Upon first thoughts of the Sunshine State, your mind might jump straight to the glittering Disney castles, roller coasters, and cotton candy. However, aside from this significant destination, Florida is home to some of the most exciting and diverse national parks in the USA.

This southern state packs a real punch when it comes to natural beauty, home to iconic gater-filled marshes and swamps as well as underwater havens and coral reefs. From the tropical tip of the keys to the otherworldly mangroves and Everglades, national parks in Florida offer abundant ecological and scenic diversity. It’s one of the few states where you can kayak over alligators and snorkel with sharks on the same day.

Florida has three national parks and eight national reserves, preserves, and historical sites. What’s more is that the state boasts 175 state parks, each offering a unique landscape and recreational opportunities to match.

Florida’s national and state park system is one of the best and most extensive in the country, spanning everything from hiking trails to historic sites and archeological ruins across 800 thousand acres.

Browse this list for a taste of some of Florida’s top national and state parks. While you might be familiar with the Everglades and Gulf Islands, many of the parks on this list are little-known hidden treasures.

a caution sign to watch out for the crocodiles in the everglades of Florida, Usa
Welcome to Florida 😉
Photo: @amandaadraper

What are National Parks?

Florida has no shortage of natural beauty and adventurous fun. Whether you’re looking for a lazy beach day or an adventurous excursion into the most remote and wild marshlands, Florida’s your place.

Florida’s national parks are managed under the National Park Service – just like other national parks in the USA. This governmental agency dedicates its time and resources to protecting the country’s natural landscapes, historical sites, and significant ecological resources. Oh, and also the plants and wildlife that live within them. 

When it comes to ecological biodiversity, Florida is a particularly abundant territory. It’s home to around 45 terrestrial ecosystems ranging from subtropical islands to expansive dry prairies, floodplain marshlands, and hardwood forests. 

Fort Jefferson Florida
Not your standard national park…

Florida is also North America’s flattest state, with more than 7700 lakes, 11 thousand miles worth of rivers, and over 2250 miles of tidal coastline. Also home to over 700 freshwater springs, the Sunshine State is a water-logged region with most of its native landscapes dominated by rivers, oceans, lakes, or springs.

Visiting a national park in Florida is highly recommended for any visitor to the state. Especially if tropical climate conditions and exquisite water-focused natural scenery sound like something you might enjoy.

National Parks in Florida

I’ve compiled a list of eleven of the best national parks, state parks, national preserves, and historical sites worth checking out below. Pack your bag for Florida and let’s go to some national parks!

Everglades National Park

Everglades Park Florida
The Everglades is iconic
  • Size: 2357 sq mi
  • Location: Across the Miami-Dada, Monroe, and Collier counties in Southern Florida, near Everglades City
  • Entrance Fee: $15 per person or $30 per vehicle (for seven days)

The Everglades National Park is undoubtedly Florida’s most well-known national park. It’s a massive area that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf Coastline across much of the southern part of the state. 

If any image comes to mind when you think of this park, it would have to be cruising down a neverending marsh on an airboat surrounded by sun-bathing alligators. 

The park has three entrances and plenty of opportunities for hiking and kayaking. However, the Everglades are best known for the incredibly easy-to-spot wildlife. Not only is it easy to spot an alligator in the waters, but this park is one of the only places in the world where alligators and crocodiles naturally coexist. 

There are also plenty of manatees and dolphins in the coastal waters and a massive population of wading birds who migrate to the Everglades during the winter months.

Like many parks, this one is best experienced on foot or by boat. The Anhinga Trail is the most famous hike in the Everglades. Under a mile long, the trek journeys along a well-maintained boardwalk, which gives you a good idea of the magnitude of this Floridian national park and the animals that live within it.

Where to Stay near Everglades National Park: 

This refurnished RV offers spacious and comfortable accommodation on a three-acre lot for a camping-like experience in the heart of the Redlands in Homestead. The RV has two bedrooms, a sleeper couch, and plenty of indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy.

