By Jodi Mailander Farrell
Up for a wild adventure? Or, is a remote, secluded island more your speed? How about a trail, on land or water? Swimming? Camping? Just want to camp in the midst of tranquility?
Florida's state parks system all that, and more, a special outdoors place just for you.
From thrill seekers and nature lovers to dreamers and history buffs, the planet has custom-designed the Sunshine State's wilderness to please every personality.
Covering more than 1,250 square miles, these natural theme parks boast the best of the state’s raw resources, offering clear, 72-degree spring waters and waterfalls, award-winning beaches, and mysterious caves.
Florida has nearly 200 state parks, campgrounds, preserves, recreation areas and trailheads. There’s a planet-friendly space here to match every personality, every superlative.
But why stop at one? Purchase a Florida State Parks Annual Pass to save money and explore many, or all of them. Plan your journey on the Florida State Parks website or use this guide below to jump-start a trip.
Best State 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 State 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 State Parks for 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 State 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 State Park for Lighthouse Climbing
Best State 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 State 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.
Best State 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 State Parks for the Beach
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. Bahia Honda State Park has 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
Best State Park for Mermaid Watching
Best State Parks to Spot Manatees
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 State 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 State Park to Play Pioneer
Best State 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.
Best State Park for Nature Photographers
Best State 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.
Following, a list of the state's parks, campgrounds, preserves, trailheads and recreation areas. (Discover details for each park on the Florida State Parks website, including an interactive map of all the parks.)
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Want to experience the splendor of greenways and trails? Florida's your place. Outdoor enthusiasts are encouraged to step off of the beaten path...
- 3 minute read
I enjoyed my recent visit to the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park in White Springs. This park is definitely "off the beaten...