With hundreds of miles of beaches, a mix of theme parks, desolate hiking trails, and tiny islands, it’s no wonder millions of people consider Florida the ultimate vacation destination.
While many think of Disney World and Orlando Studios when they consider traveling to Florida, there is plenty to do in the wilderness as well.
Listed below are some of the best National Parks in Florida for hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, slogging and camping!
National Parks In Florida
Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park is located within eyesight of Miami in the northern Florida Keys. But this park is a far cry from the city life, offering a diverse array of mangrove forests, coral reefs, and more.
Travelers can take guided eco-adventure tours of the National Park to get a closer look at shipwrecks, lighthouses, and Jones Lagoon. Snorkeling tours, cruises, and other types of guided tours are available as well.
The vast amount of water makes canoeing, kayaking, and fishing popular activities at the park.
Watch for local species in the water or on land, including southern flying squirrels, bottlenose dolphins, manatees, right whales, white-tailed deer, and river otters.
The park’s navigable waters are open 24 hours a day throughout the year. The visitor center and Convoy Point greenspace and boat launch are open for limited hours.
Visitors coming from the north can take the Florida Turnpike to exit 6 or US Highway 1 to Homestead to get to the park. Those coming from the south can take US Highway 1 to Homestead and SW 328th Street to reach the park entrance.
Pets on leashes are allowed in a few areas of the park, including the grounds around the visitor center and developed parts of Elliott Key. Pets aren’t allowed in any other areas of the park.
Service animals are allowed in these areas, although they should be leashed.
Those who visit the park can also take a boat to Boca Chita or Elliott Keys and stay at the campgrounds on these islands.
Things to Do Near Biscayne National Park:
- Mangrove Preserve (15 minutes west)
- Key Largo Hammock State Botanical Site (30 to 45 minutes south)
- R. Hardy Matheson County Preserve (45 minutes north)
- John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park (45 minutes south)
- Downtown Miami (1 hour north)
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas National Park, located west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico and consists of mainly open water with a number of small islands. Along the clear blue water, you can engage in water activities, view wildlife and marine animals, and take historical tours of a 19th century fort.
Kayaking, paddle boarding, and fishing are among the top activities in the park. But visitors can also go geocaching and participate in ranger-guided tours.
The Loggerhead Lighthouse, Fort Jefferson, and the Windjammer shipwreck, are can’t miss opportunities when visiting Dry Tortugas.
You can go diving and snorkeling to get a closer view of the historical artifacts underwater. Sea turtles, octopus, sharks, tropical reef coral fish, and other marine species also surround the area!
One thing that’s unique about this park is you can’t just drive there. Transportation is available via ferries, boats, seaplanes, and charters.
The park is open 24 hours a day all year long, but some facilities have limited hour and some islands are not open to the public.
Visitors bringing pets to Dry Tortugas National Park should know that pets are only allowed on Garden Key. No pets are allowed inside Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, and pets aren’t permitted on any other island in the park. Pets must be leashed at all times.
There is one primitive campground located on Garden Key that you can reach via watercraft. The campsites have picnic tables, grills, and there is a vault toilet located on the island.
Attractions Near Dry Tortugas National Park:
- Key West (10 minutes east)
- Sugarloaf Key (30 minutes east)
- Cudjoe Key (30 minutes east)
- Big Pine Key (45 minutes east)
- Key Largo (2.5 hours east)
Everglades National Park
Located in southern Florida, Everglades National Park offers opportunities to see rare animal species such as alligators, endangered leatherback turtles, and manatees.
With 2,400 square miles of wetlands to explore, tourists will want to stick around for a few days or more in order to really experience the park.
Water activities can go kayaking, fishing, and canoeing are the obvious choices when it comes to adventure. But there are plenty of other unique opportunities as well. Off-trail hiking, known as slogging, is a fun way to get a closer look at some of the park’s local species.
Guided slogging tours are an experience you won’t forget!
There are also a number of hiking and interpretive trails that range from short to long for every member of the family. You can visit the Long Pine Key Nature Trail, Snake Bight Trail, or go bicycling in Shark Valley. Make sure to look out for great blue herons and other local birds along the way!
