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Image over the Everglades National Park in Florida beneath clouds as a flats boat powers north.
Photograph: Patrick Farrell and Peter W. Cross / Visit Florida

The 6 best national parks in Florida

Coral reefs, mangrove forests, and shipwrecks are just a few must-see sights at the best national parks in Florida

Megan duBois
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Megan duBois
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If you’re looking for a scenic outdoor adventure, the best national parks in Florida give the state’s buzzing beach scene a run for its money. Sure, the Sunshine State’s national parks command their share of the coast, but you’ll find a range of landscapes that offer plenty more than sand and sunshine.

Think you already know what you might expect from Florida’s parks? Think again. Near Miami, the Everglades park alone represents an entire ecosystem in and of itself, boasting some of Florida’s most iconic wildlife (alligators, panthers, snakes, oh my!), while Dry Tortugas National Park in Key West is anything but dry (the bulk of the remote park, in fact, is located underwater). From stunning turquoise waters to itty-bitty islands only accessible by boat, plenty of mangrove forests and acres upon acres of coral reefs, there’s plenty to explore whether you’re on foot, paddling via kayak, or snorkeling into the sunset.

Ready to let the scenery surprise you? Home to stunning seashores, soaring national monuments, and plenty of natural beauty, these are the six best national parks in Florida (including a few national monuments, too). 

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Best national parks in Florida

Dry Tortugas National Park is unlike any national park you’ll find in the United States — not only is it remote (roughly 70 miles west of Key West), it’s mostly underwater. The 100-square-mile park is actually an archipelago of seven islands, one of which boasts Fort Jefferson, a fortress that broke ground in 1846. It’s a hike to this park (considering that it’s only accessible by boat or seaplane), but it’s worth the effort; popular for snorkeling or scuba diving, crystal clear sparkling waters reveal one of the largest ​​coral barrier reefs in the world. Brimming with fish and other marine animals, Dry Tortugas is also a nesting spot for endangered sea turtles.

Not far from Miami, Biscayne National Park is home to bright blue waters that shimmer with coral reefs and over 500 species of fish — and believe it or not, you’ll still see Miami’s sparkling skyline in the distance. The area has plenty of things to do like stand-up paddle boarding, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, and lobstering. Look under the water and you might just see a shipwreck or two (if you snorkel along the Maritime Heritage, you’ll see what we mean). If you want to spend more time at the park consider renting a campsite at Boca Chita or Elliott Keys, where the only way to get to the small island is by boat — sounds like an adventure if you ask us.

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There’s no question that the Everglades National Park is one of the most precious natural wonders in the entire country. At 1.5 million acres, the massive park is considered a World Heritage Site, International Biosphere Reserve, and a Wetland of International Importance. The diversity of wildlife is astounding here, ranging from manatees to crocodiles, panthers, and bald eagles. As the park is a wetland, expect plenty of airboat and canoe tours, but you can also walk along boardwalks to catch the sunrise (keep your eyes peeled for gators, too).

Hit the beach at Canaveral National Seashore, a barrier island that’s a sanctuary in more ways than one. Thousands of species of plants and animals (including over fifteen species of endangered sea turtles) nest here amongst massive sand dunes. The island also has lagoons in which you can lounge and spot things like sand dollars and starfish. If you’re into rockets and all things space, listen up: when SpaceX is launching nearby, you’ll experience the incredible sounds and vibrations of a rocket launch.

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While walking around St. Augustine, one of the nation’s oldest cities (and one of the most haunted places in the country, if you can believe it), you’ll notice its most notable site: a large fort, perched along the edge of the water near its historic downtown. The Castillo de San Marcos was built by the Spanish to defend Florida against any threats coming by sea, but visitors today can relax and stroll through the fort or enjoy a picnic on the site’s lush green grass. Throughout the busier months, fort rangers and volunteers can often be found dressed in period garb while interacting with guests and answering their questions — not surprisingly, it’s a great time to visit with kids.

A few miles down the road from the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument sits Fort Matanzas National Monument, another worthy stop on your tour of Florida’s best national parks. The monument, a fortified coquina watchtower, once helped protect the growing settlement of St. Augustine. Visiting the fort is free, and you can take a short boat ride across the river to the watchtower to get an up-close view. Once at the monument, climb the tower to see the city of St. Augustine on one side and the shoreline on the other (it'll feel like having a foot in two worlds).

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