Best State Parks To Visit In Florida

The Sunshine State is known for its magnificent beaches, and let's be honest, Disney World and Miami, but the 175 state parks are where you'll find the ecological wonders and real intrigue of the state. Whether you're hoping to spy a manatee, snorkel around coral reefs, hang 10 on epic surfing waves, or hike through hammock forests, Florida's best state parks offer these opportunities and so much more. Since a visit to Florida wouldn't be authentic without time spent on the beach, you'll be glad to know that the state's top parks are also home to 100 miles of silky soft sand. No wonder the National Recreation and Parks Association has given Florida four gold medals for having the best state park system in the nation. 

With so many diverse parks on offer, Florida tourists could spend an entire week-long holiday exploring the wide variety of ecosystems and barely touch the surface. Reaching as far north as Amelia Island, as far south as Key West, and all along the east and west coasts, there are more than enough parks to please every type of traveler. If you'd like to plan a Florida road trip, consider a route to visit some of Florida's acclaimed state parks. 

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Key West

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is open from 8 a.m. to sundown every day of the year. That's a good thing considering how many activities there are to enjoy in this stunning natural attraction. The park lies on the southwest tip of Key West, an ideal spot for watching some of the most gorgeous sunsets in the U.S. When you aren't soaking up the romance of an orange-hued sky, tour the 19th-century Fort Taylor, swim in the ocean, or paddleboard on the open water.

Bike trails snake their way through the property, and there's even a dedicated bike lane for entry to the park. The park is a fantastic place to snorkel for beginners and families with young kids — you can simply wade in from the beach. You can also rent snorkeling gear, as well as other beach necessities, from the park. Another plus? The park's proximity to Key West's newly built coral reef makes this a fab place to scuba dive.

Currently, admission is only $6 per vehicle for up to eight guests (plus a county surcharge of $0.50 per person). Driving solo? You'll only have to pay $4.50 (without a surcharge) and a mere $2.50 if you're walking or biking in. If you forgot a picnic, don't worry. Food is available from the Cayo Huseo Café.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is a must-visit destination for water lovers. With nearly 70 square nautical miles to explore, visitors can experience an array of terrains, ranging from tropical hammock forests and mangrove swamps to the open ocean teeming with marine life. Seagrass beds and coral reefs await underwater explorers, but the visitor's center also houses a massive, 30,000-gallon aquarium, which is perfect for those looking to spy sea creatures up close without getting wet. 

America's first undersea park, this is an ideal place to go snorkeling in Key Largo. Rental equipment is available for a reasonable price — $3 each for a mask and snorkel, as well as $4 for fins. You even get to keep the snorkel. If you book a snorkeling boat tour, equipment rentals are even cheaper. Those planning to explore the park's reefs should reserve a boat tour, as the reefs lie between three and eight miles from shore. Scuba diving tours are also available. 

Other ways to enjoy the water without getting wet include canoeing, kayaking, and paddleboarding. Rentals are available for each of these sports as well. Or, book a tour on Spirit of Pennekamp, the park's glass bottom boat, a high-speed catamaran that passes multiple shallow reefs over a 2.5-hour journey. If you plan to travel during the high season, or on a busy holiday weekend, it's best to book your tour well in advance.

Bahia Honda State Park, Key West

Unsurprisingly, Key West is home to a few of the best state parks to visit in Florida. With spectacular views, three soft-sand beaches, and romantic sunsets, it's easy to see why this is a favored state park to visit in the Florida Keys. In addition to its enviable setting, there are plenty of exciting things to do at Bahia Honda State Park. From swimming to cycling to kayaking to fishing, there's no chance of getting bored. 

After a full day of activities, why leave? There are three campgrounds with a combined 80 campsites that make it easy to hunker down for a night (or three). Those traveling by boat can also rent an overnight slip at the marina, which includes access to park facilities like showers, restrooms, water, and electricity. Or, glam it up a bit by renting a cabin. There are three available, all of which sit on stilts and boast enviable views of the sparkling bay.

Sadly, you won't be the only ones at this luscious park, so be prepared for crowds, especially if you're traveling on a holiday weekend. However, there is a max of visitors allowed. When that capacity is reached, the park may close temporarily to new guests. Your best bet is to arrive early. Also, bring an umbrella as there's little shade, and the Florida sun can be relentless. There is a concession stand on-site, as well as places to rent snorkeling gear. 

Fort Clinch State Park, Fernandina Beach

It's not often that you'll find an impeccably preserved Civil War fort and pristine beach in one attractive locale (except for Fort Zachary Taylor). However, that's exactly what you'll discover at Fort Cinch State Park on Amelia's Island's Fernandina Beach, an often overlooked stop in Florida. If the park's beach and fort aren't enough to keep you occupied, there are plenty of other fun things to do with the family. Bring binoculars to spy a red-tailed hawk on the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, try your luck at surf fishing, or search for treasure geocaching.

