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Florida Outdoors: National and State Parks

Abundant Wildlife, Recreation Facilities, Fantastic Scenery

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Florida State and National Parks

Our Top Picks Around Miami and Beyond

Abundant wildlife, fantastic scenery and world-class outdoor and recreation facilities are just a few reasons to visit one of our many State and National Parks.

Alligators sunning at Everglades National Park at Shark Valley
Alligators sunning by the waterhole at Shark Valley, Everglades National Park

We are blessed to have many incredible adventure opportunities at our doorstep offering a multitude of trails, beaches, natural preserves, historic monuments, underwater reefs...

Florida is not just about our pristine beaches, leave swanky South Beach behind and enter a world of brilliant coral reefs teeming with colorful fish, turtles, lobster, gliding stingrays... prairies and flatwoods that provide a sanctuary to the endangered Florida Panther, or the elusisve black bear, yes! we have bears!... a river of grass offering shelter to alligators, raccoons, wading birds... a mangrove coastline that provides a nurturing environment to manatees, crocodiles, sea turtles... Our collection of National and State parks are the gateway to many wonderful sites and adventures, they will get you on the trails, take you snorkeling to the reefs, or kayaking through the mangrove forests...

There is a total of eleven National Parks in Florida, dozens of National Wildlife Refuges, a National Marine Sanctuary, and many many State and County Parks. Together they provide a fantastic diversity of landscapes and ecosystems, give us all a chance to get close to nature, to get out and enjoy all of earth's wonderful gifts, right here, in our backyard.

Whether it is a National Park, a Preserve, a State or County Park, a Refuge or a Sanctuary, here are some of our favorite spots in South Florida to get outdoors and enjoy those wonderful natural treasures.

Everglades National Park Main Entrance

Alligator at Anhinga Trail

Everglades National Park in Florida is the main gateway to the "River of Grass", with over 1.5 million acres teeming with a diversity of wildlife and many endangered species, it is a unique and special place, and certainly one of the most amazing National Parks we have.

There are three entrances to the Park and four main areas. The Main Park Entrance is about one hour South West from Miami. Here you find the main Visitor Center and one of our favorite walking trails and boardwalks, the Anhinga Trail. What's here? Lots of alligators and wading birds.

Here's more on Everglades National Park and the Main Entrance Area.

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Everglades National Park at Flamingo

Marina and Canoe Rentals at Flamingo

As you continue South from the Main Entrance of the Park you reach Flamingo, literally at the end of the road. It is a bit off the beaten path but totally different, this is the jumping off point for exploring Florida Bay, Flamingo is about water.

What's here? A visitor center, a marina, boat tours that take you either to the mangrove backcountry or out into Florida Bay, kayak and canoe rentals. Watch out for salt water crocodiles, manatees, dolphins, alligators, wading birds.

Here's more on the Flamingo Outpost.

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Everglades National Park at Shark Valley

Alligators at Shark Valley water hole

This is one of our favorite spots, also an hour's drive from Miami. It is quite unique, you see the alligators roaming around freely throughout the area, there is no fence between you and the critters, really! Just sitting there... right in the middle of the path...

Shark Valley is great for biking, either bring your own or rent there. The highlights, besides the alligators that welcome you on the trails include a 15-mile loop which you can explore with a tram tour, by bike or foot (long walk but all flat)

Here's more on the Everglades at Shark Valley

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John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Beautiful Reef at John Pennekamp, Key Largo

John Pennekamp State Park is mainly famous for the coral reefs and underwater wonders lining the eastern boundaries of the park.

About one hour South from Miami, the park is located in Key Largo in the northern Florida Keys.

There is of course the diving and the snorkeling, but also canoeing, kayaking, fishing, nature boardwalks and camping, and for the more sedate, little beaches in which to laze around, enjoy a picnic, go for a dip in the water, admire our fantastic sunsets...

