50 Ways to Get a little park on ya!
1. Feel the sand between your toes.
Digging your feet into the sand at the beach is a time-honored tradition in Florida. If the water temperature feels good, go barefoot and walk along the edge of the water. Along the panhandle, try Perdido Key State Park with more than one mile of beach or St. George Island State Park with more than nine miles of beach. Near Jacksonville, Little Talbot Island, Big Talbot Island and Amelia Island state parks have beaches that are perfect for burying your toes. In South Florida, the beaches at John D. MacArthur Beach and Fort Pierce Inlet state parks offer miles of white, sandy beaches.
2. Explore a Wild and Scenic River.
Florida's federally-designated Wild and Scenic Rivers are ideal places to canoe or kayak and take it all in at a slow pace. The Loxahatchee River runs through Jonathan Dickinson State Park in South Florida's Hobe Sound, while the Wekiva River flows north out of Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka to the St. Johns River. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the parks' concessions.
3. Build a castle.
Florida's sugar white sands and warm coastal waters are the perfect ingredients for building sand castles. Bring your sand buckets and shovels. Try Perdido Key or St. George Island state parks in the panhandle, Little Talbot Island or Amelia Island state parks near Jacksonville or John D. MacArthur Beach or Fort Pierce Inlet state parks in South Florida.
4. Swim with the fish.
The crystal clear waters of Florida's first magnitude springs like the one at Manatee Springs State Park are perfect for scuba diving, snorkeling or swimming. The cool 72-degree temperature is inviting year-round and the fishing and turtle watching are nice, too.
5. Make your own adventure along the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail.
Stretching from White Springs to the town of Suwannee on the Gulf Coast, the Suwannee River offers 170 miles of pure adventure. Paddle for a few hours or a few days. Outfitters are ready to help you navigate your way and river camps are available for those overnight excursions. Don't miss these popular stops along the river – Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Parks and Manatee Springs State Park.
6. Hang Ten.
With the reef line lying just outside the jetty, incoming and high tides make the waves perfect for surfing at Fort Pierce Inlet State Park. The half-mile long beach provides a relaxing venue for watching the surfers, too. The park hosts several surfing competitions every year between September and February.
7. Chill out at the springs.
The headspring at Wekiwa Springs State Park offers a beautiful natural scene for relaxing, picnicking with family or friends and a cool dip in the crytal clear waters.
8. Go for a swim.
In the spring and summer, people are drawn to the water. The Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean, lakes, springs and rivers – they all call to us to come outside to play. Try the salty waters of Perdido Key or St. George Island state parks in the panhandle or the fresh waters of Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland.
9. Take a quick dip in the pool or stay all day.
The half-acre swimming pool at Hillsborough River State Park north of Tampa offers something for everyone, including grassy areas to relax and catch some sun. The concessionaire sells food and beverages, picnic and camping supplies and souvenirs. Visitors can rent umbrellas and pool lounge chairs. Free WIFI. The swimming area and park concession is wheelchair accessible. Pool fees are $4 per day per person. Open during warm weather.
10. Explore a cave.
Florida Caverns State Park is one of the few state parks in the United States with dry (air-filled) caves and is the only state park in Florida to offer cave tours to the public. The cave has dazzling formations of limestone stalactites, stalagmites, soda straws, flowstones and draperies. Cave tours are limited to 25 people per tour and last about 45 minutes along a 1,600-foot path. Tours are offered Thursday through Monday (closed on Tuesday and Wednesday). Tour fees: ages 0-2 - free, 3-12 - $5, 13 and older - $8, each plus tax. First-come, first-served. Cave tours regularly sell out, so be sure to arrive early. The last cave tour begins at 4 p.m., CST.
11. Enjoy a guided Segway® tour.
For an eco-friendly experience you won't soon forget, sign up for a guided tour of Fort George Island on a cross terrain Segway® with Ecomotion Tours. This two-hour tour departs from the historic Ribault Club at Fort George Island Cultural Center State Park and visits the Kingsley Plantation while traveling along more than three miles of maritime forest, abundant with plant and animal life. $65-$85 per person.
