Every weekend, my dad texts me and asks “What state park are you at today?” I usually get this text a few hours after it’s been sent because I am in fact in a state park where there is limited to no cell service, but that’s my favorite thing about the weekends, exploring natural Florida. I’m not usually one to sit still on the weekend, but after a few crazy weeks, I finally gave in and just relaxed. And in my time of relaxation, I decided to put together a list of my favorite state parks in Florida.
The Florida Everglades
I’ll start with the big one, The Everglades, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. If you want to see some alligators, this is the place to go; I’d never seen so many in one spot. Besides alligators, I also saw a couple of manatee, owls, and even a crocodile. Technically, a National Park, the Everglades is unlike any other ecosystem in the world.
Withlacoochee State Forest
Over 150,000 acres of forest make Withlacoochee Florida’s second largest state forest. It seems to go on forever as you drive through various ghost towns to find the hiking trails leading into the interior of the forest. What lies beneath, an extensive cave system. Be careful though; it can be dark and hard to climb in and out. Proceed with caution.
Florida Caverns State Park
This state park provides actual tours of the large cave system below. The cave system was found on accident by a National Park Geologist after a tree fell in the forest leaving a large hole in the earth. From there, the Civilian Conservation Corps worked tirelessly in dark, damp, cramped conditions to ready the park for the public. Guided tours last about 45 minutes. Be sure to call ahead to make sure they aren’t booked for the day also bring a jacket, it’s chilly down there.
De Leon Springs
Such a scenic area. I went to De Leon Springs when it was a bit cooler out, so I was basically the only one wandering the park. Tourists were drawn to this area in the 1800’s after believing the springs held the anti-aging and healing properties Ponce De Leon sought when looking for the Fountain of Youth. You’ll even see old ruins of a fountain near a replica of an old water-powered sugar mill. This sugar mill is now the popular Old Spanish Sugar Mill and Griddle House.
Bulow Creek State Park
I love this park because of the variety of things you can see. From 400-year-old oak trees to sugar mill ruins to beautiful sunsets, it’s all here. As you drive or hike through the state park, don’t be surprised if you find yourself stopping several times along the way. The main attraction though, Bulow Plantation Ruins. The original dirt road used to transport goods from the plantation to various locations in Florida is still as it looked over 100 years ago and will lead you to the crumbling ruins of the sugar mill, a spring house, various water wells and lots of mosquitos. Bug spray is a must when exploring this park.
Blue Spring State Park
Blue Spring State Park is a designated manatee refuge. When temperatures drop, the manatees make their way into the natural springs to stay warm. Water temperatures in the springs are a consistent 73 degrees year round. Besides manatee viewing, there is also a boat tour and museum. The guided St. John’s River Cruise is both relaxing and informational, plus you’re sure to get a glimpse of even more wildlife and beautiful landscapes. Then take a self-guided tour through the Thursby House, built in 1872. The Thursbys left New York and arrived at Blue Spring by steamboat and became the spring’s first permanent settlers.
A vast savannah landscape makes up Paynes Prairie, but what makes this park so unique is the wild-roaming horses and bison. Climb to the top of the observation tower for a beautiful panoramic view and make sure you keep your eyes open for wildlife. I saw a few deer who didn’t seem too afraid of me. Paynes Prairie is just south of Gainesville, near Micanopy, a small town worth visiting if you are into antiques.
Canaveral National Seashore
Such a hidden gem. I’ll tell you a secret, Playalinda Beach on the Canaveral National Seashore is one of the most beautiful beaches I’ve been to, and no one seems to know about it. I could count the number of people on the beach on one hand. Warning though, don’t follow the road until it ends, then you will end up at a part of the beach that is not necessarily family friendly, as clothing did not seem to be required. After that shock, take a drive through Black Point Wildlife Drive, a 7-mile, one way maintained road designated for wildlife viewing from the comforts of your car.
What’s not to love about this historic city? It is the oldest continuously occupied European-establish settlement in the United States and still dazzles with history. Just behind the lighthouse is Anastasia State Park home to another beautiful Florida beach. Whether you decide to take a tour or just wander leisurely down the brick-lined streets, you are sure to be overcome with visions of the past and natural beauty.