The first image that comes to mind when you think of Florida is probably that of a white sand beach, and while the state definitely is a haven for all that beach goodness, there’s so much more to the Sunshine State if you know where to look. One of the best things about Florida? Its mesmerizing natural wonders that range from deep caverns to labyrinths of mangroves and crystal-clear springs set in the middle of verdant forests. If you’re on the lookout for fantastic places to visit in Florida to make your itinerary something truly special, here are 8 destinations in the Sunshine State that need to be on your bucket list!
1. Dry Tortugas National Park
If absolute solitude is what you’re after, there’s no better place to find yourself a quiet little spot than Dry Tortugas National Park. Made up of 99% water, this gem of a national park is one of the most remote locations in the entire United States, making it a paradise for those looking to experience the best Florida has to offer without the hoards of crowds around.
Dry Tortugas is only accessible via boat or seaplane, which pretty much means most people can’t be bothered to visit. In fact, there’s a pretty high chance you’ve never heard of this place, simply because it’s so off-radar that even most local Floridians are unaware of its existence!
While a day spent at the beach at Dry Tortugas is the epitome of paradise, there’s no better way to explore it than by going underwater. While visiting, you can snorkel in search of untouched coral reefs, try to find as many marine species as you can, or hit a few hiking trails on the 7 islands that make up the remaining 1% of the park.
2. Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park
Even though sinkholes are relatively common throughout Florida, Devil’s Millhopper is unique because it's one of the few places in the state where more than 100 feet of rock layers are exposed. It’s an incredible place to witness the way ecosystems develop as a result of geological features!
Put into simpler words, Devil’s Millhopper is a 120 feet-deep cavity that leads down into a mini rainforest, creating a landscape that will make you feel like you’re walking inside a Jurassic Park movie (in fact, a ton of fossilized remains of extinct species have been found here). Do you think they found any mosquitos in amber?
3. Everglades National Park
Home to over 15 million acres of Floridian wilderness, Everglades National Park is made up of a number of different ecosystems, making it an absolute treat to explore if you’re up for a few days threading through some of Florida’s most varied landscapes.
While here, you’ll get to kayak through mangroves, hike through hardwood hammocks, or go in search of marine life living under the sea (manatees, pythons, and alligators are pretty easy to spot here).
4. Blue Springs State Park
Located about 40 minutes north of Orlando, Blue Springs State Park is the largest spring on the St. Johns River and one of the best places to see Florida’s famous West Indian Manatees.
Swimming, kayaking, and canoeing are the most popular activities here, but make sure you also explore on foot by walking the 1.3-mile boardwalk, which takes you from the spring’s source all the way into St. John’s River and provides some of the most scenic views in the park.
During the winter months, you can see hundreds of manatees at Blue Springs as the park is one of their favorite spots to take shelter from the cold ocean waters. Besides manatees, the spring also attracts a variety of wading birds, ospreys, kingfishers, and eagles, making it a mecca for insanely good bird-watching opportunities.
5. Ocala National Forest
Home to the world’s largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest, Ocala National Forest is a haven for all things nature--even the invasive kind. From crystal-clear freshwater springs where you can swim or even snorkel in search of marine life, to marvelous hiking and equestrian trails, Ocala is a little gem in northern Florida and the perfect place to escape the bustle and hustle of nearby theme parks for a day or two, and who knows--you might even spot a wild monkey.
6. Florida Caverns State Park
Looking to dive a little deeper when exploring Florida? Florida Caverns State Park lets you go underground and weave into a maze of cave systems and hidden rooms, where you’ll get to see mysterious stalactites, stalagmites, draperies, and flowstones that look almost other-worldly.
Florida isn’t exactly famed for these types of sights, making this state park a truly unique experience in the state. In fact, it’s one of the few places in Florida with dry caves, and the only state park to offer cave tours to the public!
7. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Set in Key Largo (or rather, right underneath it), John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is America’s first underwater state park and the third largest barrier reef in the world.
If you’re into dazzling marine life, exploring this gem of a park is sure to please. From wading into the water to snorkeling in search of colorful coral to exploring aboard a glass-bottom boat, there are an endless number of ways to explore Florida’s underwater world at John Pennekamp.
8. Paynes Prairie
Wild horses and bison aren't only out west--there are herds of them living in Florida's Paynes Prairie Preserve too, and while they might be the biggest tourist attraction around, these gentle giants aren't the only animals to call this sprawling landscape home. You can enjoy many of Florida's native bird species here, as well as reptiles, insects, and mammals--all along side the untamed plant-life.
Have you ever visited any of these destinations in Florida? Which one was your favorite? Let us know all about your time there in the comment section below!