Top Florida Parks to Visit
From the Gulf Islands National Seashore in Northwest Florida to the Everglades National Park in Florida’s south, there are 11 National Parks in the Sunshine State.
National Parks of NORTHWEST Florida
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Navarre Beach is home to Gulf Islands National Seashore which offers nature lovers eight miles of federally protected, undeveloped shoreline – the longest continuous stretch of protected beach in Northwest Florida, perfect for sun-seekers, birdwatchers, and outdoor enthusiasts. Tucked away in a corner of Northwest Florida, far from crowded theme parks and packed beaches, the small beach community of Navarre offers solitude and simplicity for nature lovers.
National Parks of NORTHEAST Florida
Castillo De San Marcos National Monument
As the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine amazes visitors with its ancient cobblestone streets and its quaint cafes. A host of historical landmarks and attractions, such as the 310-year-old Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, allow the kids to travel back to the early Spanish empire in the New World. Castillo de San Marcos (1695) was never conquered and endures as the nation’s oldest and only remaining 17th-century stone fort. It was one of the two national monuments which remain as guardians over the area of St. Augustine.
Fort Matanzas National Monument
The other national monument that kept watch over the St. Augustine area is a small Spanish tower named Fort Matanzas (1742) which once protected the inlet from pirates and British vessels approaching St. Augustine from the south. The masonry (coquina) watchtower 14 miles south of St. Augustine on Matanzas Inlet was built by the Spanish in 1740-42 to protect the “back door” to the city.
Fort Caroline National Memorial
This park in Jacksonville memorializes the 16th-century French effort to establish a permanent colony in Florida. The site includes a near full-scale rendering of the fort, a nature trail, and a visitor center. The stimulating exhibits in the visitor center provide a real-life glimpse of the French colony, their interaction with the native Timucua, and the colonists’ brief struggle for survival.
Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve
The 46,000-acre Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve is one of the last unspoiled coastal wetlands on the Atlantic Coast. The Fort Caroline National Memorial is located in the Timucuan Preserve; so is the Kingsley Plantation, a 19th-century sea-island cotton plantation that provides visitors with a view of plantation life. Exhibits include the planter’s house, barn, slave quarters, and a small interpretive garden with crops typical of the period. The Theodore Roosevelt and Cedar Point areas provide visitors with access to the marine estuarine environment and surrounding coastal forest. Activities include hiking, photography, fishing, birding, and boating.
National Parks of CENTRAL EAST Florida
Canaveral National Seashore
Between New Smyrna Beach and Titusville on Florida’s Space Coast, some 27 miles of undeveloped barrier island provide the pristine Atlantic beaches of Playalinda, Klondike, and Apollo. Inland are the dune, marsh, and lagoon habitats for a tremendous variety of wildlife. It is a major destination for bird lovers. The beaches are known worldwide for excellent surfing. This is part of the largest sea turtle nesting area in the United States. More than 6,000 loggerheads, green seas, and leatherbacks lay up to 600 eggs each on Brevard beaches from May-August.
National Parks of SOUTHEAST Florida
Biscayne National Park
A 53-foot glass-bottom boat and a 45-foot diving and snorkeling catamaran take adventurers across southern Biscayne Bay, through wilderness, mangrove creeks, islands, and out to tropical coral reefs teeming with sea life. Family snorkeling and scuba diving are available from the boat. Canoe and kayak rentals, picnic areas, walking trails, fishing, camping, and shower facilities are available.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Almost 70 miles (112.9 km) west of Key West lies a cluster of seven islands, composed of coral reefs and sand, called the Dry Tortugas. Along with the surrounding shoals and waters, they make up Dry Tortugas National Park. The area is known for its famous bird and marine life and its legends of pirates and sunken gold. Fort Jefferson, one of the largest coastal forts ever built, is a central feature.
Everglades National Park
Covering 1.5 million acres, Everglades National Park is the third largest in the U.S. National Parks system. Made up of sawgrass prairies, mangrove swamps, subtropical jungles, and the warm waters of Florida Bay, the park is home to a rare community of plants and endangered animals that inhabit the seemingly endless grassy waters.
Visitors to the park can enjoy self-guided and ranger-led tours and activities from the Main Visitor Center at the Park’s entrance or journey deeper into the Everglades for a more extensive experience in the Florida wilderness. Hit the trails and catch a glimpse of threatened and endangered species such as the Loggerhead Turtle, Southern Bald Eagle, American Crocodile, and the West Indian Manatee in their natural habitat.
National Parks of SOUTHWEST Florida
Big Cypress National Preserve
This 729,000-acre plot of land is home to cypress trees, ghost orchids, and the endangered Florida panther. During the winter, visitors can enjoy wet walks, canoe trips, bicycle tours, and campfire programs. The preserve offers an exciting outdoor adventure for anyone interested in experiencing the untamed wonders of Florida.
De Soto National Memorial
History buffs enjoy the Desoto National Memorial at Bradenton which commemorates Hernando Desoto’s historic landing in Florida and his extraordinary four-year, 4,000-mile expedition through what is now the Southern United States. Living History programs are conducted daily from mid-December through mid-April and National Park Rangers in historic costumes present different aspects of DeSoto’s expedition.
The Visitor Center includes displays of the park museum’s collection of armor, weapons, and related period items. A Nature Trail winds along the shoreline and through several Florida ecosystems including a mangrove forest like the one de Soto’s men would have encountered.
Florida parks — something for everyone
With almost 160 state parks, Florida is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.
Florida’s parks offer camping, canoeing, biking, swimming, diving, fishing, boating, wildlife viewing, picnicking, nature trails, horse trails, and many other activities.
Here are some tips to help you enjoy Florida outdoors:
- Use sunscreen, wear a hat, and drink plenty of water.
- Many state parks have opportunities to view native Florida wildlife such as manatees, dolphins, otters, birds, deer, and even bobcats, bears, and panthers. Ask park rangers for local information and remember to never approach or feed wildlife.
- Never swim alone, observe posted signs and regulations, and supervise children at all times.
- Use insect repellent on clothing, tuck pant legs into socks or shoes, and wear long sleeves.
- Always have a trail map and compass and know how to use them.
- Monitor the skies for signs of bad weather and take cover in the best shelter you can find.