Biscayne National Park

Biscayne Park Florida
  • Size: 270 sq mi (including water)
  • Location: In Miami-Dade county in Southeastern Florida near Homestead
  • Entrance Fee: Free. $25 per person per overnight stay

One of three official national parks, Biscayne National Park is unique in that over 95% of it is underwater. Extending almost three hundred square miles across the ocean, this is the largest ‘water park’ in North America.

Although it is located just south of Miami, the park isn’t super easily accessible and has to be accessed via boat. That said, its difficulty to access makes it seem like an incredibly remote and nontouristic location.

The park might not be suitable for hikers, but instead offers an underwater world of wonders for snorkelers and divers. Scuba divers and snorkelers can explore an incredibly vast underwater ecosystem with reefs that have flourished for centuries. Unfortunately, with climate change causing havoc across natural landscapes, underwater ecosystems like this one are left under threat.

Besides tropical waters, the shoreline of Biscayne National Park offers a distinct landscape of a mangrove swamp. There are two campgrounds in the park, both of which need to be accessed by boat.

Boating is another great way to see the park and is, in fact, one of the only ways to get into the Biscayne mangrove swamps. The best time to visit this national park in Florida is during winter or spring (November to May) when there is little risk of hurricanes and storms.

Where to Stay near Biscayne National Park: 

Set on the shore in Key Largo, with panoramic bay views, this tiny house has a fishing and boat dock with your own private beach. 

The cabin is small yet spacious, with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, and an outdoor living area with BBQ facilities and dining space. Guests can also enjoy access to a shared swimming pool on the property.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas Park Florida
Tropical national parks? I’m in.
  • Size: 101 sq mi (including water)
  • Location: a cluster of 7 islands close to Key West in the Gulf of Mexico
  • Entrance Fee: Free. $15 per person, valid for seven days (additional $15 per person per night of camping)

Set in the middle of the Florida Keys, Dry Tortugas National Park consists of seven islands surrounded by tropical waters. It is one of the few tropical parks in the National Park System, which means a visit to this park can double as both an adventure and a relaxing beach day.

Visitors need to fly into the park from Key West or catch a ferry to the islands. However, once you arrive, there are plenty of family-friendly activities, like swimming and snorkeling.

The park is home to 30 different species of coral, along with reef sharks, octopuses, tropical fish, and Goliath groupers.

While the park extends around 100 square miles, most of this area is open water, with only the seven small islands (about 1%) making up the land portion. The main island in this Florida national park, known as Garden Key, houses ruins of the third largest military fort in the USA, known as Fort Jefferson. 

Construction at the fort began in 1847 and continued for thirty years before builders realized the bricks were too heavy for the sandy foundation. While the fort construction was never properly finished in the mid-1800s, it still offers an exciting example of historic military fortification and can be explored by park visitors.

Where to Stay near Dry Tortugas National Park: 

Mermaids Cove is an eclectic Key West compound with four self-standing cottages suitable for two guests each. The home enjoys a private courtyard and outdoor patio shared between cottages in the heart of Old Town Key West, not far from the national park, making it ideal for a group of friends.

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Other Parks in Florida

Here are a few extra parks in Florida that I think you’ll like. Some of them don’t quite have National Park status… but they’re the same damn thing!

Fort Matanzas National Monument

Fort Matanzas Monument Florida
  • Size: 300 acres
  • Location: South of St. Augustine near Marineland
  • Entrance Fee: Free

Another historical military-focused site in Florida, Fort Matanzas National Monument, preserves a fortified watchtower built in 1742 to prevent enemies from invading the then-Spanish military settlement of St. Augustine. Today, the park preserves around 300 acres of coastal environment, including dunes, marshlands, and coastal forest and shrubland.

It’s a hidden gem in the Florida National Park System since it is not overcrowded with tourists and is free to access. The ruins of the Coquina Watchtower are well worth a visit, offering expansive views of the surrounding marshland and abundant wildlife that call it home.

