With over 160 state parks to its name, Florida is heaven for nature lovers. If you want to enjoy idyllic beaches, gorgeous scenery, and an enticing assortment of outdoor recreational opportunities, you’ll be spoilt for choice for amazing destinations to chose between. Here’s our pick of the 10 best Florida state parks to visit.
10. Washington Oaks Gardens State Park
State parks don’t get much more charming than Washington Oaks Gardens State Park. Located on a barrier island bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Matanzas River on the other, it’s a stunning place to visit regardless of the season. Its centerpiece is a series of formal gardens that offer a dazzling display of native and non-native plants, including roses, camellias, birds of paradise and azalea. With winding paths, sparkling ponds, and stately, 200-year-old oaks draped in moss, there’s no better place to enjoy a peaceful stroll. If that wasn’t enough to tempt you, there’s also a maritime hammock forest, a shaded playground for kids, and a three-quarter-mile beach to enjoy.
9. Anastasia State Park
St. Augustine is one of the oldest continuously inhabited European settlements in America. If that wasn’t enough of a selling point, it’s also home to Anastasia State Park, a 1600 acre space that attracts armies of visitors with its pristine white sand beaches, rolling dunes, and abundance of recreational opportunities. If you’re a birder, you’re going to love it – as well as being home to over 195 species, including osprey, egrets, Wilson’s plovers and black skimmers, it also offers monthly birding walks. Other popular pastimes include kayaking along the coast, hiking the Ancient Dunes Nature Trail, sunbathing on the beach, or even surfing when the conditions are right. Before you leave, be sure to check out the historic Coquina Quarries at the park entrance.
8. Cayo Costa State Park
If you’re looking to experience Florida at its wildest and most unspoiled, set your sat nav for Cayo Costa State Park. Accessible only by boat or kayak, it boasts nine miles of pristine shoreline that’s ideal for fishing, shelling, swimming, and snorkeling. The wildlife opportunities are immense – keep your eyes peeled for wading birds, manatees, porpoises, and sea turtles. Crisscrossing the island are numerous walking and bicycling trails to explore. There are also several cabins and campsites dotted around in case you decide to turn your stay into an overnighter.
7. Curry Hammock State Park
Located midway between Key Largo and Key West, Curry Hammock State Park boasts over 1000 acres of untarnished natural beauty. Its vast terrain features rockland hammocks, mangroves, and seagrass beds, not to mention an almost infinite array of outdoor recreation opportunities. The waters surrounding the park are usually gentle, making them ideal for canoeing, fishing, or enjoying a leisurely swim. If you want to stay for a few days, you’ll have your pick of 28 campsites, all of which offer water, shower access, picnic tables, grills, and electric hook up.
6. Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park
Florida is home to some of the most alluring freshwater springs in the county, but you’ll struggle to find any better than those at the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. The spring water stays a temperate 70 degrees all year proud – perfect if you want a refreshing dip. Surrounding the pool is an ancient, mysterious cypress swamp that served as the setting for the 1954 movie “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Popular pastimes include hiking along the gorgeous nature trails, taking a riverboat tour out to meet the manatees, and scaling to the top of the 22 feet observation deck to enjoy outstanding views of the park. If you want to extend your stay over a few days, the 27-room lodge offers very comfortable accommodation.
5. Fort Mose Historic State Park
As The Points Guy says, if you’re spending time in St. Augustine, be sure to make a point of visiting Fort Mose Historic State Park. After the King of Spain declared that any African-born slave living under British rule who made it to St. Augustine would be declared a free person, it became the first legally sanctioned, free African settlement in the US. Today, the park features an intriguing interactive museum that chronicles the history of Fort Mose. The pretty grounds are also worth exploring.
4. Gasparilla Island State Park
Gasparilla Island State Park forms part of a chain of Gulf Coast barrier islands. To get there, you’ll need to either take the ferry from Pine island or hire a private boat. It’s worth the effort though, with endless opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, fishing, and enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
3. Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park boasts one of the very prettiest beaches in the Florida Keys. Lapped by electric blue waters and fringed by forest, it’s the perfect place to spend a few lazy hours sunbathing, shelling, or simply sitting back and enjoying the glorious views. If you want to get out onto the water, there’s a boat ramp and canoe-kayak launch to take advantage of. Factor in the superb wildfire spotting opportunities and the myriad of recreational activities on offer, and it’s easy to see why cntraveler.com has named it one of the US’s best-loved parks.
2. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
If you’re headed for Key Largo, be sure to make time for a visit to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Although it offers all the usual distractions like hiking, bird spotting, and fishing, the real draw is the undersea park, which boasts the only living coral reef in the US. If you’re a keen snorkeler, the opportunity to explore this colorful underwater world is unmissable.
1. T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
Named as one of the best state parks in the US by Fodors, T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is a must-visit for nature lovers. Watching the sun rise over the Gulf of Mexico to the west and set over St. Joseph Bay to the east from the narrow beach is practically an occupation in its own right, but if you’re looking for something a little more active, you’ll find plenty of opportunities for hiking, biking, fishing, and shelling. Diving for bay scallops is also a hugely popular pastime, although you’ll need a saltwater license and dive flag to participate.