A turtle looks to the camera from the Ecofina River, which is teaming with a variety of wildlife

A turtle looks to the camera from the Ecofina River, which is teeming with a variety of wildlife

 

La Florida, meaning “Flowery State,” is what the great state of Florida was known as when it was discovered by Spanish explorers in 1513. Not much has changed from those days until now in the sense of Florida’s natural beauty. The only change is that now, people have more access to these areas that host nature’s delights, and that their preservation through the National Parks Service makes them an iconic treasure that can be enjoyed for generations. Here are our Top 10 picks for Florida’s best National Parks to visit this Spring:

 

15) Ichetucknee Springs State Park

201304_PatrickBairamian_Article_Philsfirstpix_ IchetuckneeSpring

Along the river of the Ichetucknee Springs State Park

This state park takes a step further into real Florida nature. Ichetucknee Springs State Park makes its home around the Ichetucknee River, a six mile long crystal clear river through hammocks and wetlands. During the summer and fall, one can go tubing down the river in rented tubes. From fall to early spring, snorkeling is the premier activity available; snorkel and diving equipment is also available for rent. Ichetucknee is also a wonderful place to picnic, canoe, swim, hike, and view wildlife such as blue herons and wild turkeys. As its name suggests, Ichetucknee is fueled by natural springs. It is also worth checking out the limestone outcrops in the area.

Peety

Visiting Ichetucknee in the off season ensures a less crowded park, and a more private experience

 

 

 

 

14) Cayo Costa State Park

 

Deserted islands always get a bad rap, but Cayo Costa isn’t your average island to begin with. Surrounded by the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico, this Florida State Park offers visitors more than its nine-miles of sunbaked beaches, tropical hiking trails with exotic migratory birds, and private kayak tours around the island. This barrier island offers seclusion, and peace.

One visit to this State Park will have you whistling the tune of Gilligan’s Island as you traverse the potent terrain of this strip of land, through primitive campgrounds, moderate and advanced hikes, some of the best surf fishing in Florida, and above all – don’t forget you’re on your own island!

 

Peety

 

Cayo Costa is one of the LARGEST barrier islands in Florida and can only be accessed by private boat or a ferry! During the Summer months, there are  beach-front homes that can be rented for a weekend to enjoy the splendor of this State Park.

 

 

13) De Leon Springs State Park

A crystal clear pool of spring-water in De Leon Springs State Park

A crystal clear pool of spring-water in De Leon Springs State Park (Photo Credit: Paul Clark)

 

If you’re looking for the Fountain of Youth, you’ll find it here. Named after Juan Ponce de León, this historic park is 611 acres surrounding a sulfur spring. Long before the area was acquired as a recreational area, Native Americans used the springs. When new settlers arrived, they built cotton and sugar plantations. Today, there is a an Old Spanish Sugar Mill restaurant where you can make your own pancakes at your table. Next to the gloriously comfortable swimming springs is a shady picnic area. Kayaks, canoes, and paddleboats are available for rental. During the spring, boaters and kayakers can travel down the De Leon Springs which flow into the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge; 18,000 acres of lakes, creeks, and marshes await eager explorers. Fishing is allowed in the spring, and this park also provides hiking trails, bird watching, picnics, volleyball, and a playground.

Peety

If you’re visiting this park for the day, arrive early to ensure a parking spot as spaces fill up quickly!

 

 

 

12) O’Leno State Park

 

This State Park is packed with so much history, you would sink under it…well, that is if you’re not next to one of the many sink-holes peppered across the park. Not to worry, the park rangers of O’Leno constantly monitor what we’ve dubbed as the park’s “Earth-hugging-holes.”

With the Sante Fe River running through it, the O’Leno State Park is teeming with wildlife, nature and beauty. With such abundance everywhere, it should be no surprise why the Seminole Tribe settled here over 400 years ago.  The park is home to the annual Alligator Warrior Festival in mid-October to celebrate the  history of Seminole Tribe and their leader: Alligator Warrior. Make sure to absorb the perpetual flow of the river that runs through O’Leno during intermissions of the festivities.

 

11) Rainbow Springs State Park

 

The most appropriately titled park on our list. If a rainbow’s end was ever found, you’d likely find Rainbow Springs State Park at the end rather than a pot of gold; and trust us, you’d choose this park over gold. Located in the Mid-North part of Florida, Rainbow Springs offers more than just the breathtaking azalea bloom during Spring, or the countless tropical waterfalls found all around the park. Wildlife flock here as well as outdoorsmen who want to take a stroll on the Great Florida Birding Trail, or refresh their senses in the crystal clear teal waters of the headsprings. Either way, Rainbow Springs offers something for everyone, making it our #8 pick for Florida’s best State Parks to visit in the Spring.