12. Drive the Saturiwa Trail.
Download the audio tour of the Saturiwa Trail (pronounced sa-chur-EE-wa), and learn about Fort George Island and the fort built there in 1736. This 4.4-mile trail will guide you through the historic Ribault Club, the Kingsley Plantation and Fort George Island. You can also borrow a CD at the Ribault Club.
13. Learn Second Seminole War history.
Learn about the Second Seminole War at Fort Foster State Historic Site (part of Hillsborough River State Park, north of Tampa). The reconstructed fort was built to protect the bridge over the river on the trail from Fort King (Ocala) to Fort Brooke (Tampa). Ranger-guided tours of the fort are offered on weekends. The interpretative center is open daily, 8 a.m. - 5 p.m. Located in the original 1930s ranger station of Hillsborough River State Park, the center offers a glimpse into the Second Seminole War and life at Fort Foster. Artifacts found at the fort site are on display and incorporated into exhibits exploring both sides of the conflict between the Seminole Indians and U.S. Forces.
14. Enjoy the Fairchild Oak and a scenic walk.
The Fairchild Oak at Bulow Creek State Park is one of the largest live oak trees in the South. More than 400 years old, this tree offers ample shade for a picnic or an afternoon nap. While at the park, hike the Bulow Woods Trail nearly seven miles to Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park. Along the way, enjoy the breeze and look for wildlife, such as the white-tailed deer, barred owls and raccoons.
15. Explore one of Florida's pioneer colonies.
Throughout its history, Florida has welcomed pioneers of all kinds. Cyrus Reed Teed was probably the most unusual, bringing followers to Estero in 1894 to build New Jerusalem for his new faith, Koreshanity. The colony, known as the Koreshan Unity, believed that the entire universe existed within a giant, hollow sphere. The colony began fading after Teed's death in 1908 and in 1961 the last four members deeded the land to the state. Visitors to Koreshan State Historic Site can take self- or ranger-guided tours of the settlement.
16. Get the bird's-eye view.
Observation towers offer amazing scenic views. The observation tower at the East Beach area of Big Lagoon State Park provides a panoramic view of Big Lagoon, the park and Gulf Islands National Seashore across the Intracoastal Waterway. Climb the 50-foot tower at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park and you'll get a view of the preserve and some of its more unusual residents: bison and wild horses. Hike the Hobe Mountain Trail at Jonathan Dickinson State Park to climb the observation tower and get a commanding view of the park's 13 natural communities, including pine scrub, pine platwoods, mangroves and river swamps.
17. Over the river and through the woods...
On an historic suspension bridge we go! Cross either the Santa Fe River at O'Leno State Park in High Springs or the Hillsborough River at Hillsborough River State Park north of Tampa on historic suspension bridges that were built by the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. What's on the other side? At O'Leno State Park, it's a nature trail and at Hillsborough River State Park, it's several miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail.
18. Ride a sound wave.
At Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, the 97-bell carillon can be heard throughout the day playing Stephen Foster's (1826-1864) most famous songs. You'll find yourself transported back in time while singing or humming the songs, the most popular of which is "Old Folks at Home." Others that you might recognize are "Oh! Susanna," "My Old Kentucky Home" and "Jeanie with the Light Brown Hair."
19. Meet a character.
Ranger-guided tours of the 1930s pioneer homestead that belonged to Trapper Nelson are available year-round at Jonathan Dickinson State Park. The 25-passenger boat, Loxahatchee Queen II, takes visitors on a two-hour tour of the river with a stop at the restored camp of Trapper Nelson, the "Wildman of the Loxahatchee." At the site, park staff lead visitors around the grounds and buildings of a true Florida original who made his living off the land as a trapper and fur trader. Once fame caught up with Trapper, however, he evolved himself and his home into one of the area's first tourist attractions, "Trapper's Zoo and Jungle Gardens." Trapper's unsolved death in 1968 gives a fitting sense of mystery to the site. Trapper's is open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday through Monday, and is accessible only by private canoe or boat, or by the concession's tour boat. Call the park concession at 561-746-1466 for information on times and prices for the Loxahatchee Queen II.
