The Best National Parks in Florida

On your next trip to the Sunshine State, check out these top historic and scenic attractions managed by the National Park Service.

Blue sky with clouds reflected in water at Everglades National Park
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Florida is home to three amazing national parks that feature vast tracts of wilderness with excellent opportunities for exploration by both land and sea. Yet these aren't the only premier sites guarded by the National Park Service in Florida. Other key attractions on a sightseeing tour of protected lands and historic sites in the state include national monuments, national memorials, and even designated national seashores.

In addition to the usual precautions — packing plenty of water, sunscreen, and bug spray — keep in mind that many of these locations are largely untamed. Alligators and rattlesnakes are a real part of Florida, so be aware of your surroundings at all times, and keep children and pets close. Before you head out, check the NPS website to make sure your park of choice is open, and get ready to explore the great natural and historic attractions of Florida.

Everglades National Park

Side View Of Crocodile in Everglades
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Everglades National Park on the southern tip of Florida is expansive, covering 1.5 million acres and spanning three counties. There are many rare, endangered species here, including the Florida panther and the manatee, and birders come here in droves for the great blue herons, ospreys, roseate spoonbills, pelicans, wood storks, and black skimmers.

You can tour the Everglades by motorboat, airboat, kayak, or canoe. If you want to stay on land, sign up for a narrated tram tour or rent a cruiser bike. Or consider walking along the short Anhinga Trail to watch the eponymous anhinga birds dive straight from the sky into the water to pluck fish for dinner. And there are gators here — plenty of 'em — if you're in the mood.

Biscayne National Park

Boca Chita Key Lighthouse on turquoise Biscayne Bay
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Snorkeling fans should make note of the stunning reefs of Biscayne National Park, which is composed of 95% water. Scuba divers, anglers, boaters, and those who love all things aquatic flock here. This national park isn't far from Miami, so once you get your Art Deco architecture and deep house club fix in the city, this is the place to go to admire the marine life, lighthouses, and everything seafaring. The Dante Fascell Visitor Center, the main gateway to the park, can be reached by car from the Florida Turnpike or from US Highway 1. Once you're there, you'll want to get out onto (or into) the water. The Biscayne National Park Institute offers a range of eco-adventures, from snorkeling at shipwreck sites to cruising to The Boca Chita Key Historic District.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park
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Florida's most remote and least-visited national park is in Hemingway country. If you're down in the Keys checking out the writer's one-time home, arrange a catamaran ride with The Yankee Freedom Dry Tortugas National Park Ferry to see Fort Jefferson, a massive 19th-century fortification that's part of the Dry Tortugas National Park — a series of seven small islands. The views en route are knockout, and you'll see the prison where Samuel Mudd — the physician who set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth — served his sentence.

Other ways to explore the park include snorkeling in crystal-clear waters at a shipwreck, taking kiteboarding lessons, or hiring a guide to go bird-watching or fishing.

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

White pelican on wooden post in Timucuan National Preserve
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The unique thing about Florida's NPS-operated attractions is that each features both outdoorsy as well as historic options. Take Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, for example, in Jacksonville. There are incredible wetlands and waterways for kayaking, but there are also artifacts from the Timucua, a Native American people who once settled in the area. The preserve's visitor center is located at Fort Caroline National Memorial, the site of battles between French and Spanish settlers.

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Historic stone fort, turquoise bay and palm trees.
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Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, located in the heart of the historic district of St. Augustine, is a treasure trove of Spanish colonial history. Overlooking Matanzas Bay, the oldest masonry fortress in America has a star-shaped structure and is a unique example of the "bastion system" of fortification. There's a $15 admission fee to enter the park for a self-guided visit. Rangers and volunteers in period costumes walk around the fort, answering questions and sharing information about what life was like for the colonists who lived here centuries ago.

Big Cypress National Preserve

Mangroves with clouds reflecting in the water

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Big Cypress National Preserve in South Florida is sometimes overlooked in favor of the neighboring Everglades National Park but this massive freshwater swamp (which also happens to be the nation’s first national preserve) has some key advantages. It's free to enter the 720,000-acre preserve and because it's located on the Tamiami Trail (U.S. 41), a popular route between the east to west coasts of Florida, it can be easier to access than Everglades National Park. Once you're inside, you'll find plenty of places to go biking, bird-watching, canoeing, kayaking, and camping. Rangers and commercial outfitters lead swamp tours, nature walks, bike rides, and canoe trips for the curious, and there are eight campgrounds to choose from — including some very rustic options if that's your speed.

De Soto National Memorial

Historic helmets at De Soto National Memorial
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The Tampa Bay-area De Soto National Memorial commemorates the tale of Spanish conquistador Hernando de Soto, who would eventually become the first European to cross the Mississippi River. Here you'll find ranger-led kayak tours, costumed historic reenactments, plenty of hiking, and a ton of educational information — including details about the Native Americans who lived here before the Spanish arrived.

Gulf Islands National Seashore

White sand dunes and green-blue ocean at dusk
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When it's time to take a break from all the information you've been ingesting at the national parks and historic memorials, you might just want to go lie on the beach. The aquamarine waters and white sand of Gulf Islands National Seashore near Pensacola entice plenty of tourists to do just that. The 150-mile stretch of seashore offers a tranquil escape from the crowded beaches along Highway 399. While it's fairly undeveloped (you'll want to bring a cooler with your own food and drinks), you’ll still find a few paved parking lots with restrooms, picnic areas with pavilions and grills, and one campsite in Fort Pickens.

Canaveral National Seashore

Wooden boardwalk and white-sand beach at Canaveral National Seashore
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Another option for experiencing unspoiled seashore is at the Atlantic Coast's Canaveral National Seashore. Enjoy plenty of beaches, exceptional hikes, and great fishing here. This is also the place to be — ideally on Playalinda Beach — for viewing rocket launches from the nearby Kennedy Space Center.

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