Boasting one of the longest coastlines in the USA and a subtropical climate, Florida is a wild paradise full of remarkable landscapes to explore. The spectacular range of unique ecosystems extends from alligator-filled marshlands to the only coral reef in the continental United States in an exciting display of nature at its finest.
With so many incredible parks to explore, you may be left wondering how you’re going to be able to cram them all into your visit. Do not stress however, as I have put together a list of the best national parks in Florida so you can decide which ones are the best fit for you and plan the perfect outdoor-focused trip to the Sunshine State.
1. Everglades National Park
The largest tropical wilderness in the United States, Everglades National Park is one of the most incredible national parks in Florida and one of the most popular to visit in the whole of the USA. Sprawling across 1.5 million acres of wetland, this natural playground boasts four different visitor centres and is chock-full of exciting things to see and do.
There are a whole host of interesting critters to discover in this natural playground, including dolphins, white-tailed deer and panthers. What’s more, Everglades National Park is home to around 200,000 of the 1.2 million American Alligators in Florida. So, if you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of these 10-15 feet-long reptiles, this is the place to head.
The highlights of this park are certainly not limited just to its remarkable wildlife species. You can embark on a spectacular hike across the unspoilt landscapes, enjoy a spot of bird watching or take in the sights from the comfort of a boat with a boat tour along the park’s swampland.
2. Dry Tortugas National Park
A tropical park just 68 miles west of Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most fantastic national parks of Florida. 99% underwater, there are over 100-square miles of azure water to explore as well as seven small islands.
You also have a fantastic choice of activities including snorkelling, swimming and investigating the magnificent Fort Jefferson – the third-largest fort in the US. Built back in 1846, the fortification is absolutely huge and a fascinating sight to see.
The only thing to keep in mind before journeying to this natural wonderland is that its facilities are rather limited. So, make sure you arrive prepared with plenty of food, water and sun cream.
To get to the park, you can either opt to travel via seaplane or ferry, either of which is set to be an adventure in itself.
Bursting with things to explore, the park’s gorgeous waters boast a fantastic array of tropical marine life, coral reefs and even shipwrecks. Dry Tortugas National Park is also a fantastic place to go birdwatching, with brown boobies, red-necked phalarope and double-crested cormorants just some of the sensational winged creatures to grace this area.
3. Key Biscayne National Park
Part of a 150-mile stretch of coral reefs extending through the lower Florida Keys and the Caribbean, Key Biscayne National Park is an underwater wonderland known to be North America’s only living coral barrier reef and the third longest one in the entire world! Like Dry Tortugas, don’t be expecting trees and wildflowers when visiting this natural wonder, as 95% of it is underwater.
Due to the watery setting, the best way to appreciate this park in all its glory is by jumping on a boat and heading out to the open water. There are plenty of touring options to choose from here, all of which include expert guides leading you through the enchanting park and sharing fascinating facts with you along the way.
Alternatively, you can get up close and personal with all of the fascinating marine life and sights by snorkelling, scuba diving or swimming. A truly incredible experience, you will have an unforgettable time investigating shipwrecks and greeting sea creatures.
You will also be able to test your balance by paddleboarding in Jones Lagoon, where you will be sharing the waters with incredible wildlife species such as sharks, stingrays and turtles.
4. Canaveral National Seashore
Located in the northeast of Florida, Canaveral National Seashore goes above and beyond when it comes to offering a variety of outdoor adventures. With so much to do, this national treasure is easily one of the best national parks in Florida.
Along with fishing, this park offers the chance to go on an exciting hike along one of the many trails or take in its beauty while floating along the turquoise water. Picture a beach with pristine golden sand stretching over 24 miles of unspoilt coastline. You could spend hours relaxing on the shoreline alone; watching the waves and feeling the waves gently lapping against your toes.
Not your average shoreline, you can watch rockets launching at Canaveral National Seashore which proves an exhilarating experience for kids and adults alike. A word of advice: don’t forget to pack your mosquito repellent when visiting this coastline, as the park seems to be just as popular with insects as it is with humans.
5. Big Cypress National Preserve
The Big Cypress National Preserve is a wondrous swamp that extends over 729,000 acres in which you can investigate the remarkable local wildlife and array of plant species. In fact, this remarkable landscape is thought to be one of the final haunting grounds of the once-prevalent Florida panther.
