Part Two - Places in Florida to Visit
Florida State Park System – For Beauty or for Your Budget
There are 175 Florida State Parks. Our state parks need to be part of our 10 places in Florida to visit.
We can’t tell you about all of them, but we can narrow your search down to the ones our family has visited. We can also tell you that Florida has one of the best park systems in the country and truly are some of the best places in Florida to visit. They are well maintained, managed properly and always looking for more ways to improve.
Even better is the cost. Entering state parks can cost five bucks per car or a few bucks per person depending on which park you choose and your plans for the park. Understandably, camping and overnight stay fees are associated with the type of campground and the facilities. The current fee schedule shows that primitive camping starts at $5 per night. Full-service campgrounds run from $10-60 per night.
Choosing a Florida State Park – When and Where
Our experiences would suggest weekdays are better than weekends. Many campgrounds are booked weeks ahead of time. Always call ahead. Talk to the park employees. They can tell you the best time to plan a camping trip. Holidays are crowded. You are competing with local visitors for space and services. Parks closer to metropolitan areas are busier than parks in more remote locations.
Below we give you some ideas about which parks to choose. State Parks are different. Some are in heavily wooded areas and some are in locations that have fewer trees but may have more water features. Do your research!
Also, consider your plans away from the park. Are you planning family day trips close by? Do you have multiple destinations? Do you have preferences for your stay like fishing, bird watching, hiking, or kayaking? Do you or your family have any health concerns? What about bad weather? Florida has more sunshine than most other states, but even Key West, with the highest number of sunny days, has periods of cloudy or rainy days. Planning for all possible scenarios will make your Florida State Park visits more enjoyable.
Our 11 Florida State Park Choices from the Panhandle to the Keys
Most of the parks we choose have springs or other water features like rivers or beaches. Most are full-service State Parks unless noted otherwise. Each description will give you a general location in Florida and note nearby attractions. Options for vacations and day trips in Florida are the biggest considerations.
Grayton Beach State Park – Near Destin in the panhandle of Florida – For a family camping vacation or just a visit, you can’t go wrong with Grayton. You have the Gulf of Mexico and a small lake to choose your water activities. A short bicycle ride away in the town of Grayton with fine restaurants and shops. Even better is one of our favorite destinations in Florida, Destin and Harborwalk.
St. George Island State Park – Also in the panhandle near Apalachicola, Florida –
Can you say relax? We have written about this park before. Relatively remote on a barrier island on Apalachicola Bay. Nice Gulf beach and few crowds. Fishing is excellent and sea bird watching. Camping is good, but not many spots that are treelined. Makes a great place to get away from civilization and big cities.
Bahia Honda State Park – On way to Key West – One of our family favorites. This park has shallow waters for snorkeling, sea breezes and a great location. This is a great place for children to learn about saltwater sea life. Easy access to clear and clean water for discovering the world below the water’s surface. Just 30 minutes from Key West in the Florida Keys. You could easily combine with other Keys’ state parks. This is one of the best places in Florida to visit if parks and camping are on your mind.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park – No Camping, but plenty of private camping around. Near Gainesville, Florida. This is probably the most popular Florida State Park for tubing and kayaking. Reputation for crystal clear waters and snorkeling. Great day trip in Florida. Lots of tree-lined paddling and tubing in 72-degree water year-round. The springs have swimming and services for a day trip.
Silver Springs State Park – Near Ocala and The Villages – Perhaps the most commercialized spring in Florida. Movies and television shows have shot films here many times. One reason is Silver Springs is one of the largest springs and most historic. We have visited Silver Springs several times and had fun on the glass bottom boats and boardwalk into the forest. There is camping here and some well-defined hiking trails. Makes a great day road trip in Florida if you just want to visit.
Rainbow Springs State Park – Near about 45 minutes northeast of Crystal River and Southeast of Cedar Key – Very busy state park with a superb protected swimming area. Kayaking, tubing, and paddleboarding are the main activities. It seems the goal is to float down to a restaurant in Dunnellon, Florida for lunch and refreshments at Swampy’s. The springs form the Rainbow River that flows in the very large Withlacoochee River. Very highly recommend this park.
Cayo Costa State Park – Near Punta Gorda, Captiva, Island in Charlotte Harbor – If you like remote islands, this is it. While they only allow primitive camping, this is still a perfect day trip in Florida. Start your day with a ferry ride to this untouched barrier island. Spend the day with wildlife, beaches, and hiking through nature’s island wonderland. this is an adventurous place in Florida to visit.
Myakka River State Park – Just east of Sarasota, Florida – One of Florida’s largest state parks. You can walk the wilderness along the river basin. There are deer, alligators, wild boar, bobcats, otters and dozens of bird species. The park has a wide range of camping options and tons of services. The park covers 58 square miles in the preservation. This is another family favorite. As a side note, Oscar Scherer State Park is just a few minutes away that has many of the same amenities in a different setting.
Wakulla Springs State Park – Just south of Tallahassee, Florida in the big bend area – Wakulla Springs is notable for several reasons. The springs are the world’s largest and deepest. The 300 million gallons of water produced a day creates a large lake before it becomes the Wakulla River that lumbers to the Gulf of Mexico. The Spanish-style lodge at Wakulla has a historical background in Florida’s development. The huge swimming area highlights the many amenities offered.
John Pennekamp State Park – Key Largo, Florida on way to Key West – It would be impossible to leave a park that has 74 acres of it underwater! John Pennekamp Park includes an underwater reef for divers along with many other saltwater-related activities not found in any other park. One of the features we like is the interactive exhibits that focus on education about our reefs and estuaries in Florida. John Pennekamp has camping, snorkeling, fishing, and a marina for overnight camping on a boat. Great place for a day trip or weeklong visit in Florida. Many other activities in the Key Largo area.
Caladesi Island State Park – near Clearwater Beach, Florida – No list of the best state parks in Florida can be published without one of the most popular parks in the system. Even though there is no camping except on your boat docked at the park, Caladesi is popular due to its proximity to Clearwater Beach. Caladesi is also popular because the beach is long and rarely crowded. A short ferry ride from Honeymoon Island, another state park takes you to the docks for a short walk to the beach and hiking trails. Caladesi is a perfect day trip if you are visiting one of the best places in Florida to visit, Clearwater Beach.
Final Notes on the Best 10 Places in Florida to Visit – Plus 11 Florida State Parks
Florida is a big state. There is something for every person and every family. We present these best places in Florida to visit based on our experiences in the past forty years of living in this great state. Have we visited everywhere in Florida? Not yet, but we are going to give it one heck of a try!
Your comments and thoughts are invited.
Link to Part One is here – 10 Places in Florida to Visit – Plus 11 Great State Parks – Florida Travel Blog – Documenting the REAL Florida!