This is one of our favorite parks to chill for a day. When you visit the park, take your time... take advantage of everything it offers!

Here's more on John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

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Biscayne National Park

The lighthouse at Boca Chita Key, Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park is unique as National Parks go as over 95% of the park is in the waters of Biscayne Bay. Naturally, most activities to enjoy what the park offers revolve around water-based activities: snorkeling, kayaking, canoeing, scuba diving, boating.

Your starting point is the gorgeous Visitor Center. Our favorite activities at the park are taking a boat tour to the keys and having a picnic, canoeing along the mangrove coastline to look for manatees, rays and beautiful birds, walking along the trails and boardwalks near the visitor center and snorkeling the reefs.

Here's more on Biscayne National Park.

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Big Cypress National Preserve

Egret in cypress swamp at Big Cypress Preserve

Cypress Swamps and Mangrove Tunnels, Alligators, Manatees, and Birds, Birds, Birds... This preserve is often unjustly overshadowed by its next door famous cousin Everglades National Park, both parks are within the Greater Everglades ecosystem and share much in common, in fact, the wildlife and landscapes are just as striking with one major advantage: it doesn't get the crowds that flock to the boardwalks and Visitor Centers of Everglades Park.

Main access to the preserve is via US Highway 41 or Tamiami Trail, not far from Everglades Park Shark Valley. There are two Visitor Centers, one at each end of the main corridor, and enjoying the preserve is as easy as taking one of the boardwalks or viewing platforms which are conveniently located off Tamiami Trail and have plenty of parking.

Here's more on the Big Cypress National Preserve

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Bill Baggs Cape Coral State Park

Cape Coral Lighthouse at Bill Baggs State Park

Bill Baggs State Park has predictably made it to the Top Ten Beaches in America for the last ten years running, but this little oasis barely 15 minutes from downtown Miami, is more than just a beach.

What's here? Sparkling beaches, fishing piers, boardwalks and nature trails for wildlife viewing, biking paths, and the hallmark and centerpoint of the park, a picture-perfect lighthouse with a colorful history.

More on Bill Baggs State Park

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Oleta River State Park

Kayaking in the Oleta River

Oleta River State Park is a gem tucked in the middle of cosmopolitan Miami, in fact, it's Florida's largest city park.

This little known park, (surprising enough not many of our local friends knew about it...) can really pack it in the outdoor activities and recreation department and it even offers overnight stays in rustic cabins that for the adventure-minded nature lovers out there can save you some dollars on your accomodation budget.

Some of the most popular activities and fun stuff you can do at Oleta: kayak, canoeing and paddleboarding with convenient rentals onsite, mountain biking (yes, really! many off-road trails for you to try), camping, and relaxing at the beach.

Here's more on Oleta River State Park.

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Worth a Drive: Heading West

The following parks are located in the Western part of Florida and most convenient for those based in the Naples area.

This area is some 80 miles from Miami, you are naturally wondering if it's worth the trek all the way to the other end of the State. It is just as much about the journey and everything you will encounter along the way.

For starters, the road that brings you here, Tamiami Trail, the scenic and recommended route, even though it takes longer, cuts through the Big Cypress National Preserve (see above), so that alone is worth doing.

Although you can visit the area as a day trip from Miami, the area does deserve a few days or at least an overnight stay.

Everglades National Park - Gulf Coast Entrance

White Pelicans at Everglades Park Gulf Coast from boat trip

The Gulf Coast Visitor Center is the Northwest outpost at Everglades National Park where you find Boat Tours to Florida Bay, the 10,000 Islands and the Mangrove Wilderness, kayak and canoe rentals.

In addition to the Gulf Coast Visitor Center, another good starting point for exploring the area is the Everglades Area Chamber Of Commerce Welcome Center where they can point you in the right direction regarding accomodations, dining, and many more activities in the Gulf Coast.

Here's more on the Gulf Coast Visitor Center of Everglades National Park and the Everglades City area.

