When you think “beautiful public parks” do you think “Florida”? Well, you should. Some of the most stunning parks in America are right here in the Sunshine State. Filled with unforgettable floral and fauna, you’ll want to mark off the perfect hike and head out to explore. Maybe you’ll even see a floating manatee or crawling sea turtle!

So fill a backpack, apply your sunscreen, and head on out to these award-winning public parks in Florida.

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park || Micanopy

Photo courtesy of Floridastateparks.org

Paynes Prairie is biologically, geologically and historically unique. This park became Florida´s first state preserve in 1971 and is now designated as a National Natural Landmark. More than 20 distinct biological communities provide a rich array of habitats for wildlife and livestock, including alligators, bison, horses and nearly 300 species of birds. Exhibits and an audio-visual program at the visitor center explain the area´s natural and cultural history.

A 50-foot-high observation tower near the visitor center provides a panoramic view of the preserve. Eight trails provide opportunities for hiking, horseback riding, and bicycling, including the 16 mile long, paved Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail.

Dry Tortugas National Park || Key West

Photo courtesy of Floridastateparks.org

Made up of seven small islands, it is one of the world’s most unique eco-attractions. Its crown jewel, the historic Fort Jefferson, was once used as a prison during the Civil War. Explore and learn of its history with one of our guides and enjoy an array of activities. There’s something for everyone! Book Now and Explore Uncharted Territory at the Dry Tortugas National Park!

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Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park || Wakulla Springs

Photo courtesy of Floridastateparks.org

Home of one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world, this park plays host to an abundance of wildlife which includes alligators, turtles, manatees, deer, and birds. Daily guided riverboat tours provide a closer view of wildlife and are perfect for the wildlife photographer. Glass bottom boat tours are offered when the water is clear to a depth of 75 feet (an event that rarely occurs in the present day).

Swimming is a popular activity during the hot summer months. Fall, winter and spring are the best times to enjoy the nature trails where visitors walk beside remarkable karst features and among rare and unusual plants in its old-growth forests. Wakulla Springs State Park and Lodge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as a National Natural Landmark.

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Anastasia State Park || St. Augustine

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Anastasia State Park includes 1,600 acres of rich ecosystems and abundant wildlife. Explore up to four miles of pristine beach, the estuarine tidal marsh teeming with plant and animal life, or the beautiful nature trail which takes you through the maritime hammock and onto ancient sand dunes. You can also visit the Coquina Quarry, an archaeological site where coquina rock was mined to help construct the nearby Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, earning it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

At Anastasia, there are many recreational activities to enjoy including hiking, swimming, beachcombing, bird watching and much more. The campground contains 139 campsites all located within the beautiful maritime hammock and just a short walk or bike ride from the beach.

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Blue Spring State Park || Orange City

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Blue Spring State Park covers more than 2,600 acres, including the largest spring on the St. Johns River. Blue Spring is a designated manatee refuge and the winter home to a growing population of West Indian Manatees. During manatee season, which approximately runs from mid-November through March, several hundred manatee can be viewed atop the spring’s overlooks on cold days. The spring and spring run are closed to all water activity from mid-November to at least mid-March.  Swimming or diving with manatees is not permitted; this rule is strictly enforced.

The spring’s crystal clear, 73-degree water can be enjoyed by swimmers, snorkelers and certified scuba divers, with a partner during our designated swimming season. Fishing, canoeing and boating are also enjoyed along the St. Johns River. A self-guided tour inside the historic Thursby house, built at the height of the steamboat era in 1872, can also be experienced. In addition the park has plenty of picnic areas as well as three covered pavilions. Air-conditioned cabins and a full-facility campground are available for visitors interested in staying overnight.

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Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park || Keystone Heights

Photo courtesy of Floridastateparks.org

One of Florida’s first state parks, Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park was developed on a 2,000-acre site by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the 1930s. Located on rolling sandhills in an area known as the central ridge of Florida, a deep ravine with springs issuing from its sides bisects the area and forms Gold Head Branch. Marshes, lakes and scrub provide a habitat for a wide variety of wildlife.

Visitors to the park can enjoy hiking and wildlife viewing along the park’s nature trails and a 5.44-mile stretch of the Florida National Scenic Trail. For aquatic recreation, visitors can swim or fish in the lake, or spend a lazy afternoon canoeing. A large picnic area, with tables and grills, pavilions and a playground are available for visitors to enjoy.

Grayton Beach State Park || Santa Rosa Beach

Photo courtesy of Floridastateparks.org

Grayton Beach consistently ranks among the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the United States. The beach provides an idyllic setting for swimming, sunbathing and surf fishing and is the backdrop for golden sunrises and silver moonlit evenings. The nearly 2,000-acre park features a boat ramp that provides access to the lake’s brackish waters for both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Visitors can paddle a canoe, paddle board or kayak on scenic Western Lake to get a closer look at a salt marsh ecosystem. A nature trail winds through a coastal forest where scrub oaks and magnolias stand, bent and twisted by the salt winds. Hikers and bicyclists can enjoy more than four miles of trails throughout the pine flatwoods.

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Three Rivers State Park || Sneads

Photo courtesy of Floridastateparks.org

Where Florida meets the southwest corner of Georgia, the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers converge to form Lake Seminole, the setting for this peaceful park. Hiking through forested hills of pine and mixed hardwoods, visitors might catch sight of fox squirrels, white-tailed deer, gray foxes, or many species of native and migratory birds. Campers can launch from a boat ramp to enjoy some of the best freshwater fishing in the state, or fish from a 100-foot pier in the camping area. A shady picnic area, with tables and grills, overlooks the lake. For large gatherings, three pavilions are available for rental. Overnight visitors can stay in a full-facility (no sewer hook-up, dump station only) campground next to the lake or enjoy the comforts of a modern cabin.

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Highlands Hammock State Park || Sebring

Photo courtesy of Floridastateparks.org

Acquired by the state in 1935, Highlands Hammock has grown over the years and now has 15 distinct natural communities in its more than 9,000 acres that include large tracts of pine flatwoods, hydric hammock, cypress swamp, and baygall. The park is known for its beautiful old-growth hammock and thousand year old oaks.  Ferns and air plants are abundant.  Black bear and the Florida panther tread softly through the hammock and may be glimpsed occasionally.  An elevated boardwalk with an historic catwalk traverses cypress swamp, and visitors may observe alligators, birds and other wildlife.

Many visitors enjoy bicycling the scenic three mile loop drive or hiking the park’s nine nature trails. Picnicking, bird-watching, and ranger-guided tours of the park are other popular activities.  The tram tour, which is fully accessible, allows visitors the unique opportunity to view birds, alligators, turtles, deer and other wildlife relatively close-up, in areas of the park that are restricted to public access.

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