Our research is editorially independent but we may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
When you think of Florida’s national parks, odds are, Everglades National Park is what comes to mind, but the state is home to many others that most people aren’t aware of. They stretch all the way from the Gulf Islands National Seashore in the Panhandle to Dry Tortugas, 70 miles off Key West’s shores. You could visit one at a time or make a vacation out of exploring them all – here’s all you need to know to make it happen.
YOU'RE ALL SET!
Look out for our newsletters in your inbox soon.
Dry Tortugas National Park is made up of seven islands that cluster together like precious gems in the brilliant Gulf of Mexico waters, some 70 miles off Key West. Five are primarily nature preserves for rare local birds with Loggerhead Key and Garden Key the only two with some development. Garden Key is the main island which is home to Fort Jefferson, a military fort used as a prison in the 19th century. In addition to history and bird watching, visitors can enjoy a wide range of water sports, including kayaking, fishing, snorkeling, and diving among vibrant coral reefs with tropical fish.
Where to Stay: There are no hotels in the Dry Tortugas and many simply enjoy the park on a day trip from Key West, but there are primitive campsites on Garden Key. In this remote location, you’ll be able to enjoy fantastic stargazing far from light pollution.
How to Get There: Dry Tortugas can be reached with your own boat, by catching the ferry or hopping on a seaplane from Key West. The ferry takes about 2.5 hours and if you plan to return the same day you’ll have about five hours on Garden Key. A seaplane charter can get you there in just 25 minutes. If you cruise there on your own boat, you’ll need to pick up a free permit at Fort Jefferson and find out where you can drop anchor.
Good to Know: There are no services here, so you’ll have to bring your own fresh water, food, and anything else you need. If you take the ferry, there are food and other items available like hats, t-shirts, and sunscreen.
Everglades National Park is spread over 1.5 million acres at the southern tip of Florida. Unless you have a boat, you’ll only be able to visit a small portion, but there are opportunities to explore more via a kayak or an airboat tour. The abundant wildlife, like manatees, alligators, a wealth of birdlife, and the Florida panther, is a highlight. The park is a sanctuary for migratory birds and raptors too. This isn’t the kind of place where you can drive around and see everything from your windshield. The best way to view the vast river and grass along with the wildlife up close is from the Shark Valley and the Homestead park entrance. At the visitor centers located at each, you can pick up a schedule of ranger-led programs and activities.
Where to Stay: It’s possible to rent houseboats and eco-tents (a cross between a cabin and tent) in Flamingo. There are also two drive-in campgrounds accessible from the Homestead entrance of the park. Hotels and vacation rentals are plentiful just outside the park in or around the town of Homestead.
How to Get There: There are four points of entry, including the Gulf Coast Visitor Center in Everglades City, Shark Valley Visitor Center in Miami, Flamingo Visitor Center and Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center, both in Homestead.
Good to Know: If you enter the park from the south in Homestead, you might want to take a day trip by boarding the Homestead National Parks Trolley, a free ride available on weekends between late November and early May. A park ranger provides narration along the way.
One of the best national parks for water sports, Biscayne National Park is 95 percent water with the rest mostly coral reefs, sandy islands, and mangrove shoreline. Home to the world’s third-largest reef, it’s one of the top spots in the continental U.S. for snorkeling, enjoyed among everything from parrotfish and angelfish to manatees and even shipwrecks. In addition to snorkeling, you can check out the Dante Fascell Visitor Center, kayak, canoe, take fishing lessons, walk island trails or watch for dolphins and turtles.
Where to Stay: There are two campgrounds, both available on a first-come, first-serve basis. If you prefer sleeping on a comfy bed, there are hotels and vacation rental options in Homestead, about 30 minutes away.
How to Get There: The Dante Fascell Visitor Center is located in Homestead, between Miami and the Florida Keys.
Good to Know: A variety of programs and boat tours are available starting from the visitor center.