20. Watch the wading birds.
Find a shoreline, any shoreline, in Florida and you're sure to see wading birds. From roseate spoonbills (rare, but sometimes seen in the Tampa Bay area) to great blue herons and egrets, the antics of these interesting birds are worth the trip to find them along the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.
21. Win a prize! Enter the online photo contest.
Thousands of people participate in the monthly photo contest for Florida State Parks. Just point, shoot and share! Even if your photo doesn't win, it could still appear in a Florida State Park publication or on our website.
22. Picnic in the park.
Pack your picnic basket and head to the state park of your choice. Most state parks offer picnic areas with covered pavilions, picnic tables and BBQ grills. Easy recipe: banana dogs. Ingredients: hot dog buns, bananas, peanut butter and honey. Serve with potato chips or little fish crackers. Yummy!
23. Get your Passport stamped.
The Florida State Parks Passport is designed as a travel aid to help you discover Florida's state parks. As a collector's journal, the passport will help you plan park visits, record your experiences and collect each state park's unique stamp. Each of the 160 state parks is highlighted in the passport. Purchase by phone, by mail or at most state park ranger stations or museums.
24. Explore the Boneyard Beach.
Visit the bluffs at Big Talbot Island State Park in Jacksonville. A relaxing stroll down the beach will lead you to the salt-washed skeletons of live oak and cedar tress that once grew near the shore.
25. Find a Florida Scrub-Jay.
Oscar Scherer State Park in Osprey is a wonderful location to see Florida's only endemic bird species. These friendly birds can entertain for hours and make very good photography subjects.
26. Sleep under the stars.
Do you enjoy hiking into the wilderness and setting up camp? State parks throughout Florida offer opportunities for primitive camping. At Hillsborough River State Park, just north of Tampa, hike to your campsite carrying all your gear and supplies and then, sleep under the stars.
27. Go horse back riding on the beach.
Amelia Island State Park is the only state park in Florida to offer horseback riding on the beach. Enjoy a 45-minute riding tour through the forest and along the Atlantic Coast beach. For reservations and prices, call 904-491-5166.
28. Get in the middle of the action – as a volunteer!
Florida State Parks rely on volunteers to aid park staff in many ways – from guiding educational tours and staffing the front desk to setting up special events and assisting in wildlife research. John D. MacArthur Beach and Jonathan Dickinson state parks often have volunteers patrol the parks' beaches during turtle nesting season to catalogue nests and check for any remaining hatchlings. Special events like the Florida Folk Festival at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park rely on volunteers to make the whole event possible. Middle and high school students can often get community service credit for their efforts, so get the whole family involved in volunteering at your local state park.
29. Ride like the wind.
Many people are surprised to learn that Florida has mountain biking trails. Enthusiasts are familiar with Oleta River State Park in North Miami, Alafia River State Park south of Tampa and Santos, part of the Cross Florida Greenway. Most people aren't aware that Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound offers the Camp Murphy Off-road Bicycle Trail, a nine-mile network of mountain bike trails, with loops for beginners and experts. Bicycles can be rented at the River Store. At Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park, mountain bikers enjoy the eight-mile single track Foster's Hammock Loop Trail that is shared with hikers. Catfish Hole, the Suwannee River Overlook, Beavor Crossing and other unique areas along this scenic trail provide bikers with an exclusive adventure throughout the Upper Suwannee River Valley's diverse topography. Bikers traverse some of the most beautiful natural features including high river bluffs and limestone outcroppings, fun elevations throughout the floodplain swamp forest, and many other beautiful and scenic natural communities. The Suwannee Bicycle Association hosts a Fat-Tire Festival in White Springs in the autumn and weekend rides throughout the year. The town of White Springs has accommodated bicyclists with marked riding lanes through the town along Highway 41. A variety of trail challenges are an easy ride away at Big Shoals Public Lands where 33 miles of trails take riders through 13 natural communities. Helmets are required for anyone 16 and younger, recommended for all.