 

10) John Pennekamp Coral Reef state Park

 

 

How could any list about Florida’s State Parks be complete without mentioning its star attraction: coral reefs. Located in the South of Florida – on Key Largo, John Pennekamp State Park is a nature sanctuary you won’t soon forget.

While the state park offers two unique trails: 1.) The Mangrove Loop Trail that explores the indigenous trees in all their splendor, and 2.) The Wild Tamarind Trail that takes visitors through the natural growth of the park; the main attraction is found twenty feet under the sea.

Glide with a glass boat over the magnificent display of colors along the edge of the coral reef, or opt to put on your goggles and dive in as you snorkel amidst the dozens of species of tropical fish. You’re sure to remember the explosion of colors, and wildlife jetting past your flippers, and hovering below your eyes.

 

Peety 

Corals are actually marine animals, not plants!  While you explore the splendor of corals, it’s important to note to not touch them. Their skin is extremely sensitive. If you touch them, your hand will wipe away essential oils the coral uses to survive. Explore with your eyes, not your hands =D

 

 

9)  Florida Caverns State Park

 

Visit this park on our Top 10 Florida State Parks list and you’ll be anything but disappointed. Don’t let the name of the park fool you, the Florida Caverns State Park offers more than stalagmites and cave-drip formations. The park’s eco-diversity can be explored by foot, on the many hiking trails weaved across rivers, forests and wetlands; or by horseback as you ride from hidden picnic locations along the Blue Hole Run Creek.

The caves of the Florida Caverns State Park, offer more than just limestone and humid air within them. Sign up for a guided tour of these magnificent tunnels by a park ranger and learn about the wildlife that has adapted to the cavern conditions. Once you climb out of the caves, rent a canoe from the visitor center and float along the mineral rich waters of the Chipola River.

 

8) Honeymoon Island State Park

 

One look at this island, and you’ll know soon enough where it gets its name from. The ultimate honeymoon destination if you’re in Florida, this State Park offers the visitor more than just white sandy beaches and a magical yearning to dance atop the grassy mounds under the shallow moonlight.

This island offers some of the best fishing on the West-Coast of Florida. So, instead of conventional vacation activities like sun-bathing, or snorkeling (which the island offers as well). Get knee-deep in the warm waters of the Gulf, and reel in your lunch for a fresh and recreational afternoon.

If you’ve had enough sun, explore behind the beach through the mangrove forests that populate this park.  You’re sure to see the famous Florida Ospreys and gopher tortoises in their natural habitat.

 

7) Deer Lake State Park

 

Deer Lake State Park is many things, but ‘plain’ isn’t one of them…not even close. The dreams of all cyclists come to life at Deer Lake. This park offers ten miles of the ‘coolest’ coastal bike cruising you’ll experience in Florida. If you forgot your bike, forget about worrying. Use the boardwalk network around the park to explore the white sand dunes and swaying grasslands all around the park, or visit the nearby town tucked up next to Deer Lake State Park for an afternoon iced-tea at one of the local cafes.

 

6) Sebastian Inlet State Park

A surfer enjoying the swells of Sebastian Inlet State Park

A surfer enjoying the swells of Sebastian Inlet State Park (Photo credit: Jeff Muceus (flickr.com/photos/pdxjeff))

Another precious Florida beach, this state park has both shallows and areas of up to six feet deep past the shoreline, as well as tide pools and lagoons. Sebastian Inlet is a famous gathering place for both fishers and surfers; surfing competitions are held here every year. Two nearby museums go in depth with the area’s fishing industry and Spanish treasure fleet; in 1715, a Spanish fleet was wrecked off shore. Enthusiastic treasure hunters and shipwreck divers visit here often in search of some Spanish gold. Sebastian Inlet is also a great place to snorkel, treasure hunt, swim, scuba dive, shell, sunbathe, picnic, hike, and camp.

Peety

Between June and July, visit this park to witness nesting season for baby sea turtles!

 

 

 

5) Econfina River State Park

 

The big attraction that this State Park offers is in its name, the Ecofina River. But it’s not just any river running through a parcel of land. The Ecofina River spans for over 44 miles of pristine clear blue waters. Known as a “mini-Mississipi,” this river flows out into the Gulf of Mexico.

Enjoy just about any type of boating activity, from kayaking along the shores packed with lush green vegetation, or to riding down with your boat to the edge of the river where it meets with the Gulf. Econfina is more than just a single river. Natural springs feed into it from the surrounding park. They can be in the form of underwater springs, or deep caverns that are nestled into the side of rock formations…either way, they are all asking to be discovered and explored.