You’re likely to catch a glimpse of some endangered wading birds along the shallow shoreline. And if you are lucky, you could spot a pod of dolphins making their way through the Matanzas River.

Access to the park and fort is only possible by boat, and a regular ferry services the area most days of the week. If you’re craving some exercise, there is a nature trail that snakes through the park, offering a good view of the local flora and fauna ecosystem along the way.

Where to Stay near Fort Matanzas National Monument: 

One of the most gorgeous properties in St. Augustine, this ocean-front penthouse is designed using natural wooden materials. It has tons of glass windows and walls to maximize the sea views. 

It’s located directly on a stretch of semi-private beach and features an open-concept living space and a wrap-around balcony.

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Gulf Islands National Seashore Florida
White sand makes me happy
  • Size: 215 sq mi
  • Location: Stretches across Florida and Mississippi. Close to Pensacola and Gulf Breeze
  • Entrance Fee: $15 per person or $25 per vehicle (for seven days)

Stretching across the state from the Gulf Coast of western Florida into Mississippi. Gulf Islands National Seashore is a large expanse of land that includes some of the country’s most picturesque beaches and historical sites.

Miles worth of barrier islands with bleach-white sand cover the region, which is relatively unspoiled and uncrowded. Even though the park is near the popular city of Pensacola, welcoming millions of tourists yearly, the expansive park absorbs visitors and doesn’t seem overcrowded at all. 

Instead of sun-bathing beach-goers, you’ll be in the company of coastal birds and dolphins in this off-the-beaten-track national park in Florida.

The seashore offers a range of recreational activities and opportunities, ranging from low-incline hikes and treks to swimming, boating, and biking. 

Cycling through the Florida National Scenic Trail is one of the most exciting ways to experience the park. Spending a night camping on one of the pristine beaches is sure to exceed all expectations.

Where to Stay near Gulf Islands National Seashore: 

Not only is this timeless cottage super close to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, but it’s also a historic landmark in the historic district of Pensacola. 

Within walking distance of shops, galleries, and parks and quick access to the beach, it’s the perfect self-catering vacation rental for a relaxing beach and national park experience.

Big Cypress National Preserve

Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida
Cypress trees are just magnificent
  • Size: 1200 sq mi
  • Location: In South Florida, west of Miami, close to Everglades City
  • Entrance Fee: Free

Big Cypress is a national preserve that was founded almost as an extension of the Everglades. Most likely to allow visitors to engage in activities that are not permitted in the national park. 

The main draw to this park is that it is free to access. Visitors can launch private airboats and swamp buggies to explore the massive area. The preserve also encompasses some of the best paddling routes in the region, with the Turner River Kayak Trail attracting kayakers from across the globe.

While there is not much of an incline in this predominantly flat park, activity devotees can trail run or hike the rustic Loop Road, which offers opportunities to spot some local wildlife in its natural habitat. The Kirby Storter Boardwalk is a shorter trail that offers a glimpse into the natural region without breaking a sweat.

The enormous swamp is home to a range of plants and animals. Aptly named for its abundant cypress tree groves, the wetland national park in Florida is also home to river otters, bobcats, black bears, and even the odd endangered Florida panther. 

Where to Stay near Big Cypress National Preserve: 

Called The Cypress Cottage, this ultra-modern cabin is a living experience in itself. Set above the water in Ochopee, Everglades City, it is just a short drive into Big Cypress National Preserve. 

Designed for the nature enthusiast, the home has parking for kayak trailers and offers extensive views of the mangrove trees and Everglades through floor-to-ceiling windows.

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Canaveral National Seashore

Canaveral National Seashore, Florida
  • Size: 90 sq mi
  • Location: On the east coast of Florida near New Smyrna Beach and Titusville
  • Entrance Fee: $10 per person or $20 per vehicle (for seven days)

Florida has no shortage of beaches. But none come close to being as miraculous as the Canaveral National Seashore and the ecosystem of animals and plants that thrive in its lagoons and dunes. 