30. Stay a while – rent a cabin.
From rustic to modern, cabins in state parks provide overnight accommodations. Pack your food and your recreational gear and make a cabin your home base for exploration. At Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park in Keystone Heights, 16 cabins overlook Little Lake Johnson. Nine rustic cabins were built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and can accommodate up to four people. Five block cabins and two modern cabins accommodate up to six people each. Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park serves as the gateway to the Suwannee River Wilderness Trail. Each of the five riverside cabins accommodate up to six people. These spacious two bedroom cabins have heating and cooling, a gas fireplace, screened porch and kitchenette. In Clermont, Lake Louisa State Park's 20 cabins overlook beautiful Lake Dixie. These two bedroom/two bathroom cabins accommodate up to six people in modern style. Located beneath shady oaks in Ocala, Silver River State Park's 10 cabins each accommodate up to six people. Each cabin has a full dining area, two bedrooms, one bath, kitchen, heating and cooling and screened porch with rocking chairs.
In the evening, sit on the porch and listen to the crickets and enjoy conversation or board games with your family and friends. Pets are not permitted in cabins. For the guest's relaxation, televisions and phones are not provided. Reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance through ReserveAmerica. Book online or call 800-326-3521 (8 a.m. – 8 p.m.) or TDD 888-433-0287. Cabins sometimes have minimum stay restrictions. Prices range from $65 to $120 per night, plus taxes. ADA-accessible cabins are available.
31. Catch dinner.
Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park has a secret fishing hole. The east end of the island is newly opened for anglers to drive their vehicles and gear to the cut between the island and Dog Island. Anglers can fish for flounder, redfish, sea trout, pompano, whiting, Spanish mackerel and other fish off the beach or in the bay. Afterwards, head to one of the picnic pavilions on the beach to grill the day's catch for dinner.
32. Watch the sun rise.
Early risers can watch the sun rise along Florida's Atlantic Coast. Campers get the best spot on the beach at Little Talbot Island State Park in Jacksonville. Camp over night, wake up early and watch the sun greet the new day.
33. Cast a line.
Anglers find paradise almost anywhere in Florida. Visit the George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier State Park in Jacksonville. This one-mile, pedestrian-only fishing bridge spans Nassau Sound and provides access to one of the best fishing spots in Northeast Florida. Look for whiting, jacks, drum and tarpon. Park at Amelia Island State Park and fish all day. Bring your bait.
34. Learn something new.
A trip to a state park is not like going to school, but learning is always fun. The Elsa Kimbell Environmental Education and Research Center at Jonathan Dickinson State Park offers exhibits and displays related to the park's natural communities. The whole family can learn something. In Jacksonville, the Ribault Club and Fort George Island Visitor Center serves as the gateway to the Timucuan Trail state and national parks. The visitor center, located within the Ribault Club, has interpretive exhibits depicting the rich, natural and cultural history of the area and the island.
35. Take your horse on a camping trip.
Several state parks offer a tremendous system of equestrian trails and spots to spend the night. Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna offers stables for overnight guests with horses and six miles of trails along the Chipola River for riding. Jonathan Dickinson State Park in Hobe Sound has five equestrian campsites and eight miles of trails. Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka offers the Big Fork campsite for equestrians with eight miles of trails in two loops. Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont has primitive camping with a paddock for equestrians. Riders can access more than 16 miles of trails from the trailhead. Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park south of Gainesville also has primitive camping for equestrians along the Chacala Trail. Bring your tent and prepare to travel 1.85 miles to the campsite on your horse. The 6.5 mile-long Chacala Trail winds through several distinct biological communities where a variety of wildlife may be observed.
