Think Florida, you probably think of white sandy beaches. And for good reason, seeing as how the state has some 1300 miles of shoreline. Or maybe you think of the swampy Everglades. But Florida actually has lots of varied, exciting geography for all different kinds of outdoor activities, from kayaking to deep-sea angling and scuba diving. So even if it is the country’s flattest state, Florida has tons of awesome places for outdoor recreation – and we don’t just mean lounging on the beach. Here’s a few Florida State Parks worth a trip this year.
Not too far northwest of Gainesville is Ichetucknee Springs, which forms the head of the Ichetucknee River. The river makes excellent kayaking, fishing and tubing, but the real attraction is the scuba diving, in the crystal-blue water of the springs’ Blue Hole (perfect name). If you’d like to try out some diving in a very different kind of park, you be itching to check out Ichetucknee.
Measuring 70 nautical square miles, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the first undersea park in the United States. Yup, it’s almost entirely underwater, consisting mainly of shallow-water coral reefs stretching 3 miles into the ocean and running 25 miles long. The perfect place for scuba diving and exploring the colorful coral and marine wildlife or kayaking and exploring the miles of mangrove swamps. Grab a glass bottom boat if you’re feeling especially adventurous and enjoy the rainbow of coral from above.
Comprised of over 1400 acres of mixed swamps, rivers, natural springs, hammocks and forested uplands, Rainbow Springs is an enchantingly beautiful place to kayak, canoe, fish or swim. It’s named after the freshwater headspring basin that feeds the Rainbow River and provides some crystal-blue waters for exploring and snorkeling. You can also rent some tubes and just lounge as you float down the river.
Can’t forget this one. Bill Bags Cape Florida isn’t far from the city – just over Biscayne Bay from Miami – and boasts a beautiful lighthouse built in 1825 that stands watch over Key Biscayne and the surrounding water. The mile-long beach is consistently rated one of the best beaches in America, and there are hiking and bike trails as well; you can also fish over the edge of the seawall that lines Biscayne Bay for a relaxing afternoon. Two Cuban restaurants on the island serve fresh food, and ocean kayaks and bikes are for rent.
This one is a bit different. Florida Caverns State Park is located just south of the Alabama border, and instead of beaches and swamps, feature some awesome limestone caves for you to explore. Check out the stalagmites and stalactites, spend a few hours diving in the Blue Hole, or go hiking or biking on the six miles of trails, fish in the river, or camp out overnight in one of the 35 campsites. There’s even a 9-hole golf course so you can hit the links anytime.
Cayo Costa State Park is located of the State’s Gulf Coast near Naples, is accessible only by boat (private or ferry) and boasts 9 miles of beaches and 24,00 acres to explore, consisting mainly of white sandy beaches, canopy forests and mangrove swamps. Go swimming and kayaking and you’re bound to run into some of the many dolphins and porpoises often spotted offshore, and you can even see some manatees.
There’s a ton of trails for hiking and off-road cycling, and when you’re done, the park has primitive cabins and tenting sites for setting up for the night.
On a remote, tiny island off the Florida Keys is Bahia Honda State Park, which offers secluded pristine beaches and waters perfect for snorkeling and diving; the water is about as crystal clear and easy as you can find. Wildlife abounds, and since you can only access the park by boat, there are never too many people Kayaks are for rent, and there are three campsites and six cabins available. A great weekend getaway for snorkeling and fishing.