The park borders the Kennedy Space Center and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, making it seem worlds away from civilization. The wild and remote barrier island plays an essential role in protecting the mainland from coastal storms.

Untouched by modern development, the seashore stretches around 24 miles along a barrier island on Florida’s Atlantic coastline. Other than being a diverse landscape of natural beauty, the national seashore protects an ancient burial mound created by indigenous Timucuan tribes. 

Called Turtle Mound, visitors can climb to the top of the historic site to marvel at expansive views of the Mosquito Lagoon below.

Some of the best beaches in the area include Apollo and Playalinda Beaches, where turtles nest in the sparkling white sand. The seashore has been a habitat for humanity for centuries. Spending a night camping in Florida is an extraordinary way to experience what it might have been like to live in the state thousands of years ago. 

Where to Stay near Canaveral National Seashore: 

Suitable for water lovers, kayakers, and adventure enthusiasts, this cottage is set on a canal with direct boat access into the Mosquito Lagoon and Ponce Inlet. Fenced-in with a spacious yard, the property is even dog-friendly. 

The interiors are just as impressive, with state-of-the-art appliances and a deck with a BBQ and outdoor dining space.

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

Timucuan Ecological Preserve Florida
Ooo, how inviting.
  • Size: 72 sq mi
  • Location: Near Jacksonville in Northeast Florida, on the Florida-Georgia border
  • Entrance Fee: Free

The Timucuan Ecological and Historical Preserve houses many historic sites and a thriving ecosystem of flora and fauna. It extends across a small region of salt marshland, coastal dunes, and hardwood forests.

The Kingsley Plantation, the oldest plantation home in Florida, was built in 1798 and keeps alive a story of slavery in Florida. Park visitors can join a tour that focuses on the house’s residents over history, reliving the iconic story of a slave owner and his slave-born wife. 

Other than the historical significance of Old World Florida and the plantation era, the park is home to some incredible hiking trails. The Theodore Roosevelt Area is known for its various trails winding through the hardwood forest.

There are two campgrounds in this Florida national park, offering visitors an opportunity to spend a night surrounded by salt marshes and wading birds.

Where to Stay near Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve: 

This quaint cottage is located on a Military Base in Jacksonville, just a short drive to the Timucuan Preserve. 

While it looks small, it fits three full-sized bedrooms and a comfortable living area with a well-equipped kitchen. Conveniently located beside the Mayport Boat Ramp with available boat parking, it’s perfect for an outdoorsy visit to the national park.

Honeymoon Island State Park

Honeymoon Island State Park Florida
Honeymoon or not, this is the bomb
  • Size: 4.35 sq mi (385 acres of land)
  • Location: Near Dunedin and Clearwater in Pinellas County, West Florida
  • Entrance Fee: $2 per person, or $4 to $8 per vehicle depending on capacity (for seven days)

Just a short drive from Tampa, Honeymoon Island State Park is a beautiful escape from the bustle of western Florida. The island offers over four square miles of beaches, including trails that wind through one of the region’s last pine forests.

The park is a haven for nature lovers, offering every activity from swimming to hiking and cycling. Popular with Tampa day-trippers, visitors can use a range of park amenities, including showers, restrooms, and even a cafe. 

Convenient for tourists from out of state, you can rent bikes, umbrellas, and kayaks in this park. Honeymoon Island State Park is even accessible for wheelchair users, with priority parking, elevated boardwalks, and complimentary beach-friendly wheelchairs available.

As one might expect, there is an abundance of wildlife to be spotted in the park. Look out for eagles, great horned owls, and osprey, along with raccoons, tortoises, and armadillos on the forest floor. 

If you have time to spare, this state park also houses a ferry terminal that can be used to get to Caladesi Island, another state park that is usually less crowded. Since it is so close to the city of Tampa, crowds are to be expected. That said, the best time to visit this national park in Florida is early in the morning or around sunset when the crowds thin out. 

Where to Stay near Honeymoon Island State Park: 

This gorgeous cottage in Dunedin is decorated with tropical beach-inspired interiors and wallpapers, featuring a homey central living space with plenty of natural light. 