36. Go on a guided horseback tour.
Amelia Island State Park is well known as the only spot where you can ride horses on the beach but other state parks offer guided tours, too. At Silver River State Park in Ocala you can rent a horse from Catus Jack's Trail Rides for a ride through the oak trees. At Wekiwa Springs State Park, you can rent a horse on the weekends for a guided trail ride. Reservations recommended with the vendor.
37. Paddle away.
Many state parks feature rivers, lakes and lagoons perfect for canoeing and kayaking. At Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna, the Chipola River offers a scenic experience. Canoe rentals are available for half-day or full-day trips. Canoe the Suwanee River from Manatee Springs State Park in Chiefland. An outfitter is available for rentals and shuttle service. Canoeing on the Wekiva River is a treat at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka. Rent canoes from the concessionaire for a trip down the river. Shuttle service included.
38. Take a hike.
The Florida National Scenic Trail runs 5.44 miles through Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park in Keystone Heights. Other trails in the park offer a variety of hiking opportunies – including a 10-minute nature walk to the Ravine Ridge Trail that meanders along the upper ridge of the ravine between the ravine stairway and the mill site. Walk quietly and look for wildlife – Sherman fox squirrels, southeastern kestrel, red-tailed hawk, bald eagles, fox, deer and more.
39. Seek hidden treasure.
Search for hidden treasure using your GPS units and the clues found online along the Florida State Parks Civilian Conservation Corps Geotrail. Nine parks were built by the CCC and Works Progress Administration in the 1930s. Search for all nine caches and end at the CCC Museum at Highlands Hammock State Park and receive a commemorative geocoin. GC codes: GC38Y93 Fort Clinch State Park, GC3BG4G Florida Caverns State Park, GC3D02X Highlands Hammock State Park, GC3BG4A Hillsborough River State Park, GC3ABB5 Mike Roess Gold Head Branch State Park, GC3BG4N Myakka River State Park, GC3ABBC O'Leno State Park, GC38Y8V Ravine Gardens State Park, GC3BG4E Torreya State Park, GC38Y9F. The Florida State Parks final CCC cache is located in Highlands Hammock State Park.
40. Hike to the river sink.
O'Leno State Park is located on the banks of the scenic Santa Fe River, a tributary of the Suwannee. The distinctive geological feature of the park is the river sink where the Santa Fe River disappears underground to re-emerge three miles south at River Rise Preserve State Park. The River Trail takes you along numerous sinkhole lakes on the way to the river sink. Take the Limestone Trail through a hardwood hammock, past a limestone outcrop and then by a pine forest on your way to an abandoned quarry that played a significant role in providing building materials for construction during the Civilian Conservation Corps era. There are an additional 13 miles of hiking and biking trails available.
41. Sleep in a tent.
Sleeping in a tent is a time honored tradition for many. Pack your tent and camping gear and head to a state park with lots of fun activities and a full-facility campground. Each site comes with water and electric hookups, a BBQ or ground grill and a picnic table. Pick your spot, make your reservation and gather your family and friends for outdoor fun. Pets are welcome in most campgrounds. If a tent doesn't suite your fancy, full-facility RV sites are available at most state parks.
42. Take to the lake.
A short drive from Orlando, Lake Louisa State Park is noted for its beautiful lakes, rolling hills and scenic landscapes. Lake Louisa, the largest in a chain of 13 lakes, is designated as an Outstanding Florida Waters. Lake Louisa, Lake Hammond and Dixie Lake, the park's most accessible lakes, provide opportunities for fishing, canoeing and kayaking.
Anglers can fish from the shoreline of Lake Louisa or from the fishing pier over Dixie Lake, the park's second largest lake. The park offers a canoe and kayak launch at Dixie Lake just off of the fishing pier. Lake Louisa offers canoe and kayak accessibility also but does not have a designated launch area. Canoeists and kayakers would have to launch from the Lake Louisa beach.
Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the park. Boats with electric trolling motors or manual power are allowed. A fishing license may be required.