Big Cypress National Preserve isn’t just a swamp, although it does include 729,000 acres of wild swampland. It’s actually a patchwork of parks and preserves just north of Everglades National Park on the west side of the peninsula. It also serves as an important home to the American alligator, the rare Florida panther and flocks of wading birds. A large boardwalk in front of the Oasis Visitor Center overlooks a pond where you can almost always see alligators. You’ll also find trails for hiking and paddling and a 24-mile historic backroad that can be driven to see some of the preserve’s many creatures.
Where to Stay: There are five campgrounds, all managed by the park service.
How to Get There: Both the Oasis Visitor Center and Nathaniel P. Reed Visitor Center are located in Ochopee, about 77 miles west of Miami.
Good to Know: Big Cypress National Preserve is a great stop when driving in between the Gulf and Atlantic Coast as it’s likely right on the way.
Located along the western shore of Matanzas Bay in St. Augustine, Castillo de San Marcos National Monument is the oldest masonry fort in the continental U.S. Fought over for centuries, it was built by the Spanish to defend Florida and the Atlantic trade route and embodies over 450 years of history. While walking through, you’ll discover many rooms, each of which tells the tales of various owners during different periods along with the battles that were fought.
Where to Stay: St. Augustine offers accommodation of all types from hotels to Airbnb rentals.
How to Get There: It’s located in downtown St. Augustine along Florida’s northeastern Atlantic coast.
Good to Know: Free brochures and maps are available to guide you around the site.
While it’s one of the national park system’s smaller units, De Soto National Memorial is rich in history. This was the spot where Conquistador Hernando de Soto landed nearly 500 years ago in 1539, searching for gold and glory. It sits where the Manatee River meets Tampa Bay and includes a Mission 66-era visitor center, a “living history” area where every winter De Soto’s first encampment is recreated, a self-guiding trail through the mangroves, the ruins of a typical Florida “tabby house,” a small beach area, and a 16th-century viewshed that looks out to Tampa Bay toward the Gulf of Mexico.
Where to Stay: Hotels, resorts, vacation rentals, and RV resorts are available in Bradenton.
How to Get There: It’s located in Bradenton just south of Tampa on Florida’s west coast. Boaters can access the park via the Manatee River.
Good to Know: During your visit, check to see if any living history demonstrations are scheduled.
Fort Caroline no longer exists, however, the national memorial includes the site where the attempted French colonial settlement once stood along the banks of the St. Johns River. It’s best known for its picturesque trails for hiking and jogging, but it also includes a visitor center and occasionally presents living history demonstrations.
Where to Stay: A wide range of accommodation options are available in Jacksonville.
How to Get There: It’s located in Jacksonville’s Timucuan Preserve, best-known for protecting 6,000 years of human history, and can be accessed by road or the St. John’s River Ferry.
Good to Know: While you’re here, watch for dolphins in the St. Johns River.
While it’s a much smaller site than nearby Castillo de San Marcos, Fort Matanzas is worth visiting with its 1740 Spanish fort and nearly 100 acres of salt marsh and barrier islands that lie along the Matanzas River on Florida’s northern coast.
Where to Stay: A wide range of accommodation options are available in St. Augustine.
How to Get There: The fort is located about 14 miles south of the historic district of St. Augustine.
Good to Know: If you’re looking for a scenic walk, access the boardwalk from the visitor center which winds through the oldest and highest part of the barrier island. The less than a mile trail is shaded under a beautiful canopy of diverse trees and animal life in the maritime forest.
The Gulf Islands National Seashore includes barrier islands that are in Florida and Mississippi. Florida’s unit includes Pensacola Bay, Fort Barrancas, Fort Pickens, Perdido Key, the Naval Live Oaks Area and parts of Santa Rosa Island. The main reason to come is the pristine white sandy beaches. Visitors can also enjoy ranger-led tours, historic forts, birdwatching, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, and diving.
Where to Stay: Everything from hotels and resorts to campgrounds and vacation rentals can be found throughout the region.
How to Get There: Located in Florida and Mississippi, this is America’s largest national seashore, stretching 160 miles from east to west.
Good to Know: If you’re into birding, bring your binoculars. There are more than 300 species here, including brown pelicans, osprey, and bald eagles.