Florida State Parks - The Country's Best Park System
Florida has 67 counties covering over 65,000 square miles. I was determined to find a county that didn’t have a Florida State Park. It was a futile effort. Every county has a state park or a river or stream originating from a park. Florida has 175 state parks from the tip of the panhandle to the tip of the Keys. Many are along two major bodies of water, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. A few have both bodies of water surrounding them in the Keys.
If you decided to spend a day traveling to or visiting a state park each day, it would take you almost 6 months! Oh yes, you may need some snorkeling gear for a park that is underwater!
Have we visited all of Florida’s state parks? No. Between family, friends and our expeditions, we estimate visits to about 40 parks in various parts of the state. Consistently, at Florida State Parks we found:
- well managed and manicured parks.
- lost cost entry fees, if any.
- all facilities as advertised, no surprises.
- well planned visual opportunities and a photographer’s dream.
- helpful and courteous employees and volunteers.
If we had any surprises at all, it was the under-utilization by the general public of many state parks.
From remote islands like Cayo Costa on Florida’s west coast, to very commercial operations like Silver Springs State Park, the contrasts are available for every mood and required aesthetics. There are primitive camps to full luxury cabins in Florida State Parks.
It should be noted that Florida State Parks have websites that are easily accessible and tastefully represent almost every individual park. Here are a few links that will help your travels and experiences.
- Florida Sate Parks interactive “Find a Park” based on your preferences.
- This site, Visit Florida, lists some of the most popular parks.
- Look for “Springs” in the park name – Florida has hundreds, with new ones being discovered ever year.
Some of Our Memorable Florida State Park Visits
Based on our travels, here are some notes on our favorite places to make some memories. Each has different experiences and opportunities. They are in no particular order.
St. George Island State Park – this island park offers a relatively remote beach and plenty of seabird action. Located in the middle of the panhandle and accessible by a four-mile bridge near Apalachicola. The old lighthouse on the island is worth a picture or two.
Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park – this is a great place to see both the aquatic and land wildlife in Florida. Nestled on a river loaded with manatees. Huge net covered forests contain Florida species of birds and animals. Mid-state on the gulf near Crystal River, Florida.
Bahia Honda Sate Park – this is one of the top five parks in the state if you had my family’s vote. Plenty of aquatic experiences with the gulf on one side and the Atlantic on the other. Great place to teach the kids about sea life. Quite a stop on the way to Key West!
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – if you want to discover the underwater world of the Florida keys, this is a great place to start. Snorkeling the reef makes this one of Florida’s most unusual parks. Just south of Key Largo.
Oscar Scherer Sate Park – this park is known for birding, biking and camping. Set in the mid-south Florida portion of Florida below Sarasota. If you like hiking, go a few miles northeast from Oscar Scherer to Myakka River State Park. This park has a small river running through it which attracts wildlife of all species. Both offer plenty of campsites.
Up along the “Forgotten Coast”, in Wakulla County is one of Florida’s oldest recognized springs at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park. An historic lodge and a spring river that ends up in the Gulf of Mexico highlights this destination. Limited camping, but a great swimming park. A lot of history and a rustic place to stay for an evening in an old lodge.
Grayton Beach State Park – offers a world of sea grasses, sea birds and gulf side campgrounds. With over 2000 acres containing wide open beaches and pine woods retreats. There are walking trails, plenty of room for biking and cabins that are reserved far in advance. A very popular place in the panhandle.
Not far off Florida’s Spanish Trail in the north part of the state is the Suwannee River State Park. If there is a place for the perfect river kayak trip, this is it! The Suwannee River runs from Georgia through Florida a couple hundred miles as it joins the Withlacoochee River also originating in Georgia. Beautiful views of the river at the park. Kayaking for miles.
Silver Springs State Park – ever hear of movies about Tarzan, The Creature from the Black Lagoon and TV’s Sea Hunt? All of these were filmed in part at Silver Springs Park. Located in the north-central part of Florida near Ocala, Silver Springs pumps 550 million gallons of water daily into the Silver River. This spring has been a tourist attraction since the 1800s. Very commercial, but fun family adventures can be had here on some 5000 acres. Must visit the park!
Rainbow Springs State Park – kayaking, tubing, boating, and fishing highlight one of the busiest state parks in the system. The river is clear cool water that flows through Dunnellon, Florida.
Fort Clinch State Park – being a very amateur history buff, I can say the significance of Fort Clinch and Amelia Island was critical to early settlers and the civil war. A visit there means you have two things to look forward to, seeing the fort and visiting Amelia Island. Both historical locations are worth the visit and offer great beaches on the Atlantic Ocean.
While we are focusing on Florida State Parks, it should be noted that the federal government has 11 National Parks in the state of Florida. Perhaps the two most famous are the Everglades National Park and, my favorite, Dry Tortugas National Park with Fort Jefferson. Both of these should be added to your park visiting list!
The Florida Travel Log will keep you up to date as we continue our visits to Florida State Parks. Send us a note about your travels.
Discovery - Part of the Park Experience
As we end this blog post, we hope there was some inspiration that stirred your soul to explore and discover something new at Florida State Parks. Our state parks are our direct link to history, wildlife, flora and preservation efforts for future generations. Our family has had many experiences in the woods and waters around Florida that match any amusement park or commercial attraction. Check some of them out!