Florida offers nature and outdoor enthusiasts a plethora of different ecosystems and natural settings to explore through its system of parks and preserves. You can explore islands, creeks, marshes and coastlands all without leaving the state. Bring a picnic, go kayaking or bicycling, enjoy birdwatching and observing wildlife and learn about the history and nature of Florida’s rich and diverse natural landscapes. Before heading out to visit any of the Florida’s parks, be sure to call ahead to check on the hours each park is open to the public or if camping is available, should you wish to stay overnight. It may be wise to check about parking and any potential entrance or parking fees. Lastly, be sure to check the weather at the park over the time period in which you plan to visit. With that in mind, here are some of the most popular, beautiful and eclectic parks to visit in Florida.
Biscayne National Park
Located a one hour drive north of Miami, this 173,000 acre park offers some of the best snorkeling in Florida, covering shorelines of mangroves, the northern section of the Florida Keys, most of Biscayne Bay and the northernmost part of the third biggest system of coral reefs in the world. Canoes and kayaks are also available for rental. Camping is available for a fee on Boca Chita Key and Elliott Key. Visitors here can also explore the last seven stilt homes of Stiltsville as well as Convoy Point, the headquarters of the park, featuring picnic sites, tours led by a ranger, an interpretive trail and the Dante Fascell Visitor Center and Gallery.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Located in Key West, it takes a two-hour boat ride about 70 miles offshore to reach this popular kayaking destination. Overseen by the National Park Service, this site features Fort Jefferson, a former 19th century prison and military base outside the walls of which a small camping site is set. Here, visitors can also enjoy shallow coral reefs featuring moray eels, barracuda and a range of tropical fish.
Everglades National Park
Declared a Wetland of International Importance, an International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, the Florida Everglades, also known as the River of Grass, features an extensive network of lush swampland covering 1.5 million acres known for its alligator population. Among these public entry points into the Florida Everglades experience are Corkscrew Swamp, Big Cypress, Shark Valley Visitor Center and the Gator Trail and Chokoloskee Island.
Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park
Located 25 miles northwest outside of Okeechobee, this 54,000 acre park offers exposure to a wide array of wildlife, including deer, rabbits, gopher tortoises, crested caracara, great blue heron, wading birds and red-shouldered hawks. It also features Seven-Mile Slough and its resident alligators, wildflower fields, old windmills and ponds.
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Located on over 140,000 acres, this park was originally built as a buffer between civilian society and the rocket-launching operations of the early American space program. It features a seven-mile drive called the Black Point Drive Loop that meanders through an assortment of ecosystems boasting eclectic wildlife including over 50 songbird, waterfowl, raptor and shorebird species.
Pellicer Creek Aquatic Preserve
Covering both St. Johns and Flagler counties, this park is part of the 73,000 acre Guano Tolomato Matanzas (GTM) National Estuarine Research Reserve. It offers birding and kayaking along a paddling trail that is perfect for beginners.
Princess Place Preserve
Set along the Palm Coast and also part of the GTM Reserve, this park offers 1,500 acres of historic and romantic landscape along the Pellicer Creek and Matanzas River. It features what is perhaps the only example of authentic 1900s Adirondack style construction inside Florida. It also boasts the premiere in-ground swimming pool in the state, its water sourced from an artesian spring. Biking, hiking, birding and relatively primitive camping are all available here.
Rice Creek Conservation Area
Located in Palatka, this park features a 1700 era timber and rice plantation. Follow dikes and ditches along a rich native landscape filled with tall trees, including the state’s eighth largest cypress, and lush ferns.
Talbot Island State Parks
Located in Jacksonville, this is actually seven parks and preserves in one, spanning the whole system of the Talbot Islands. Each one of the parks is unique in its own right. Yellow Bluff Fort Historic State Park features ruins of the Civil War. Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park offers great kayaking. Amelia Island State Park offers beaches ideal for horseback riding. The remaining four parks in this system are George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier State Park, Fort George Island Cultural State Park, Big Talbot Island State Park and Little Talbot Island State Park.
Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve
More commonly known as Jacksonville’s Central Park, this 46,000 acres of wetlands, marshes, rivers, islands and creeks is more than five times larger than its New York namesake. This place is replete with history, featuring Fort Caroline, a reconstructed fort and Fort George Island’s Kingsley Plantation, a restored plantation.
Pet Friendly Parks
Florida’s parks are not just for people to enjoy either. There are over 700,000 acres of parkland in Florida that welcomes your pets to visit with you. These include Miccosukee Canopy Road Greenway in Tallahassee, Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound, Alderman’s Ford Nature Preserve in Tampa, North Bay Trail in St. Petersburg and Riverwalk in Fort Lauderdale