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Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge

Beautiful Sunset overlooking  the Thousand Islands Wildlife Refuge

The Ten Thousand Island National Wildlife Refuge is located in the south side of US 41 to the west of the Fakahatchee Strand. It is rich in superb habitats that support incredible wildlife. Large congregations of wading and shore birds including egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, white and brown pelicans, and the endangered wood stork, feed and nest in the Refuge wetlands and can be seen throughout the shallows surrounding the islands.

Best way to see it if of course from the water and the main access points are the communities of Port of the Islands and Goodland.

Here's more on the Ten Thousand Islands.

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Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park

Boardwalk at the Fakahatchee Strand

The Fakahatche Strand is another area which is part of the Greater Everglades ecosystem. What's here? A Beautiful Boardwalk through a Cypress and Royal Palm Swamp and a scenic drive that traverses the park.

There is no telling what you will see here. Sightings of black bears are not uncommon, and alligators are seen roaming around the path near the entrance sometimes. Florida Panthers have also been observed here, but as usual, it is always "the other group" that gets to see them! Overhead, look for eagles, owls, woodpeckers, and the red-shouldered hawk...

Here's more on the Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park.

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Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge

Panther Kitten

The Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge was created to protect the Florida panther, one of the most endangered mammals in the U.S., as well as its habitat. It is located within the heart of the Big Cypress Basin, and as many other Wildlife Refuges, it serves as a research and management facility.

There are two hiking trails, a short 1/3 mile loop trail and a longer 1 1/3 mile trail where you can experience the panther habitats. That said, the chances of visitors seeing panthers in the wild at the Refuge are quite slim. Only between 5 to 11 Florida panthers roam the refuge. So why visit? More than anything, to gain an understanding for the plight of the Florida panther, and perhaps consider joining a program or volunteer to support the efforts of the Refuge. And this being the Everglades, you never know what you may encounter along the trails!

Here's more on the FLorida Panther and the FP National Wildlife Refuge

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Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Ibis wades through the undergrowth at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary

Managed by the National Audubon Society, this superb sanctuary maintains a fantastic two-mile boardwalk that cuts through the largest bald cypress forest in North America. Take your time and bring binoculars!

Alligators, black bears, raccoons, white-tailed deer, river otters, turtles, nesting wood storks, countless bird species and incredible lush vegetation... it is Corkscrew at its best.

Many volunteers roam around the boardwalks, they can tell you about recent sightings and anything you wanted to know about the flora and fauna of the sanctuary.

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Worth a Drive: Heading South

Bahia Honda State Park

Beach at Bahia Honda State Park

Located at mile marker 37 in the Lower Florida Keys, this beautiful park has a wonderful beach, kayaking and snorkeling tours to the nearby Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary, a marina with boat slip rentals, fishing, biking, camping facilities for tent and RV camping, and cabins.

Perhaps a bit far for a day trip from Miami but if you are in the Keys, definitely worth a visit for a fun day outdoors with the family or an overnight stay.

More about Bahia Honda State Park.

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Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge

Key Deer at National Wildlife Refuge

The Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge was established to protect the Key deer, the smallest subspecies of the white-tailed deer and one of the first endangered species protected by the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

For best chances of viewing these adorable little deer, come either early in the morning or at dusk when they are more active and can be seen more easily grazing by the side of the road. Be careful, observe the speed limit and do not feed the deer!

More about the Florida Key Deer and the National Key Deer Refuge.

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Worth a Drive: Heading North

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

Limpkin at Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge

Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge is part of the Greater Everglades and located in Palm Beach County. For our Miami visitors perhaps a bit of a trek, but it offers many of the wildlife viewing opportunities and beautiful landscapes as Everglades National Park without the crowds and in a more peaceful and quieter environment.

What's here? A boardwalk through a cypress swamp, trail marshes, canoeing, biking, and more amazing wildlife...

Here's more on the Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge

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