At nearly 200 state parks throughout Florida, you’ll find no shortage of outdoor memories to be made.
Between 2019 and 2020, the Sunshine State’s state parks drew nearly 55 million visitors to their dynamic confines. And while Dry Tortugas, The Everglades and other of Florida’s national parks may get the bulk of the national buzz, its state offerings offer an equally exciting way to explore the full range of Florida’s many landscapes.
From a beachside lounge to a swampy paddle session to a bike ride among the most majestic of shade trees, adventures of all kinds await in Florida’s state parks. Here are your nine best options.
Alafia River State Park
Best state park for biking
When Tampa’s cycling enthusiasts are tired of weaving through city traffic, they head 45 minutes southeast to Alafia River State Park. Here, you’ll trade in Florida’s general flatness for hills galore and more than 20 miles of mountain bike trail options. On the site of a reclaimed phosphate mine, the jagged terrain here will entertain biking novices and pros alike. Note that helmets are required for all cyclists – and that if the rugged paths prove to be too much for your equipment, there is a full-service on-site bike shop for repairs or rentals.
Bahia Honda State Park
Best state park for taking in turquoise ocean waters
For some, it’s a quick pit stop en route to Key West. But for others, the clear waters and vivid sunsets at Bahia Honda State Park are well-deserved attractions of their own. This 500-plus-acre park is tucked on the southwestern edge of Bahia Honda Key; at its tip, the eerie remnants of a Henry Flagler–built railroad bridge jut out into the water.
Snorkelers can enjoy some of the most accessible and clear waters to be experienced in the Florida Keys – or the entire state. Snag some rental gear from the concession stand and you can walk into the waters and admire starfish, sea urchins, sponges and more just inches away. Even more creatures beckon on a snorkeling boat tour to Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.
Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park
Best state park to explore the unknown
This small but wild state park is one of Florida’s most intriguing attractions. Just a 15-minute drive northwest of Gainesville, a 120ft-deep, limestone-shelled sinkhole anchors this shaded park, which has also been a designated National Landmark since 1976.
Visitors trek down a winding boardwalk to the bottom of the sinkhole. The journey itself is worth the visit, as you take in rainforest-esque vistas filled with lush vegetation, the periodic chirp of a tree frog and cooler air thanks to oodles of shade trees. Beyond the visual eeriness, you can learn more about the geology behind this phenomenon during a weekly guided walk or at the on-site information center.
Silver Springs State Park
Best state park for a glass-bottomed-boating outing
Located minutes east of Ocala, Silver Springs State Park has been offering glass-bottom-boat tours since the 1870s. Tours at this crystal-clear, water-filled oasis run every 30 to 45 minutes every day of the year; on a given day, you can expect to see gators, manatees, turtles and dozens of species of fish. Beyond the boat tours, the park’s upland section is a birding hotspot, with frequent visits from wild turkeys, woodpeckers and various species of ducks.
Florida Caverns State Park
Best state park for a (literally) cool hike
With Florida temperatures rising into the 80s and 90s throughout the year, a shaded walk in Florida can be a nice treat. Approximately an hour northwest of Tallahassee, Florida Caverns State Park is the only park in the state where visitors can take a guided tour through a cave system.
Within the caves are 12 distinct chambers with stalactites, stalagmites, massive columns and more geological features, all illuminated by LED lighting. (Taller people should beware that ceilings can be as low as 4.5ft.) It’s easy to make a weekend at this 1500-acre park, too: there are 38 campsites and bike trails spanning 1 to 7 miles in length.
Grayton Beach State Park
Best state park for an overnight stay
Spanning 2000 acres along the Gulf of Mexico, Grayton Beach State Park offers dune-filled, white-sand bliss. Along its Florida Panhandle shores, it’s common to find bald eagles and osprey soaring overhead.
This may be your best bet for camping on the Gulf, with its 59 total campsites all fully equipped with water and electricity hookups. To truly up your overnight game, book one of the park’s 30 cabins (they understandably book up well in advance). Each has two bedrooms, one bath, a fireplace, kitchen... all within minutes of the Gulf’s warm waters.
Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
Best state park for water adventures
Wedged between the Intracoastal Waterway and the Atlantic Ocean in Fort Lauderdale, Hugh Taylor Birch State Park makes visitors ask: where to plunge in first? Beyond its friendly tortoise residents and palm-shaded trails, the main attraction here is the water.
On its eastern edge, you can enjoy Fort Lauderdale Beach’s white sand and Atlantic waves. On its western edge, you can fish from the Intracoastal’s sea walls. In the middle of the park, you can paddle through a dune lake. Wherever your adventure takes you here, end it at Park & Ocean, a bar-restaurant within the park with ocean views.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park
Best state park for experiencing a little bit of everything
Just a few miles north of Jupiter on the Treasure Coast, Jonathan Dickinson State Park has it all. History buffs will appreciate the secret World War II training camp within its confines. Those who love quirky milestones can get a photo at the highest natural point south of Lake Okeechobee (being in Florida, it’s only 86ft, but still...). Fans of Americana will appreciate a trek through the park’s 1930s pioneer homestead. Nature aficionados will fawn over the Elsa Kimbell Environmental Education and Research Center, which has a walk-through history of the park and a massive front porch stocked with rocking chairs for watching various birds fly by. Plus, there are more than 140 campsites, 8 miles of horse-riding trails and the Loxahatchee River for water-sports excursions.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Best state park for a mermaid encounter
Ready to see a performance of The Little Mermaid with real-life sirens? At Weeki Wachee Springs State Park – just an hour north of Tampa – the beloved Hans Christian Andersen story comes to life in a submerged, 400-seat auditorium. Little ones and nostalgic adults alike will delight in this uniquely magical, only-in-Florida moment. In addition to the mermaids, the park is also home to the deepest known freshwater cave system in the United States, which you can learn about on a boat tour or snorkeling adventure.
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