nautical miles where snorkelers and scuba divers can explore an early Spanish shipwreck or the famous “Christ of the Abyss” statue. For land lubbers, there’s a 2½-hour, glass-bottomed boat tour.

    Best park for breakfast

    De Leon Springs State Park near Orlando is home to one of Florida’s most unique restaurants, the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House, known for its popular all-day, flip-your-own flapjacks.

    Best parks dripping with natural history

    Follow the underground trail on a 45-minute guided exploration of Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, west of Tallahassee. It’s the only Florida state park to offer public cave tours as a cool retreat. Or go high to marvel at the state’s highest waterfall at Falling Waters State Park near the Northwest Florida town of Chipley.

    Best park for beach horse rides

    Amelia Island State Park near Jacksonville offers the rare treat of horseback riding tours along the shoreline. The family-owned Kelly Seahorse Ranch at the southernmost end of the island takes riders out four times daily.

    Best park for lighthouse climbing

    The Cape Florida Lighthouse in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne offers a bird’s eye view of one of the “Top 10 Beaches in the United States.”

    Best park for tubing

    The nine major springs of Ichetucknee Springs State Park are a comfortable 73 degrees year-round, prime for floating on a tube down the clear, lazy waters near Fort White, northwest of Gainesville.

    Best park for whitewater rafting

    With Class III Whitewater rapids, Big Shoals State Park in White Springs is on the largest whitewater rapids in Florida. Thrill-seekers in kayaks and canoes can fly down the Suwannee River at top speed.

     

    Sebastian Inlet State Park, south of Melbourne, is home to one of Florida’s best beach breaks for surfers.

    Sebastian Inlet State Park, south of Melbourne, is home to one of Florida’s best beach breaks for surfers.

    - Richard Vogel/Sebastian Inlet State Park

     

    Best park for surfing

    Sebastian Inlet State Park, south of Melbourne, is one of Florida’s surfing hot spots . As the epicenter of East Coast competitive surfing, the swell magnet is where native sons, including Kelly Slater, the Hobgood twins and the Lopez brothers, first learned to rip.

    Best park for mermaid watching

    The famous mermaid show at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park in Spring Hill, north of Tampa, has been enthralling audiences since 1947.

    Best parks to spot manatee

    From mid-November through March, hundreds of manatee can be viewed atop the overlook at Blue Spring State Park, a designated manatee refuge near Daytona Beach with its own Manatee Cam. Across the state, at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, visitors can see West Indian manatee every day from the park’s underwater observatory.

    Best park to discover African-American history

    One of the most important sites in American history, Fort Mose Historic State Park in St. Augustine is the site of the first free community of ex-slaves, founded in 1738, when la Florida was a Spanish colony. Reenactments, replicas and an interactive museum bring the past to life.

    Best park to play pioneer

    Dudley Farm Historic State Park, just west of Gainesville, is a real working farm from the 19th century. Staff dress in period clothing as they shuck corn, raise crops and tend livestock.

    Best park for ogling orchids

    Covering more than 77,000 acres of linear swamp forest in Southwest Florida near the Everglades town of Copeland, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, also known as the “Amazon of North America, is Florida’s largest state park. The vast wilderness is the continent’s orchid and bromeliad capital, with 44 native orchids, including the rare and endangered ghost orchid, the subject of books and movies.

     

    Sunrise at Boneyard Beach in photo-friendly Big Talbot Island State Park in Jacksonville.

    Sunrise at Boneyard Beach in photo-friendly Big Talbot Island State Park in Jacksonville.

    - Lisa Westberry/Florida Department of Environmental Protection

     

    Best park for nature photographers

    The maritime forest at Big Talbot Island State Park in Jacksonville is a favorite photo spot, with a giant driftwood collection on mile-long “Boneyard Beach.”

    Best parks for camping

    Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys offers the joys of beach camping, with three island campsites for tents or RVs, along with six cabins for rent. In Northwest Florida, campers can utilize 59 full-facilities camp sites or 39 modern cabins amid the powdery, white sand and emerald water of Grayton Beach State Park in South Walton.

    That’s just a taste of Florida’s state parks. Discover much more on the Florida State Parks website.

    Places to Remember

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