Nearly a dozen of the 423 parks designated as national parks by the United States can be found inside of Florida. Each of them has unique opportunities for outdoor activities, wildlife watching, and their own historical significance.
Most people have heard of the more famous parks like the Everglades, but other beautiful national parks in Florida are less well-known outside of the state. We’ve put this list together to lay out all of Florida’s national parks and give you some insight into them to help you decide which you’d like to visit.
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Florida is home to eleven parks designated as National Parks, as well as many state parks and preserves. These National Parks range from memorials centered on historic sites to huge nature preserves created to protect a pristine ecological area.
Perhaps the most famous and definitely the largest national park in Florida, Everglades National Park covers more than 1.5 million square acres (6,070.28 square km). Each year a million people from across the world visit the park to view the wide variety of wildlife and undisturbed wetlands.
Established in 1947, the park is the largest subtropical and tropical wilderness in the US. Five distinct habitats can be found in the park: Hammock, Mangroves, Pineland, Sawgrass, and Slough.
Home to a number of endangered and invasive species, the Everglades is truly a thriving and abundant ecosystem. American crocodiles, manatees, and Florida panthers are some of the rarer species you can find in the park.
Much more common, the American Alligator is the apex predator of the park. Invasive species like boa constrictors and pythons found the perfect habitat to thrive after finding their way to Florida through the exotic pet trade.
A wide array of hiking and biking trails in the park cover all of the different habitats and a suitable trail for all skill levels can be found. Boating, kayaking, and canoeing are also popular options for spotting wildlife in the park.
There are a number of available campgrounds in the park, and numerous wilderness camping spots accessible by water. Backcountry permits are required for all wilderness camping locations, and reservations are recommended.
Established in 1974 as the country’s first National Preserve, Big Cypress derailed development plans for what would have been the world’s largest airport. Conservationists, hunters, environmentalists, Seminoles, Miccosukees, and many other groups joined together to protect the swampland and the creatures that lived within.
The preserve is located to the North of Everglades National Park and East of Naples, Florida. As the second-largest National Park in Florida, Big Cypress covers over 729,000 acres (2,950.15 square km) and is larger than the state of Rhode Island.
The park is mostly made up of tropical and temperate swamplands and is home to a variety of wildlife including Florida turtles, black bears, alligators, manatees, Florida snakes, fish, and wading birds. It’s also one of the last remaining areas where Florida Panthers can be found commonly.
The park offers both guides and educational activities, as well as solo recreational activities such as hiking, kayaking, canoeing, camping, and scenic drives. Two roads through the parks 17 and 27 miles offer scenic drives perfect for spotting wildlife.
Eight campgrounds are available, the largest of which is Bear Lake and the most accessible being Midway. Midway and Pinecrest are open year-round, but Midway offers water, electricity, restrooms, and is a dump station for all campgrounds. The rest of the campsites are seasonally open, usually from August 15th to April 15th.
3. Biscayne (National Park)
Carved out of a landscape that’s 95 percent water and located East of Miami, Biscayne National Park protects coral reefs, shipwrecks, and stunning scenery. In 2019, 709,000 visitors flocked to the park to enjoy boating, fishing, snorkeling, diving, and paddle sports.
Established as a National Park by Lyndon B Johnson in 1968, the park is home to a unique collection of tropical fish, reptiles, and amphibians. The shallow bay is ideal for snorkeling, and you can take guided eco-tours throughout the park.
The park has a single hiking trail called Spite Highway and is a beautiful walk through tropical hardwood forest. Also within the park are over fifty keys to be explored and large coral reefs and mangrove forests housing tropical fish.
Only two campgrounds are available in the park, one on Elliot Key and one on Boca Chita Key. Neither are accessible by land, as all the keys are undisturbed by roads or bridges, and can only be accessed by boat. Unlike some other parks, backcountry camping is not allowed.
Emerald waters and pure white sand beaches are what await you in the Gulf Islands National Seashore. Located near Pensacola and Gulf Breeze Florida, the park includes the barrier islands sitting in the Gulf Of Mexico.
