'Opt Outside' this Thanksgiving

Family Hiking at JD

Thanksgiving is a time for many Floridians to reconnect with family and celebrate all for which they have to be thankful.

While eating turkey and watching football are among the more popular Thanksgiving Day traditions, many people every year choose to “opt outdoors” around the holidays.

Open on Thanksgiving, Florida State Parks are great places to spend the day outdoors with family, friends or in your own company.

Hitting the trails can be a great way to work off your Thanksgiving dinner. Hiking is a great way to experience the Real Florida ℠ from the safety of our parks’ nature trails. From the vast grasslands of Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park to the dense forests of Blackwater River State Park, Florida's state parks always provide new environments and places to explore.

Two Sandhill Cranes in Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park.

Sandhill cranes at Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park

While wandering our park trails, look for the seasonal displays of wildlife that occur each fall. Across Florida, animals from far and wide are traveling here for their own version of a winter vacation, and some of our native wildlife can be seen in huge numbers.

Sandhill cranes flock to Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, filling the skies with their bugling calls. Manatees lounge in springs across the state, like Blue Spring State Park, relying on the spring’s warm waters to keep them safe from winter's chill. Monarch butterflies sip nectar from blooming wildflowers at Amelia Island State Park. All around us, wildlife thrives in Florida State Parks.

Hiking isn’t the only way to get “park fit” this fall. Cycling is popular along our many state trails. The Withlacoochee State Trail winds its way through pristine forest areas dotted with historic trail towns, great places to hop off your bike for a quick visit.

For a more action-packed ride, bikers can head to Alafia River State Park, where the banks and contours of an old phosphate mine have been retrofitted into some of the best mountain biking trails in the state. Biking at Florida State Parks never disappoints.

Visitors looking out at the water in John D. MacArthur Beach

John D. MacArthur Beach State Park

Opting outdoors doesn’t have to end with Thanksgiving. While many people are out fishing for deals on Black Friday, many of our parks provide some of the best spots in the state for anglers.

Whether casting a line into the surf at John D. MacArthur Beach State Park or fishing between mangrove trees at Long Key State Park, the bite is always good at Florida State Parks. We even offer two fishing piers - George Crady Bridge Fishing Pier State Park and Skyway Fishing Pier State Park – that are dedicated to helping you land the big one.

Fishing not your thing? Fall is still a great time to hit the water in Florida, where it’s still warm enough to go for a swim or grab a kayak and paddle. November is Florida Paddlesports Month, and many parks offer fantastic places for paddling, such as the cypress-lined banks of Suwannee River State Park. Or grab a swimsuit and splash around in one our many freshwater springs, like the radiant waters of Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park.

With so many ways to explore nature, Florida State Parks makes opting outdoors this holiday season easy! Who knows, you may just start a new tradition to add to your Thanksgiving plans!


This article was published in the Real Florida ℠ Connection, the Florida State Parks e-newsletter. Sign-up to get updates and stories from your state parks the first week of every month.