Shouldering its way out of the American nation into the confluence of the Mexican Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean, the State of Florida has been hailed for its supreme natural wonders since it was first spied by European explorers traversing the coast. Today, and Florida’s reputation as one of the great outdoorsy getaways in North America is entirely intact. Folk flock here in the winter to wallow in the sun, others descend in the sweaty summer months to soak in the tropical bays and swim amidst the reefs.
But Florida’s natural wealth would not be the same were it not for the network of National Parks that runs right the way through its hinterland, from the panhandle in the west to the tip of the keys themselves. Here are five of the best.
Overflowing with accolades and distinctions, this sprawling UNESCO-attested area of more than 1.5 million acres is the undisputed king of Florida’s National Park system. Perched on the very tip of the Florida Peninsula, the area boasts some of the best preserved everglade habitats on the planet, with great swathes of wetland swamps and sawgrass prairie stretching out as far as the eye can see. It’s also home to one of the largest populations of American crocodile in the country, while guests have also been known to spot manatees gliding through the waterways and the elegant Florida panther roaming between the groves.
The 16-million-brick-strong bulwarks of Fort Jefferson rise from the azure waters of the Mexican Gulf, presiding dramatically over the Dry Tortugas keys nearly 70 miles from the tip of the Florida Peninsula at this truly underrated national park. Nestled on some of most unspoiled coastal islands in the state, the teeming coral reefs and transparent waters here are also shrouded in the ever-alluring legends of piracy and colonial exploration. Those looking to discover the wonders of Dry Tortugas will need to book ferry or seaplane transfers out of Key West, or charter private boat connections direct to the island.
In the distance, the modernist spires of the Miami skyline provide the backdrop to this altogether different national park; a marine wonderland of sprawling coral reefs, extensive mangrove forests and curious historical points of interest. Perhaps best known as one of the premier snorkelling and scuba diving spots in all of America, the protected area of Biscayne Bay is also famed for its 10,000-year history; a tale riddled with stories of native settlers, pirate invaders and industrial expansionism.
Clinging to the eastern edge of the Florida Peninsula, the Canaveral National Seashore runs for more than 20 miles between the roaring Atlantic Ocean and Mosquito Lagoon. On its one side, wild, sprawling clusters of mangrove and oak forest feather their way into the water, on its other, the pristine sand stretches include Playalinda and Klondike; beaches both remote and rugged in their pure isolation. With such a wealth of places to explore, the Canaveral National Seashore offers up hiking, swimming, surfing, boating and fishing opportunities to boot, not to mention some of the best sea turtle spotting opportunities in all of Florida.
The winding, wetland waterways of the Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve pierce their way through the grasslands and forests of the Florida coast like capillaries. For millennia they have brought the liquid lifeblood to civilizations occupying this section of land just outside of modern day Westside; first the Timucuan Indians, second the French colonialists and third the industrialists and plantation owners of the 1800s. Today, these winding waterways provide a serene and peaceful natural backdrop for visitors looking explore this park and enjoy its wealth of natural and historical wonders.