The park was established in 1971 thanks to the historic significance of Spanish, French, British, Confederate, and US claims to the area. Pensacola itself is called the “City of Five Flags” because at one time or another it was controlled by five different nations, and is actually the oldest European settlement in the United States.
Exploring museums and forts is a great way to soak in the history of the area. These areas themselves are quite the hike, but if you prefer biking there are miles of scenic bike routes along the Gulf of Mexico open to the public year-round.
The park is a critical nesting site for threatened seabirds and turtles, and artificial reefs offer a great opportunity for snorkeling and scuba diving. Fish, sharks, stingrays, and dolphins are all easily seen inside the park. Seasonally, you can watch tarpon jump beyond the sandbar and see manta ray schools gliding through the surf.
Fort Pickens Campground is the main available campground with multiple loops for RV hookups and tent spaces. Backcountry camping permits are available, and assuming you set your tent up above the high tide line, is the perfect way to stargaze and spend your night on the beach.
Canaveral National Seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped seashore on the Atlantic side of Florida. Established in 1975 between New Smyrna Beach and Titusville, and seeing roughly a million visitors each year, the area is famous for being one of the best areas to watch rockets launch.
With a direct view of the Kennedy Space Center, Playalinda Beach offers an astounding view of rocket launches when the launch happens during park hours. If you plan on viewing a launch, remember that traffic is slowed down for security and that the park will refuse visitors once it reaches capacity.
Castle Windy trail is the park’s lone designated hiking trail and the half-mile (0.80 km) hike leads to Mosquito Lagoon. Pets are allowed, and the best season to hit the trail is during Winter.
Fishing and boating are the two other most popular activities, with over 156 miles (251.05 km) of shallow lagoons to explore. There are 14 designated backcountry camping sites in the park and you must make reservations in advance to access them. Many of these areas are only accessible by boat, so consider renting a canoe if you plan to camp.
Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fortification in the United States and was deemed a national monument in 1924. The park is one of the smallest in Florida, covering only about 25 acres (0.10 square km).
Originally, the fort was constructed by the Spanish to assist in the defense of St. Augustine. The walls are made of stone, stand 33 feet tall (10.05 m) and 12 feet (3.65 m)thick, and are surrounded by a moat. The stone fort is actually the tenth fortification built on the location, with the previous forts made of wood.
As a historical site, museum pieces and tours are the largest attractions. Virtual tours are available, and most of the exploration is self-guided. While suspended at the time of writing, historic weapons demonstrations are done on the grounds to demonstrate musket and cannon firing.
Wandering the grounds are rangers and volunteers who will happily explain the history of the place and answer any questions you might have. The best part? Most of them walk around wearing period dress to really help you put yourself back in time, and they’re generally happy to pose for pictures with you.
Check out the video of the overview of Castillo de San Marcos below:
One of the most popular parks in the state, De Soto National Park (established 1935) receives more than 2.5 million visitors each year. The park features seven miles (11.26 km) of white sand beaches and has been named one of the top beaches worldwide in multiple years.
Over 328 species of bird have been documented inside the park, and abundant sea life can be found in and along the water. The park is made up of 5 small, interconnected islands (keys), with a large Confederate Fort as the central historic draw.
The park has 328 family-friendly camping sites, hiking and canoeing trails, historic museums, and self-guided tours. Small vessels are allowed within the park’s boundaries, birdwatching here is amazing, and fishing is available with valid fishing licenses.
8. Dry Tortugas (National Park)
70 miles (112.65 km) west of Key West, the Dry Tortugas National Park is made up of seven small islands and crystal clear waters. Only accessible by boat or seaplane, the park’s 100 square miles (258.99 square km) protects Fort Jefferson and surrounding coral reefs and marine life.
Less than 1% of the park is dry land, so the best way to experience it is either by scuba diving or snorkeling. Corals, seagrass, and abundant shipwrecks are all stunning homes to the huge variety of marine animals in the area.