Visitors can head to one of three park entrances, which are in Homestead, Miami, and Everglades City. The Florida Turnpike and US 41 both offer easy ways to get to these entrances from Miami, Naples, and other cities.
Everglades National Park is open throughout the year, but visitor center hours vary by season, location, and staff level.
Pets are permitted in certain areas of Everglades National Park, such as on private boats, roadside campgrounds, maintained grounds near facilities, picnic areas, and along roadways.
No pets are allowed on unpaved roads, unpaved trails, boardwalk trails, or on Shark Valley Tram Trail. Service animals are allowed in many areas unless they pose a possible threat to wildlife or people.
Two front-country campgrounds including Flamingo and Long Key Pine can have you sleeping right next to the action in Everglades National Park.
There are also backcountry campsites available where you can sleep on the beach, along the rivers, or on an elevated wood platform.
Attractions Near Everglades National Park:
- Marco Island (45 minutes northwest)
- Picayune Strand State Forest (45 minutes northwest)
- Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve (1 hour north)
- Downtown Miami (1 hour northeast)
- Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (1 hour north)
Florida National Preserves And Seashores
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Canaveral National Seashore
- Gulf Islands National Seashore
- Timucuan Ecological And Historic Preserve
Big Cypress National Preserve
Big Cypress National Preserve is a 729,000-acre park in southern Florida that offers visitors a chance to roam through swampland areas and see cypresses, mangroves, and other plant and animal species.
Kayaking and canoeing are popular activities. But travelers who want an expert to guide them through the park can arrange to take guided tours, such as swamp hikes, swamp buggy tours, or bicycle tours.
For those who want a more relaxing visit, or if you only have a few hours. This park can be enjoyed with a scenic driver where you can see Florida panthers and alligators straight from the car!
Loop Road offers 27 miles of scenic driving, while Turner River/Wagonwheel/Birdon Roads Loop offers 17 miles of scenic driving. Art exhibits and astronomy programs are also available for an indoor experience.
Visitors can reach Big Cypress via US-41 to get to the Big Cypress Swamp Welcome Center. The park is open to the public all year round 24 hours per day. The welcome center and visitor center are open every day for limited hours.
Those who are considering bringing pets to Big Cypress National Preserve should be aware that they are not allowed to go on any of the park’s boardwalks or on backcountry trails. Pets are also not allowed in the park’s visitor centers.
Pets are allowed in campgrounds and in grassy areas near parking lots, although they must be on a leash.
Eight campgrounds in Big Cypress National Preserve offer a variety of experiences for visitors. The campsites range from tent camping only to larger RV parks with electric hookups and dump stations.
Things To Do Near The Big Cypress National Preserve:
- Bird Rookery Swamp (45 minutes west)
- Collier-Seminole State Park (45 minutes southwest)
- Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge (45 minutes west)
- Okaloacoochee Slough State Forest (45 minutes to 1 hour north)
- Ten Thousand Islands (1 hour southwest)
Canaveral National Seashore
Canaveral National Seashore is located not far from Orlando along Florida’s eastern coast. The park provides stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, a refuge for endangered species, and secluded trails to enjoy.
Both water and land activities leave plenty to do for every type of traveler. While hiking or strolling along the beach, visitors can watch for West Indian manatees, right whales, bald eagles, wood storks, loggerhead sea turtles, and leatherback sea turtles. Popular hiking destinations include the half-mile Seminole Rest Trail and Castle Windy Trail.
Those who want to hit the water can go kayaking in Mosquito Lagoon, which offers over 150 miles to explore along the undeveloped shoreline.
A very unique thing that you will find at Canaveral National Seashore is a front-row seat to rocket launches! Canaveral is one of the closest locations to the Florida Space Coast. Tourists can grab some snacks and picnic on the beach as they watch some rockets take off.
Visitors heading to the park can get there from a few different roads, including I-95, US 1, and FL 528. Apollo Beach is the northern access point for the park, while Playalinda Beach is the southern access point.
The Apollo District and Playalinda District of the park have limited hours of operation.
Pets are permitted in some areas of Canaveral National Seashore, including the park on the lagoon side and in other off-beach areas, such as trails and multi-use paths. Pets are not allowed on boardwalks or on the beaches. Pets need to remain on a leash at all times in the park.