43. Add to your to-do list.
The Tomoka River and the Halifax River (the Intracoastal Waterway) meet at the north end of Tomoka State Park forming a natural peninsula. With 12 miles of shoreline, the park's 2,000 plus acres cover maritime hammock and estuarine salt marshes. These marshes, flooded daily by tides, provide habitat, food and breeding grounds for oysters, snails, fiddler crabs and fish – favored foods for the wading birds and hawks that rely on the marshes for their meals. Part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, this park is a birdwatcher's paradise, with more than 160 species sighted, especially during the spring and fall migrations.
44. Tour a Cracker village.
Learn about life in rural Central Florida in the 1800s at Silver River State Park. Once a month, a volunteer who grew up in a Cracker-style home offers a tour and insightful stories about living in Florida without air conditioning or electricity. These tours are the only time the Cracker buildings are open to the general public.
45. Paddle the Silver.
The Silver River is one of the most beautiful and peaceful rivers in Florida. The headwaters of this river start at the Silver Springs attraction and flow south to the Ocklawaha River. Birders will enjoy the abundant birdlife. Expect to see anhingas, ducks, egrets, herons, ibis, hawks, limpkins and kingfishers along the way. Alligators and turtles can be seen sunning on logs and the shoreline. Underwater, you'll see bluegill, sunfish, bass and pre-historic looking longnose gar. The most popular launching point is from Ray Wayside Boat Basin at the western foot of the Ocklawaha bridge on State Highway 40. The other option is to carry your vessel about a half-mile to launch from the end of the park's river trail. Rentals are available riverside from the park.
46. Enjoy the Lester Finley Nature Trail.
The Lester Finley Nature Trail is a 3,400-foot-long barrier free boardwalk at Oscar Scherer State Park in Osprey. The boardwalk is a masterful example of outdoor accessibility. A seasonal waterfall, butterfly garden, fishing dock and water fountain enhance the trail. Audio boxes are provided along the walkway to help visually impaired visitors navigate the trail. The touch-activated speakers tell visitors about the park's important plant and wildlife communities. The boardwalk is a memorial to a park volunteer.
47. Canoe the Estero River Canoe Trail
The Estero River Canoe Trail begins at Koreshan State Historic Site in Estero and flows three miles through subtropical hammocks and mangrove swamps to Estero Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. Canoeing is a popular activity in the brackish tidal waters filled with snook, mullet, redfish and other popular game fish. Wildlife such as alligators and birdlife such as egret, herons and ibis can be seen along the way. Canoes can be rented at the park or visitors may bring their own.
48. Explore one of Florida's first parks.
Florida's system of state parks was founded in 1935. At Highlands Hammock State Park in Sebring, a museum plays tribute to the young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps who built this park and eight more. The museum features a 10-minute video of actual early park construction and interactive exhibits highlighting the 1930s and 40s. Then, go outside and enjoy their handiwork. Many visitors enjoy bicycling the scenic three-mile loop drive or hiking along the park's nine trails. An elevated boardwalk traverses an old-growth cypress swamp.
49. Experience the Midwest – right here in Central Florida.
Bison and wild horses aren't just features of the Great Plains, they're also living in Central Florida at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.
50. Host an event.
Pew Family Natural Science Education Center at MacArthur Beach State Park is the perfect venue for educational field trips, meetings and special events. The center is home to a large classroom, research library, discovery lab and education gallery. The Nature Classroom can comfortably seat 60 people and has eight wet labs, a SMARTBOARD®, 10 tables, 60 chairs and ample storage space for all of your event needs. Guests can also learn about the park's many habitats – including rock reef, dune, hammock and estuarine – at the Trees to Seas exhibit in the education gallery. Then, move on to the Discover Lab to see some of the animals who live in these habitats up close.
Disclaimer: Prices are subject to change. All activities are weather dependent. Make camping and cabin reservations at http://floridastateparks.reserveamerica.com. Pets are not allowed in cabins, but are allowed in most campgrounds.