If you’re getting ready to plan a Florida vacation or if you’re lucky enough to live here, you know that the Sunshine State is known for it’s magnificent natural beauty. So it’s no surprise that Florida is home to many picturesque state and national parks, abundant with gorgeous greenery, foliage, rivers, lakes and waterways, mangroves and much more. Although there are too many to name, here are some of the most beautiful parks in Florida that are truly worth a visit.
Dry Tortugas and Fort Jefferson National Park
Considered by many who’ve witnessed its beauty, this cluster of tiny islands in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico may very well be one of the most unique places on the planet. Just 70 miles west of Key West, Florida, and only accessible by boat or seaplane, this national park is home to Fort Jefferson, the largest masonry structure of its kind in the United States, made of 16 million hand-laid bricks. The fortress has stood for more than 230 years, surrounded by crystal clear waters and a pristine beach. A visit here is nothing short of unforgettable, with exotic birds flying above, fragile coral reefs teeming with vibrant fish, playful dolphins and sea turtles. The Civil War fort was once the prison home of the infamous Samuel Mudd. You can explore the cells, see the cannons, watch and learn the history of the park from the rangers and breathe in the sea air as you have a beach day like no other. Get there on the official ferry, the Yankee Freedom III, which will supply you with breakfast, lunch, snorkel gear and a leisurely, scenic ride.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Located in Fort White, Florida, just northwest of Gainesville, Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a sparkling spring fed river that beckons thousands of people each year. Visitors can rent river tubes and relax as they float down the six-mile span of clear water while enjoying the shady hammocks, live oaks, and wetlands that surround it. A National Natural Landmark, the park is also known for its snorkeling, canoeing, swimming and hiking opportunities. A variety of wildlife also show up throughout the year to the delight of guests, including white-tailed deer, raccoons, wild turkeys, wood ducks and great blue herons. There are picnic tables, barbeque grills and a concession stand that serves food and cold drinks.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Located on Key Biscayne, Florida, near Miami, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is home to the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County, a historic 109-step lighthouse that was built in 1825. Many who visit come to enjoy the white sandy beach, swim in the Atlantic and take guided tours of the lighthouse and its keeper’s quarters. You can fish from the seawall, kayak, sunbathe, take in the views of Biscayne Bay, pack a picnic or enjoy lunch at one of the two restaurants right onsite.
In the town of Marianna, Florida, just west of Tallahassee, there are real caves waiting to be explored. This incredible state park offers its visitors an uncommon way to experience nature, underground! You’ll be treated to a 45-minute guided tour of stalagmites rising from the ground, and stalactites hanging down from above you. As you walk through, keep in mind that these formations took hundreds of years to get the way they are. After you tour the caves, enjoy the beautiful state park that surrounds them, there’s a freshwater spring for fishing, boating and canoeing, campgrounds, picnic areas and more.
Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park
Located in Flagler Beach, Florida, this magnificent state park stands as a tribute to the sugar plantations of East Florida. Once a sugar plantation that belonged to the Bulow family, these 150 acres now welcomes visitors to explore its glorious scenery and see the ruins of the former plantation, including a sugar mill, a spring house, wells and the foundations of where the plantation house and slave cabins once stood. A unique experience is in store for guests; an interesting look back at the history of the Florida frontier and the rise and fall of the sugar industry as it was in the early 1800’s. There’s a lovely walking trail, picnic tables and an interpretive center that tells the story of the plantation. You can also launch a boat or canoe and fish from the dock.