Open year-round, there are many exciting activities to get up to in this dramatic landscape including bird watching, canoeing and hiking. If you fancy a hike but are concerned that you aren’t particularly experienced, the Kirby Storter Boardwalk is a fantastic choice as it isn’t too demanding yet certainly doesn’t skimp in the scenery department.
For those looking for something more chilled out, you can set off on a scenic drive across the park. There are two route options to choose from, one of which is Loop Road. Spreading over 15 miles, this route offers you the opportunity to explore Turner River, Birdon Road and Wagon Wheel that will guide you through the park’s idyllic waterways as well as its tranquil grasslands.
6. Gulf Islands National Seashore
Lying along the southern coasts of Mississippi, The Gulf Islands National Seashore is home to some of the most breathtaking beaches in America. If you’re looking for the best national parks to visit in Florida for a coastal adventure, this is the place for you.
With a world-renowned shoreline, you will be able to swim, kayak, fish and birdwatch to your heart’s content at this beautiful oasis. On the wildlife front, you will be able to spot sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins and 300 bird species during your time here.
The underwater animal scene is also pretty impressive, with sand dollars, fish, crabs and starfish known to frequent these waters.
Beyond water-based activities, you will also be able to set off on a hike, investigate historical forts, explore local wildlife, bike ride along gorgeous cycle routes or go camping on the beach. Spending a night camping on the beach is also a fantastic idea, as the park is said to be blessed with the most outstanding sunsets and star constellations that make it an idyllic setting to catch 40 winks.
7. Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
If you fancy a cultural day out that will teach you about the dark side of America’s history, head towards the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. Located in northeastern Florida, the monument dates back to the 17th century and was primarily used to detain Native Americans.
Of all the Florida national parks, the fort and its troubling past particularly cater to the history buffs amongst us. Castillo de San Marcos was built back in 1672 and has a fascinating story to tell – from cruel attacks to defensive acts to protect the city.
The structure of the fort itself is rather impressive. It is the only 17th-century military structure still standing and was built with a mixture of broken shells and sand bound by calcium carbonate. A truly fascinating piece of architecture, this is one of the must-visit Florida national parks for anyone looking to hear fascinating histories from America’s past.
8. Fort Matanzas National Monument
Fort Matanzas National Monument is a 300-acre park in northwestern Florida. Although its fort is 50 years younger than the one at Castillo de San Marcos, it is truly breathtaking and definitely worth a visit.
Fort Matanzas offers the rare opportunity to explore a historic watchtower fort, hike along breathtaking trails, spot dolphins and birdwatch, all in the same visit in what is one of the most incredible Florida national state parks. The fascinating monument boasts incredible ocean views and vista over the marshes as well as being home to a spectacular array of fascinating wildlife creatures.
Constructed in 1742 by the Spanish, Fort Matanzas is a fascinating piece of architecture right by the water’s edge that was originally built to protect St. Augustine from English troops venturing into the inlet yet had to retreat due to cannon fire.
Welcoming visitors all year round, the park also offers visitors the chance to have a free ferry ride across the inlet. Combining history, nature and adventure, this is certainly one of the most versatile national parks in Florida and offers a little something for everyone.
9. De Soto National Memorial
Situated near Tampa Bay on the Gulf of Mexico, De Soto National Memorial shares the story of the arrival of Conquistador Hernando de Soto’s army of over 600 soldiers, craftsmen, mercenaries and clergy in May 1539. The army brutally marched through nearby villages, stealing food and enslaving the area’s indigenous people in a four-year slog of conflict.
A truly fascinating place to visit, De Soto National Memorial explains the controversial story of this exploration and explains the significance that it holds in America today. Also engaging for the kids, the park hosts reenactments of the troublesome history in a way that makes it easy for everyone to understand what it was like for the Spanish and Indigenous people.
Open all year round, this is one of the best national parks in Florida even for those who are not the most interested in history, as it conveys the complex realities of the time in a way that is fascinating and engaging for all.
The Sunshine State is blessed with so many incredible landscapes to explore – from mystical swamplands populated with gators and panthers, to dazzling coastlines with turquoise waters inhabited by turtles and dolphins. Florida’s national parks certainly offer a remarkable array of unique experiences to entertain anyone and everyone visiting this spectacular state.
I hope you enjoyed reading this guide on which national parks in Florida you should visit. You can check out more of my recommendations for this state in my Florida Travel Guide here.