Florida is home to 175 state parks, and many of those parks have trails where you can wander amongst the flora and fauna that is abundant when it has not been cut back for development. You can try your hand at birdwatching, which you know I do from the comfort of my desk, and you can experience the thrill of being eye-to-eye with a wild hog or an alligator. Fun for the whole family!
Every one of Florida’s parks is an adventure. You can select the park you want to visit based on the type of activity you want to do once you get there. Sun, sand, and surfing for the coastal parks; kayaking and canoeing for the waterway parks; birding at both the inland and the coastal parks; and camping, swamping, fishing, and more from many of the inland areas. St. Johns Waterway is home to airboat rides, bass fishing, boating, and more.
I chose four of my favorite parks for a couple of reasons. They are a day trip for me, and I like these the best.
Sebastian Inlet State Park
I can see this park from my house. It is the first place that I camped at when I got to Florida in the 1980s, and it is the first place that I experienced the awesome no-see-um bug. I thought it was a myth until I spent the whole night trying to roll in sand to escape the mean little teeth of a bug no bigger than the tip of a pinpoint.
This park was also the first place where I ever saw hermit crabs in the wild. They were very busy swapping houses along the shoreline, and had I not been being eaten alive, I would have spent more time watching them.
This park is the inlet for the Indian River Lagoon into the Atlantic Ocean and is located just north of Sebastian, Florida. It has a fishing jetty that attracts a lot of fishing folks, as well as the pelicans that follow them around like puppies looking for scraps.
It was the first place that I saw a barracuda in the ocean, and where I learned to boogie board and eat sand. I also saw a naked man on the jetty, which to this day, amuses me. Someone actually yelled “naked man on the jetty” as this guy jumped into the ocean.
Kids love to play here and it is a good place to learn to surf. It’s not too rough, and the beach is nice and smooth.
It is a place with nice breaking waves that attract the local surfers and has a surfing spot named “Monster Hole”. It is also where the 1715 Spanish Fleet went down along the coastline between here and Vero Beach, so during a wild hurricane, it is not unusual to see a doubloon on the beach.
The inlet makes way to a nice tidal pool that is quite large and never empties. It is a place where you can wade, splash in the water, and just enjoy being wet without being beaten up by the waves. You can sit in the pool and wait to see if some of the sea creatures like starfish, anemones, and seahorses come visit you. Oh, and there are crabs. Watch your toes.
The water is usually very warm. There are picnic tables, a small seaside grill that serves hamburgers, and open showers, as well as restrooms with indoor showers.
It’s great for the family, and if you wander around the state park portion of it, there are a lot of places to explore like walking trails.
Visit the Sebastian Inlet State Park virtually here.
Blue Spring State Park
The Blue Spring State Park is a quiet place to go watch the manatees and enjoy a river cruise in a pontoon boat.
It is a spring park on the St. Johns River, and I have spent many a day there just enjoying the water and the wildlife. It used to be home to steamboats back in the 1880s, but now it is home to people looking for a place to escape the theme parks and get a suntan.
Because it’s a spring, you’ll find manatees lounging about in the warm water. That’s not the first place I saw manatees in the river, but it’s the first place that I saw them in a wilder environment. The first time was in the warm water at the boat docs by the power plant in Ft. Pierce.
Blue Spring State Park can get crowded quickly, so if you’re planning on a visit, go early in the morning. There are lots of picnic tables and do a little hiking in the cooler months. There’s a historical home in the park where the original owner set up his plantation, and there are lots of birding trails to follow.
If you’re brave, and I am not, you can do a little swimming around the entrance to the spring. I seem to remember some kids diving into the spring cave. I avoid open holes in the earth; they give me the willies.
The water activities are curtailed during manatee season, which runs from November to March, but the rest of the year, you can canoe, kayak, swim, splash, and enjoy the water.
The park is located in Orange City, Florida, and there are wooden walkways that will take you to the cave entrance, so you can watch the divers or dive yourself.
Read more Blue Spring State Park information here.
Myakka River State Park
The Myakka River State Park is on the other side of the state from me. It is located in the pine forests around Sarasota, Florida. It is home to both wetlands and prairies, and during the dry season when the water levels are low, they close the boat ramps.
It took a hit from Hurricane Ian in 2022, but as of 2023, some of the affected parts have opened back up again. You can now do some camping there and hang out during the day, but if you’ve never been to a hurricane-ravaged spot before, expect things to be messy. There may be some places on the walkways that have been damaged, so be careful when hitting the trails. Also, expect a lot of trees will have been stripped of their leaves and limbs. Dead palm fronds will be everywhere.
If you love birdwatching and are always looking for something elusive like the spoonbill, this is the spot to see them. I saw my first one in the Canaveral Seashore, but they like the marshy areas of the Myakka River too.
This state park also has a creepy hole in it appropriately named the Deep Hole. It’s a sinkhole that opened up on the northwest bank of the river and is 135 feet deep. There’s no spring, so you can’t dive it, but you can freshwater fish in the river. You need to bring your own fishing license.
Horses are a cool way to travel the trails. There are 15 miles of trails to ride.
There is a canopy trail 25 feet above the ground that lets you explore the hammock. I would check on this before you go because of the hurricane damage it may be unavailable.
The park has camping and you can bring your leashed pets, but please, there are alligators, keep your dogs and children away from the edges of lakes, springs, rivers, and swamps. Too many people lose their pets, kids, and grandmothers to alligators every year.
Check out Myakka River State Park information here.
Silver Springs State Park
For history buffs, Silver Springs was the first tourist attraction in Florida and opened its doors in the 1870s. Today, the state owns it and incorporated it into Silver Springs State Park.
The grounds of Silver Springs consist of walking trails through gardens and under the canopy of the mossy oaks you’ll find all over the state of Florida. There are more than 30 springs that make up the park. You can see the springs flowing up from the earth to the rivers by looking into another one of those freaky holes. For what it’s worth, I’ve been to Yellowstone a million times, and the holes there creep me out too.
If you’re not squeamish about holes, then take a glass bottom boat tour of the springs. I looked long enough to see fish, but that was not for me.
The park has trails to wander around on, and it is home to wildlife like deer and turkeys. If you’ve never seen either of these in the wild, it can be a bit awe-inspiring. Again, an alligator warning is needed here. You don’t want to see all of Florida’s wildlife up close and personal, so, be careful.
Like most of Florida’s trails, they are on raised platforms to keep you out of the mouths of alligators and off the fragile ecosystem. The boardwalks used to be all wood, but I’ve noticed lately that when repairs and replacements are needed, they have switched to what looks like maybe a resin-type material that they then try to color to look like wood. I probably won’t live long enough to see if this material lasts longer, so someone else will have to come through and write about that later.
Camping, horseback riding, boating, and heritage trails and historical sites are all available to you.
This park is located in the west-central part of the state in Ocala, Florida where there be bears people.
You’ll find more Silver Springs State Park information here.
The State of Florida offers so many parks that you can find one no matter where you live or are visiting in the state. I hope you get to visit these parks on my list because these are some of my favorite ones. I’ve spent most of my time at the Sebastian Inlet Park because it’s close to home, and whenever I want to go and enjoy the ocean, I go there. Maybe I will see you there.