Although the park is open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset, the fort opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 5 p.m., so plan your visit accordingly if you're hoping to soak up a little history with your rays. Also, be prepared to pay a small entrance fee — $6 per vehicle with up to eight passengers, $4 per single-passenger vehicle, or $2 for walkers and cyclists. Entrance to the fort is $2.50.

Perhaps best saved for those biking at an intermediate level, cyclists will enjoy the six miles of off-road trails, as there's nothing quite like feeling the rush of wind on your face as you zip through a maritime forest. You can also cycle on the 3.3-mile park drive. However, this road is shared with cars and can get quite busy between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., so consider this when planning your trip.

Lovers Key State Park, Fort Myers

Over two miles of sugar-white sand welcome visitors to Lovers Key State Park, which hugs the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico in Fort Myers. You won't need to stress about lugging your gear to the beach, either. A complimentary tram transports visitors and their stuff to within 800 feet of the sand daily between 8 a.m. and sunset. Or, you could simply rent beach chairs and an umbrella from the concessions. You can also rent bikes and canoes. Plus, there's a gift shop selling minimal fare like cold drinks, snacks, and T-shirts. (We advise bringing a picnic if planning to stay all day.) Traveling with kids? The Discovery Center is an interesting attraction for families, though it's only open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday through Friday.

If you're hoping to use the boat launch, arrive early as there's limited parking available. While there's a fee to visit the park — $8 per car (for up to eight passengers), $4 per single-passenger car, and $2 for cyclists and pedestrians, the cost is worthwhile. Fishing, biking, shelling, swimming, hiking (there are two trails that run through the maritime hammock), and paddling (in a kayak or canoe) through a mangrove estuary are just a few things to do at this pretty park. You'll also have the chance to encounter a variety of resident wildlife, including alligators, osprey, dolphins, and manatees. 

Fort de Soto State Park, Tierra Verde

With nearly seven miles of waterfront to discover (including nearly three miles of beach), there's no shortage of places to visit in Fort de Soto State Park. Outdoors enthusiasts can enjoy the park's nature trail and a 2.25-mile-long canoe path, while history buffs can explore the historic fort and Quartermaster Museum. There are even two fishing piers in the park, both with concessions selling food and bait. You'll need a license to fish, though, so be sure to plan accordingly.

The best part? This magnificent state park is extremely family-friendly. In addition to boasting one of Florida's best beaches for kids (North Beach), there are multiple playgrounds, a 238-site family campground, and two swim centers on-site. A true vacation destination for the whole family, Fort de Soto State Park is also a great place to bring dogs. Its Paw Playground is an epic dog park that includes a large off-leash beach. This is the only park in the area that allows dogs to play on the beach (in a designated area). To find the entrance, head to the dog park's southwest corner. For all its amenities, the beach is still the park's main attraction, and Fort de Soto State Park receives over 2.7 million visitors each year, so arrive early to grab a prime spot.

Honeymoon Island State Park, Dunedin

Located less than an hour west of Tampa and 20 minutes north of Clearwater, Honeymoon Island State Park is a lovely place to spend a weekend getaway on Florida's west coast. Don't let the name fool you. This is more than an amorous place to visit for couples; families will also love it here. To reach the island, visitors must drive over the Dunedin Causeway. Activities include fishing, cycling (rental bikes are available on-site), hiking, kayaking, and swimming, among others. If you're hoping to surf, head to the north end of the park. Conditions are best near bathhouse 3. 

The beach is a star attraction, and a small section of it (in the south) is pet-friendly. You'll find showers, ice cream carts, and a concession on the grounds,and if one beach isn't enough, hop on the ferry to Caladesi Island. They depart hourly (or every half hour on weekends and between mid-February and Labor Day). Tickets cost $9 for children aged 6 to 12 and $18 for adults. Note: Guests can only stay on Caladesi Island for up to four hours. 

Nature-loving parkgoers will also want to visit the Rotary Centennial Nature Center. Here, visitors can learn about the area's wildlife, including species that are either endangered or threatened. Admission to the center is included in the park's entrance fee of $8 per vehicle (for up to eight passengers), $4 per single-person car, or $2 per pedestrian or cyclist. 

St. Andrews State Park, Panama City

St. Andrews State Park is sandwiched between the Gulf of Mexico and St. Andrews Bay, which means marine-loving visitors are in for a treat. Whether you're hoping to snorkel, surf, swim, or build a sandcastle, you'll be spoiled for space to enjoy life on the water. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins as they tend to hang out near the jetty. Other amenities include a fishing pier, concessions, two hiking trails, as well as kayak, paddleboard, and snorkeling equipment rentals. Scuba diving is also permitted here, but there must be a minimum of two divers in each group. Scuba divers must also stay 50 feet away from resident manatees. 