Out of the water, you have the chance to tour the stunningly beautiful Fort Jefferson. Despite thirty years of construction ending in 1875, the fort was never fully finished. Situated nearly in the water, the fort houses a ringed moat, spacious grounds inside the walls, and hours of exploration.
Garden Key is where you can find the only campsites available. Thanks to its remote location, stargazing and sunset watching are top-notch here. Be sure to book ferry rides or transportation well in advance and remember that sites are first-come, first-served.
9. Timucuan (Ecological and Historic Preserve)
Established in 1988, Timucuan National Park is one of the world’s largest unspoiled coastal wetlands. Nearly 1.3 million visitors come to the park each year for its historical sites and beautiful natural environments.
Fort Caroline, the Kingsley Plantation, and the Theodore Roosevelt areas are all wonderful places to take in the history of the area. Archeological sites of early Native Americans can also be found within the borders of the park. The Kingsley plantation House is the oldest plantation house in the state of Florida, being built in 1798 and maintained till today.
Situated on the Atlantic Coast and just to the North of Jacksonville, the park hosts historical events, demonstrations, and museums. You can find an event calendar for the park here.
Hiking Trails in the park take you through the salt marshes and brush habitats of the area. You can choose to take nature walks through the forests or walk along the same roads slaves were marched down near the plantations.
Two campgrounds are available inside the park’s boundaries. Like other parks in Florida, boating, kayaking, canoeing, hiking, and recreational beaches are all open to the public on top of the numerous historical sites.
10. Fort Caroline (National Memorial)
Situated inside of Timucuan National Park and bringing in around 200,00 visitors each year is Fort Caroline. Near the mouth of the St. John’s River, Fort Caroline was the first attempt of France to establish itself in the New World.
This attempt would quickly fail, as the Spanish managed to completely remove the French settlers within two years of the colony’s beginning. The fort has been rebuilt to scale and stands as a historical monument to this day.
As it sits within Timucuan National Park, it shares the same outdoor activities and facilities the park does. The fort itself offers virtual and guided tours, as well as history lessons and demonstrations.
11. Fort Matanzas (National Monument)
Fort Matanzas was constructed by the Spanish to protect the southern side of St. Augustine. The park protects the original fortified watchtower and about 300 acres (1.21 square km) of surrounding lands.
The park offers virtual and guided tours, as well as some of the best beach views in St. Augustine. The one-mile (1.60 km) Marsh Trail is the main hiking attraction of the park, taking hikers through the marshlands at the mouth of the Matanzas River. For a more casual hike, you can walk along the boardwalk trails high above the barrier island.
Bringing in around one million visitors each year, you’ll need to take a ferry to visit the fort. You can find normal ferry times here, but you can still explore large sections of the park without visiting Rattlesnake Island where the fort is located.
Florida is hot and humid. If you aren’t used to it, it can exhaust you much quicker than you think. For the most part, the best times to visit parks are in the late Fall, Winter, and early Spring before it heats up too much.
Tropical and subtropical parks like the Everglades, Biscayne, and Big Cypress also have wet and dry seasons. During wet seasons, hiking trails are often flooded, and walking through waist-deep water with alligators isn’t on many people’s bucket lists. Aim to go during the dry season, usually between November and April.
Florida is home to a huge number of species, but it isn’t called the Australia of America for no reason. In most parks, you’ll see guidelines asking you to stay at least 25 feet away from any wildlife. This is both for the animal’s safety and yours.
In many parks, alligators and snakes can be aggressive when not given the respect they deserve, and nothing ruins a vacation more than a hospital trip. In others, endangered and threatened animals use parks as nesting and breeding grounds. Disturbing nests is not only a felony offense but can have large impacts on already struggling species.
In addition to nationally designated parks, Florida has a plethora of designated state parks, wildlife preserves, and ecological areas. Nearly all of them have excellent hiking trails, wildlife watching, and campgrounds. If your goal is to swim with or see manatees, then you definitely should check out Crystal River and Blue Springs State Parks.