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Florida as a tourist destination is perhaps first associated with jam-packed amusement parks or the neon-lit clubs of South Beach. However, the state has plenty of outdoor beauty, perhaps even the most on the East Coast. We’ve rounded up the National Parks of Florida and some of our other favorite wild areas in the state.
Everglades National Park
After Death Valley and Yellowstone, Everglades National Park is the third largest national park in the contiguous United States, taking up over one and a half million acres. The Everglades is perhaps best known for its extremely diverse ecosystem. The semi-aquatic mangrove forests growing amongst the Florida swamps are some of the largest in the world. Additionally, the park is home to a very eclectic group of threatened animal species like the manatee, American crocodile, and the Florida panther. The continued protection of Everglades National Park is paramount as it is the largest wilderness area anywhere in the United States east of the Mississippi River.
Dry Tortugas National Park
West of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico, nearly directly north of Havana, is Dry Tortugas National Park. Made up of seven islands and the waters and reefs around them, the park is rather small but vital to the health of the coral reefs in the area. Of the seven islands, the two most visited and well-known islands are Garden Key and Loggerhead Key. Garden Key’s main attraction is Fort Jefferson. Built in the 1800s, Fort Jefferson is an impressive monument to human engineering as it covers 16 acres and is made of 16 million bricks. Snorkelers and sunbathers take advantage of the beaches around the stronghold. As for Loggerhead Key, the black and white lighthouse and the Windjammer Shipwreck bring eager sightseers and divers alike.
Biscayne National Park
Despite being within sight of Miami, Biscayne is one of the least visited National Parks in the United States. This is in part due to much of the park being underwater. Nonetheless, travelers looking for pristine waters to go boating or diving in can count on Biscayne as an oasis. If you prefer land-based activities, Biscayne has picturesque island shoreline and mangrove forests.
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Up near Pensacola on the Panhandle, and connecting with some of the best beaches in Alabama, the Gulf Shores National Seashore is a popular vacation getaway for families from multiple states. With places to sunbathe, rent boats, and go kayaking, it’s an ideal getaway in the Sunshine State.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
One of those “only in Florida” places, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is known for their live mermaid performances. Every day, three times a day, Weeki Wachee’s roster of mermaids put on interpretations of famous mermaid tales like the Little Mermaid. Thanks to the mermaids, along with the riverboat cruises and wildlife shows, this is a favorite family destination.
Honeymoon Island State Park
With four miles of pristine beaches that are gently kissed by the aquamarine waters of the Floridian West Coast, Honeymoon Island State Park is officially the most visited state park in Florida. Besides the obvious sunbathing, visitors love coming to Honeymoon Island for birding and to hopefully catch a glimpse of the dolphin pods that frequent the waters.
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Rainbow Springs State Park
Said to have been first visited by native peoples 10,000 years ago, these pure natural spring waters seem to have positive effects on all those who visit. An excellent place for swimming, kayaking, tubing, and visiting nearby waterfalls, Rainbow Springs is one of Central Florida’s must-see locations.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Considered to be one of the best beaches in Florida, the Florida Cape is only minutes from downtown Miami but truly feels like an escape. The picturesque lighthouse — the Cape Florida Lighthouse — stands as a sentinel at the southern tip of the cape and is actually the oldest building in all of greater Miami.
Florida Caverns State Park
Situated on the Florida Panhandle, Florida Caverns State Park is home to a series of underground caves that are open to the public. With the cool air starkly contrasting to the humidity of the surface, the presence of stalagmites and stalactites, and silence only penetrated by dripping water, the caves seem like the gateway to a new world.
John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Located in the famously beautiful Florida Keys, off the coast of Everglades National Park, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is comprised of 70 nautical miles of colorful reef. The first undersea park, there are still dry land opportunities like camping on a beach where swimming amongst a shipwreck is allowed.
Castillo de San Marcos
With construction beginning in 1672, under the authority of the Spanish Empire, Castillo de San Marcos is the oldest masonry fort still standing in the United States. The fort, which is shaped like a ninja star, was transferred into the hands of the National Park Service in 1933, and has been a popular tourist site since. The Castillo does have some painful history, as it was used as a place of imprisonment for influential Native American leaders like famed Seminole war chief Osceola, Geronimo, and Howling Wolf of the Cheyenne. Fort Caroline in the north is another well-known national monument in Florida.
National Historic Places
Originally a working 1,000 acres, the Kingsley Plantation is a gorgeous piece of land that has largely been retaken by natural fauna. Owned formerly by Zephaniah Kingsley, in its heyday the plantation was unique as freed African-Americans and the white owners worked it equally (which eventually led to a multiracial polygamous household). The main house is still intact and is where most tourists focus their visit.
Ocala National Forest
Coupled with Osceola National Forest, Central Florida has some impressive preserved forested land. With numerous hiking trails and over 600 lakes, Ocala is an amazing place to visit for outdoor adventure. Both are also well within reach of world-class glamping in Florida for a splash of luxury.