It is just a few blocks from the heart of the town and is close to the best bike tracks, boutiques, and beaches on the Gulf Coast.

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John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park Florida
Underwater Park!? Cool, huh?
  • Size: 70 nautical square miles
  • Location: In Key Largo in the Florida Keys, South Florida
  • Entrance Fee: $2 per person, or $4 to $8 per vehicle depending on capacity (for seven days)

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park was established in 1960 and is an underwater world home to abundant sea life. It’s most well-known for being the United State’s first fully underwater park.

Located on Key Largo, this one-of-a-kind park extends 70 nautical miles across a flourishing Atlantic reef, teeming with live coral and tropical fish species. The park was named as a tribute to the late John Pennekamp, a newspaper editor committed to preserving and protecting the region.

Visitors can admire the luminous coral reefs by snorkeling, scuba diving, or exploring the vast mangrove swamps by canoe or kayak. If snorkeling isn’t for you, one of the best things to do in this national park in Florida is to join a glass-bottom boat tour. These tours offer a glimpse into the coral world without getting your hair wet.

When the weather isn’t cooperating, check out the massive saltwater aquarium and nature theatre at the visitor’s center.

Where to Stay near John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park: 

Nestled between the keys and a dense grove of palm trees, this two-bedroom home offers the perfect combination of indoor and outdoor living. 

It features a covered porch leading into a large garden, a dock with a BBQ, and a dining space set overlooking the water. It also includes a place to dock your boat or kayak, as well as a hot tub.

Silver Springs State Park

Silver Springs State Park Florida
Fancy a swim anyone?
  • Size: 6.19 sq mi (including land and water)
  • Location: In North Central Florida, east of Ocala
  • Entrance Fee: $2 per person or $5 per vehicle depending on capacity (for seven days)

Silver Springs State Park is home to one of America’s largest freshwater springs and has been a major state attraction since the 1870s.

Glass bottom boat tours are an exciting way to see what lies beneath the surface, offering a glimpse into the river’s wildlife and water vegetation. On top of this, there are plenty of bicycle, horseback, and hiking trails to explore, as well as camping and picnic sites.

Arguably the best thing to do in this national park in Florida is to kayak, SUP, or canoe down the five-mile Silver River. Here, you could see manatees, alligators, and snakes in their natural habitat. Kayak equipment can be hired on-site, so you won’t have to worry about sourcing your own.

The springs are surrounded by pristine gardens and historical sites, which serve as a reminder of the days when foreigners would travel up the river by steamship. 

Another one of the best things to do in this national park in Florida is to wander the gardens passing sites used to film scenes from ‘James Bond’ and ‘Rebel Without a Cause’. There are even a few historic-looking statues in the water that are actually left-over props from a 1960s TV show that was filmed in the park.

Where to Stay near Silver Springs State Park: 

Within walking distance to historic downtown Ocala, this cozy two-bedroom cottage has been refurbished with farm-style interiors using touches of warm wood and neutral tiling. 

Stocked with all new appliances and fresh linen, it offers everything you could need from a self-catering vacation rental and a few extras, including a games room.

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Final Thoughts on National Parks in Florida

Florida might be one of the country’s top destinations for nightlife, beaches, and theme parks, but the state also has a lot going for it regarding natural beauty and outdoor adventure. It’s not called the Sunshine State for nothing, and there is no better place to explore the great outdoors than this wildlife-abundant state.

As the flattest state in North America, Florida is home to a unique water-dominated landscape. One of the best ways to experience the state in all its natural glory is to visit a national park in Florida. Choose between coastal tidal preserves, small tropical islands, underwater coral worlds, dense mangrove forests, and neverending subtropical marsh regions.

If I could only visit one national park in Florida, I would head straight for the Dry Tortugas National Park. Not only is this park close to the city of Miami, but it also offers a glimpse into the iconic Florida Keys and the abundant tropical landscapes below the surface of the water.

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