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Florida is home to over 160 state parks, so there is no shortage of wildlife and natural beauty in this state. If you ask any true Floridian, they will tell you that apart from the white sandy beaches, the state parks in Florida are the best part about living here. You can enjoy these state parks as something to do on a bright, cool Florida day. The following gives you the 11 best state parks you can visit for many different reasons that range from a personal history lesson to fun activities with the entire family, like camping, kayaking, canoeing and sightseeing.
- Hillsborough River State Park
We begin our list with Hillsborough State Park, located in Thonotosassa, FL. This park offers a living history lesson as well as lush greenery and beautiful river landscapes.The park is located a short distance away from the hustle and bustle of the city of Tampa and provides camping as a popular activity. You can visit the park which has a reconstructed fort and its surroundings. A state historic site, this fort is where the Seminoles and soldiers fought to keep a foothold of Florida land during the battle of the Second Seminole War from December 23, 1835 – August 14, 1842 . Each March, one of the battles is re-enacted. This park offers a seven-mile hike and kayaking or canoeing on class II river rapids (rare in Florida). It is open from 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year. Click here for more information.
2. Little Manatee River State Park
Little Manatee River State Park is located 5 miles south of Sun City, off U.S. Route 301 on Lightfoot Road along the Little Manatee River in Wimauma, FL. It is known for kayaking, canoeing, fishing and horseback riding. Here you can see nature in the form of plants, trees and animals. The must-see animals of the park are Florida scrub jays, white-tailed deer, warblers, raccoons, nine-banded armadillos, bobcats, American alligators and North American river otters.
Included in the amenities is a 6.5-mile hiking trail, a full-facility campground and a picnic area along the river with tables, grills and pavillions. The park is open year-round from 8 a.m. till sundown. Please visit the park’s website for more information.
3. Anastasia State Park
Let’s now travel up to the pristine white sandy beaches of St. Augustine, FL, where Anastasia State Park is located. Here there are more than 1,600 acres of untouched beaches. Ancient sand dunes make this a breathtaking place to be. Wading birds add to the mystique of this special location. You can see colorful roseate spoonbills hunting for food along Salt Run. Ospreys and eagles fly high and free in the skies as you walk along the beach. Painted buntings and warblers lurk in the nearby hammock forests. The park’s 139 campsites are also a short stroll away from the beach. More information on the park can be found here.
4. Falling Waters State Park
Located three miles south of Chipley, Washington County in northwestern Florida is Falling Waters State Park, home to Florida’s highest waterfall. To get to the waterfall you must pass huge trees and fern-covered sinkholes that line the Sink Hole Trail. Falling Water Sink is a 100-foot deep and 20-foot wide cylindrical pit in which a small stream flows into and that drops 73 feet to the bottom of the sink. It is unknown where the water goes after this point.
This quiet, beautiful place offers visitors a chance to see native and migrating butterflies in the butterfly garden, take a dip in the lake or a hike along the gently sloping landscape of north Florida. Come experience this place for yourself if you’re ever in the area. Check out more information here.
5. Highlands Hammock State Park
Highland Hammock is one of Florida’s oldest state parks. The park prides itself on supporting a beautiful but delicate ecosystem of diverse plant and animal life. The park has more native and endangered listed species of plants and animals than any other Florida state park. Such species of animals are the gopher tortoise, Florida panther and the American alligator (although the alligator is safe now due to no longer being over hunted for their scaly hides). Black bears, deer and a variety of birds also frequent the park. Listed plants found in the park are the cardinal airplant and the giant airplant. Cardinal air plants can be found in the trees high in the sky, as they use the air and rain that falls on them to get their water and nutrient supply. You may learn more about them here.
6. Hontoon Island State Park
This island state park located on the St. Johns River in Volusia County, FL is accessible only by boat or park ferry. It is located six miles west of Deland off State Road 44. Boating, canoeing and fishing are popular activities as a result of being water-locked land. The park has a rich Native American habitation history of over 1,000 years. Head on into the visitor center so you may learn more about the many interesting inhabitants of the island over the years. Best of all: it is free to enter! Learn more here.
7. Florida Caverns State Park
Florida Caverns State Park is located in the Florida Panhandle near Marianna. Stunning caves with mystifying stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones and draperies greet visitors as they explore the surreal depths of Florida Caverns. In one of the rooms one can observe the chisel marks made by harding-working 1930s-era conservation workers, enlarging the passageways by hand so visitors could stand upright during guided tours of the caves. Plan your visit by going here.
8. Rainbow Springs State Park
Rainbow Springs State Park is located on U.S. 41 three miles north of Dunnellon, FL. The most significant natural feature of this park is the first magnitude headspring basin which produces up to 600,000,000 gallons of fresh water per day, forming The Rainbow River. The waters of Rainbow Springs come from several vents, not one bubbling spring. Activities you can enjoy doing here are swimming, snorkeling, canoeing and kayaking, as well as wildlife viewing. Entry fees may vary. More information here.
9. Gasparilla Island State Park
This other island state park is located south of Boca Grande on Gasparilla Island off Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound. It is perfect for viewing the Historic Port Boca Grande Lighthouse on the southern end of the island, built in 1890. The Lighthouse has a museum and is open to the public. Visitors may enjoy activities such as swimming, fishing, snorkeling, shelling and picnicking. More information on the lighthouse may be found here.
10. St. Joseph Peninsula State Park
The T.H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park is located in Port St. Joe, FL. It stretches over 20 miles into the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. It is a true wildlife haven, providing vitally important habitats for beach nesting birds, three species of turtles and two remaining “core” populations of endangered St. Andrews beach mice. The park is a visitor favorite for swimming, fishing and enjoying a breathtaking sunset on the beach. The island was dedicated when it opened in 1967 to the former owner, T.H. Stone, a respected community leader in Gulf County and who’s family originally purchased much of the land surrounding the bay (including the peninsula) in 1868. More park information may be found here.
11. Grayton Beach State Park
Last but not least on our list is this gorgeous park that ranks among the most beautiful beaches in the United States. The park is located between Panama City Beach and Destin in northwestern Florida. Western Lake offers visitors a chance to fish and paddle. Those who want to explore on foot have four miles of trails they can navigate through to in a coastal forest where scrub oaks and magnolias stand. It spans over 2,000 acres and offers golden sunrises and silver moonlit evenings. Other recreational activities include bicycling, birding, boating, canoeing, fishing and full camping facilities. Plan ahead and bring your family and friends here for a trip of a lifetime. Find out more here.
We hope this was helpful to you on informing you of where to go to admire the beauty of nature in the Sunshine State. Let it serve as an educational lesson on the beauty, culture and history of the great State of Florida.
Melissa’s career in writing started more than 20 years ago. Today, she lives in South Florida with her husband and two boys.