14 islands on the Mosquito Lagoon offer backcountry camping. These campsites are primitive, and only accessible via watercraft. Permits are required and can be obtained on Recreation.gov.
Attractions Near The Canaveral National Seashore:
- Kennedy Space Center (30 minutes south)
- Little Big Econ State Forest (45 minutes west)
- Charles H. Bronson State Forest (45 minutes west)
- Hal Scott Regional Preserve and Park (45 minutes west)
- Downtown Orlando (1 hour west)
Gulf Islands National Seashore
The Gulf Islands National Seashore includes barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico, along with mainland areas near Pensacola in the Florida Panhandle, and parts of neighboring Mississippi. At 160 miles long, Gulf Islands is the largest National Seashore in the U.S.
At the islands, tourists can visit historic forts in the Fort Barrancas and Fort Pickens Areas or go hiking along the trails in the Naval Live Oaks Area. Keep an eye out for a variety of animals including armadillos, black bears, and bottlenose dolphins.
Popular water activities include swimming at Opal Beach in the Santa Rosa Area, snorkeling, and boating through the aquamarine waters.
If you get lucky, during certain times of year you can relax on the beach while watching the Blue Angels fly overhead performing a flight demonstration.
Tourists can take boat charters or passenger ferries to reach the islands, or get to the mainland areas, such as Fort Pickens, via I-10.
Those who are bringing their pets to Gulf Islands National Seashore should know that they are not allowed in certain areas, including park beaches and water that’s fewer than 5 feet, inside forts and visitor centers, on piers, and in pavilions.
Pets should be leashed at all times in areas where they’re permitted, such as on trails and along park roads.
Two established campgrounds are available at the Gulf Islands Seashore including Davis Bayou and Fort Pickens. There are also opportunities for backcountry camping that are either boat-in or hike-in for travelers who choose to rough it out at a primitive campsite.
Attractions Near The Gulf Islands National Seashore
- Port Washington State Park (30 minutes east)
- Yellow River Wildlife Management Area (1 hour north)
- Pine Log State Forest (1 hour east)
- Downtown Pensacola (1 hour west)
- Blackwater River State Forest (1 to 1.5 hours north)
Timucuan Ecological And Historic Preserve
Located near downtown Jacksonville on Florida’s eastern coast, Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve provides a chance to wander through salt marshes, wetlands, and forests, while learning about the area’s 6,000-year history.
The park includes several areas to explore, including Cedar Point, Fort Caroline National Memorial, and Theodore Roosevelt Area.
Visitors can see a fort exhibit that dates back to the 16th century, go hiking on the Hammock Trail, and visit the park museum to learn more about the Timucuan-speaking people from pre-Columbian times.
Those who want to see nature up close can go kayaking through marshes, hike near palmetto thickets, and climb an observation platform to get a glimpse of local species and enjoy views of St Johns River. Fishing is also available in the Timucuan Preserve waters.
Visitors can take the St. Johns River ferry to reach certain areas of the park or main roads, such as I-95. The park’s operating hours vary based on the service area, although most are open from sunrise to sunset.
Pets are allowed in some areas of Timucuan Ecological And Historic Preserve, including outdoor areas at different park sites. However, pets are not allowed inside facilities, and they must be on a leash at all times.
Two sites are located within the boundaries of the Timucuan Preserve which allow camping, but they are not operated by the National Park Service. You can visit the Little Talbot Islands State Park and Huguenot Memorial Park for camping opportunities.
Attractions Near The Timucuan Ecological And Historic Preserve:
- Big Talbot Island State Park (5 minutes north)
- Amelia Island State Recreation Area (15 minutes north)
- Fort George Island Cultural State Park (20 minutes south)
- Fort Clinch State Park (30 minutes north)
- Pumpkin Hill Creek Preserve State Park (30 minutes east)
Florida National Monuments And Memorials
- Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
- De Soto National Memorial
- Fort Caroline National Memorial
- Fort Matanzas National Monument
- Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Cooridor
At Parked In Paradise, we’re van life people, so we can’t recommend camping enough! But for those who want to experience the outdoors without getting too dirty, we recommend luxury camping in some of Florida’s treehouses and Yurts! Not only will you get the outdoor experience, but you can visit Florida in luxury for the price of a hotel.
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