Save time for a trip to Shell Island, an untouched barrier island in the southern section of the park. The only way to get there is by boat, but the Shell Island Shuttle leaves every 30 minutes or hour, depending on the time of year. Round-trip tickets cost about $18 for children and $25 for adults. Tent and RV camping is also available at St. Andrews State Park, but for something a bit more luxurious, glamping includes a reservable eco-tent that features electricity, a cot, a queen-sized bed, and water views.

Silver Springs State Park, Ocala

Unlike other beach-centered parks on this list, the 4,000-acre Silver Springs State Park is located almost smack dab in the middle of the state, just east of Ocala. While you won't be digging your toes into warm sand, you'll have a slew of fun activities to choose from, including hiking, birding, mountain biking, and horseback riding. This is a BYOH (bring your own horse) state park, so if you're hoping to unleash your inner cowboy or cowgirl, head to nearby Cactus Jack's Trail Rides for a guided tour in Marjorie Harris Car Cross Florida Greenway, which lies only 10 minutes away. 

Just because there's no gulf or ocean near this state park doesn't mean you won't find water — the park is named Silver Springs, after all. In fact, one of the most popular park activities is cruising on a glass-bottom boat.  Even though it will be tempting, don't jump in the vibrant blue water! The park doesn't allow swimming. Instead, visitors can hit the water in a kayak or canoe. You can launch your own or rent a kayak or canoe onsite. The two-hour guided paddling tour is always fun.

There's also a campsite here, which includes six-person cabins that feature two bedrooms, a bath, fridge, dishwasher, air conditioning, heating, and a gas fireplace. They're available to book between October 1 and April 30. A more rustic experience is also on offer, with sites for RVs and tents.

Blue Spring State Park, Orange City

Looking for Manatees? You're in luck. Despite its inland locale, the main feature of Blue Spring State Park is just what you'd guess — a blue spring. It is known for its manatee population, best seen in winter. In addition to water that is a refreshingly pleasant 72 degrees year-round, this park is an ideal place to launch a kayak, and you can rent one or book a guided tour. Boat cruises are also available to book through St. Johns River Cruises and Tours. 

Blue Spring State Park is just over 30 miles north of Orlando and 30 miles southwest of Daytona Beach, making it an excellent place to visit for a day trip. Along with kayaking and boating, guests can fish, hike, swim, snorkel, or scuba dive. There's even tubing available from the upper entry of the spring. Guests can rent the tube from Blue Springs Adventures and float their way along nearly an eighth of a mile to the swimming dock. 

A word of warning: the park has been known to close for hours at a time when it reaches capacity. You aren't the only one who wants to spot a manatee! If you're hoping to arrive during a busy time (i.e. a winter weekend or holiday), come early. The park opens at 8 a.m. Or, ensure your entry by pre-booking a campsite, kayak rental, or boat tour.

Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine

An East Coast gem, Anastasia State Park lies on a barrier island of the same name. Located just two miles from St. Augustine, one of America's most underrated small towns, this vast park sprawls across over 1,600 acres of varied terrain that includes sand dunes, beaches, tidal marsh, and maritime hammocks. Ever biked on sand? You can do that here. There are over four miles of beach to cycle upon, not to mention paved roads. Vacationers who don't have a bike in tow can rent one. 

Salt Run is the main body of water in this park. An estuarine tidal marsh, it is ideal for canoeing and kayaking. Anastasia Watersports rents the necessary vessels as well as stand-up paddleboards. The park is also home to the remarkable Ancient Dunes Nature Trail, which is an excellent place to hike while searching for wildlife. Don't miss the Spanish Coquina Quarries, which were the main sources of coquina (a sand- and mollusk-shell material) during Spanish colonization. Coquina was used to build Castillo de San Marcos and other historic buildings in St. Augustine. Other fun activities include swimming, surfing, and fishing.

The park also features 139 campsites for either an RV or a tent, and the park is an ideal spot for a family camping adventure. Kids can borrow books from the Bedtime Story Camper Lending Library, while the Island Beach Shop and Grill serves quick bites and souvenirs.

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne

Cape Florida Lighthouse is the most iconic attraction at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, but it's the miles of pristine beaches that entice visitors to return. Set on the idyllic barrier island of Key Biscayne, which lies just south of Miami, this gorgeous park offers visitors a quieter beach experience than they'd find in the big city. The park offers exquisite seaside views, and those looking to up the romance factor of their beach vacation should time their visit for sunset. Weekends are a popular time to visit this state park, so arrive early to ensure you nab a parking spot, especially if you're hoping to park near the boat launch at the north end of Area A. 

Once in the park, be sure to take advantage of the many fun things to do, from swimming to rollerblading to hiking through mangrove wetlands. Lighthouse tours are also available between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., Thursday through Monday. Traveling with kids? Rent a large quad bike. They seat four adults and two small children. Look for the Lighthouse Café and you'll find the rental concession next door. Hydro bikes, ocean kayaks, beach chairs, and umbrellas are also available. When it comes time to eat, there are two good restaurant options in the park: Lighthouse Café (where you previously rented your gear) and Boater's Grill.