If you’d rather enjoy this river from the land, do so along its shoreline from countless Park Service maintained picnic areas, or find your own niche under the vast oak-palm trees populated along the shore. After lunch, finish up by exploring the over 14 miles of woodland trails by bicycle, horseback (rentals available), or your own two feet. Anyway way you choose, this State Park offers more than just a river to stare at.

 

4) Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park (Photo credit: Tabitha Kaylee Hawk)

This national park is the perfect stop for pirate lovers and history buffs! Located about seventy miles west of the Key West, this national park is composed of seven individual islands surrounded by coral reefs and sand. The only way to reach these islands is by seaplane or boat. The abundance of sea life and tropical birds is astounding; species live and breed here that are uncommon or absent everywhere else in the world. For those that are adventure driven, this park’s history is full of legends of pirates, shipwrecks, and hidden treasure. There are plenty of historic artifacts to gaze at and learn about to further intrigue visitors. Dry Tortugas also offers snorkeling, picnicking, camping, scuba diving, saltwater fishing, birdwatching, and stargazing.


Peety 

Camping on the beach or staying for a few days will offer a better snorkeling experience with less crowds present.

 

 

3) Everglades National Park

The largest protected subtropical wilderness in the United States, Everglades National Park is truly representative as the heart of Florida. It is home to several endangered and rare species of animals. There are multiple tours available through the waterways and mangroves, as well as trams and trails. It’s best to visit the Everglades between December and March when it’s cooler and lacking mosquitoes. Camping is allowed with RVs and fishing is allowed with a state license. Low-powered motorboats are allowed, but swimming is absolutely not recommended.

Peety

Bring a lunch or a snack for the guided tours. They’re long, informative, and enjoyable!

 

 

 

2)Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

 

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve ,  the “Jungle” park. Although its size compared to other State Parks may be considered small, there is no other park on our list with such a potent dose of nature.

Fakahatchee is home to the most diverse ecosystem in Florida by its scale, compared to the Everglades National Park. Explore the preserve by allowing a park ranger to guide and educate you as you follow along a 2,000 foot boardwalk that immerses you into what seems like the  Amazon jungle.

You won’t find such a variety of wildlife anywhere else in Florida as: black bears, fox squirrels,  storks, Florida Panthers, white-tailed deer, minks, raccoons, hawks, owls, cranes, ospreys, turkeys, and even Bald-Eagles flourish in the park.

Explore the diverse plant life as well, with varying species of wildflowers such as orchids and other tropical plants that thrive in this warm climate.

 

1) Jonathan Dickinson State Park

 

If you find yourself traveling to Florida this Spring, or Summer, make sure that Jonathan Dickinson State Park is on your radar. Oh, did we mention that the park was formally a US Army Radar training school? Yup, and that’s not the only thing lurking under the surface.

This state park takes the #1 spot on our Top 10 Florida State Parks list not only because of its beauty, legions of wildlife, vibrant plant life, and rich American history…well, it does have all that, but the fact that all of these things are accessible, begging to be explored and appreciated, is why we picked it as our top pick.

With a weekend trip to this park, you’ll soon realize that two days is not even close to being an ample amount of time to discover all the park has to offer. Whether you take the tour from the Loxahatchee Queen ferry on the Loxahatchee river to explore early-trapper settlements, or renting a saddle and exploring the hidden pockets of Mother Nature on horseback, Jonathan Dickinson state Park has something for everyone.

The park embraces its history, as the Hobe Mountain Trail leads you to an observation tower, a military remnant from the 1940’s, that allows visitors to enjoy a panoramic view of the whole park.

 

Peety Have you ever gone ‘Geo-Seeking?” Well now you can, since Jonathan Dickinson State Park offers this modern form of a treasure hunt. Combining high-tech gadgetry and your adventurous spirit, download trail maps from the park’s website to embark on a treasure hunt that will test your mettle and endurance. Choose from easy hunts that are limited to trails, or choose more advanced treasure hunts which you must canoe, or kayak, perhaps even swim (if you are so inclined) to achieve. Either way, this activity is fun for the whole family, while you bond as a team, and explore the park at the same time.

 

 

BONUS PARK:

Grayton Beach State Park

Grayton Beach Sunset

Grayton Beach Sunset (Photo credit: John Roger Palmour)

Grayton is ranked as one of the most stunning beaches in the United States. Larger than 2,000 acres, this park is the best to visit in Florida if romance is in mind. Perfect for swimming, sunbathing, and surf fishing, the expansive sunsets, bright sunrises, and moonlit evenings create an ideal mood for couples. Other activities offered are snorkeling, camping, bicycling, birding, boating, canoeing, hiking, kayaking, picnicking, and wildlife viewing. Grayton has such a large camping grounds that you can bring your RV, a tent, or stay the night in a duplex cabin.


Peety

 

Grayton is one of the places where nude sunbathing is allowed!