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I love Florida. When most people hear Florida they think Disney, but I think Florida is a paradise for outdoor activities, too. It may not be the west or have mountains, but it’s still amazing.
Between all the time I’ve been in Florida, it probably adds up to a year, maybe. I feel like I’ve done a pretty good amount of outdoorsy things in Florida but I also know there are so many other places to visit in Florida that I haven’t been to yet.
But living there, I’ll be able to do all the things! There is so much more hiking in Florida than I realized and there are all kinds of towns I still want to go to.
My Florida bucket list is constantly growing and I’m sure as I visit more places in Florida, this list will grow along with it. This is the perfect place to start if you’re planning a Florida road trip.
I’m going to focus on more outdoorsy places in this list but there are a few regular stops, too You won’t find Disney or Universal on here though, because I think everyone already knows those.
I’ve been everywhere on this list, except for three of the places and they’re at the top of my priority list. These are some of the best vacation spots in Florida for outdoor lovers.
Travel Services I Recommend:
AllTrails – This is my favorite hike tracking app.
Discover Cars – I recommend Discover Cars for rental cars.
Booking.com – This is great for finding and booking hotels.
Get Your Guide – I recommend Get Your Guide for booking tours.
National Park Obsessed – This is the best national park planner.
Skyscanner – Skyscanner is great for finding and booking flights.
See all my resources here.
What to bring to Florida
Long sleeve shirt – A long sleeve shirt will help protect you from mosquitos and the sun.
Dry bag – This is a must if you’re kayaking or canoeing. You’ll want to keep your phone and camera dry while you’re on the water. Here is a set with three different sizes.
Pants – If you’re walking through water, you’ll want to wear pants so your legs don’t get cut up by the sawgrass.
Bug spray – You’ll want to bring this no matter when you visit, but especially if you want to go in the summer. I like the Ben’s bug spray as well as the Off! Deep Woods.
Hiking poles – These will be helpful on longer hikes that are on the steeper side. They’ll be good if you have bad knees for when you’re going downhill and will give you something to lean on going up the hills.
Water bottle – It’ll be hot and you’ll need to stay hydrated. Even if it’s not hot you need to stay hydrated. A Hydro Flask will keep your water ice cold all day long.
Sunscreen – If you plan on being outside, you’ll want sunscreen. I like the Hawaiian Tropic Sheer Touch a lot AND it’s reef safe! If you’re sensitive to fragrance though, it’s not a good choice. I also like the same one but specifically for your face.
Hat – You’ll want some kind of hat to keep the sun out of your eyes, or a visor. A baseball hat should be fine but I like my giant sun hat, too.
Sunglasses – This is a must no matter where you are.
Headlamp – I tend to carry my headlamp around all the time when we’re hiking, just in case.
Ahh, Everglades City. One of the places I would want to live (Asheville area, Jackson Hole, and Moab are the other three in case you haven’t seen me mention them) and a place I look forward to visiting every year.
It’s a tiny little swamp town in south Florida not far from Naples, Big Cypress, and the Everglades. The town itself is cute but very small and quiet. It’s one of the best places to visit in Florida for nature lovers though.
Whether you want to kayak, swamp walk, hike, bike, boat, swamp buggy, whatever, you can do it there. Plus, it has the cutest city hall I’ve ever seen.
Where else to go nearby: Ten Thousand Islands, Big Cypress National Preserve, Collier Seminole State Park, Fakahatchee Strand State Park, Marco Island
Everglades City tours
- Everglades boat eco tour
- Marco Island: Dolphin, birding, and shelling tour
- Mangrove kayaking eco tour
- Birding, wildlife, and photography tour
- 2.5 hour private photo safari
- Alligators and plants eco kayak tour
Book Everglades City hotels here.
St. Augustine is actually the oldest city in the United States founded in 1565 but was inhabited by Naive Americans, the Timucua people, for several thousand years before that.
St. Augustine is the perfect weekend getaway in Florida and it’s especially great for history buffs.
While you’re here, be sure to visit Castillo de San Marcos, climb the St. Augustine Lighthouse, visit Fort Matanzas, relax at Anastasia State Park, do a ghost tour, and wander around the old town.
There’s a cute used bookstore here, a tiny little coffee shop across from Castillo de San Marcos, a winery, and tons of other little shops. It’s a great downtown area for just wandering around and I love it!
Where else to go nearby: Anastasia State Park, Fort Matanzas National Monument, Vilano Beach, Crescent Beach
St. Augustine tours
- Trolley and history tour
- Haunted trolley tour
- Walking ghost tour
- Haunted pub crawl
- Historical walking tour
Book St. Augustine hotels here.
When I say Gainesville, I usually get two responses: where’s that? And go gators! But Gainesville has a lot more to offer than just UF.
There are tons of great trails in Gainesville, not to even mention the springs! Plus, the downtown area is nice to walk around and there is a lot of great food.
The springs are one of the best things about Gainesville. They’re crystal clear and 72-degrees year-round. They’re perfect for both swimming and paddling.
I’ve got some of these included below, too, but some places to check out are Gilchrest Blue Springs State Park, Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Devils Millhopper, Paynes Prairie State Park, Ginnie Springs, Rum Island Springs, and so much more.
Where else to go nearby: Micanopy, Ocala, High Springs, Gold Head Branch State Park
Book Gainesville hotels here.
Cape San Blas
Cape San Blas is a Florida hidden gem up in the panhandle, not far from Destin. It’s a quiet beach paradise, still recovering from Hurricane Michael damage in 2018. But don’t let that stop you from visiting!
If you’re looking for adventure filled places to go in Florida, this might not be it, but if you want quiet beach, it’s perfect. It’s a short drive from the town of Port St. Joe on the mainland.
This is also a great place for shelling! There aren’t any hotels on the Cape (I feel fancy saying that) but there are tons of vacation rentals both on the bay and beach sides.
I though the best shelling was outside of the place we stayed but all along the beach you’ll find things. There’s also the St. Joseph Peninsula State Park to visit!
We spent a week here in March 2020 before coming back out west and I loved it so much, I can’t wait to go back and see more of the area!
Where else to go nearby: Apalachicola, Port St. Joe, Mexico Beach, Henderson Beach State Park, Destin, Dead Lakes (and if you really don’t mind a drive, Panama City Beach and the National Naval Aviation Museum)
I cannot wait to visit Cassadaga, the psychic capital of the world, an unincorporated town mostly populated by psychics and mediums.
There is just one hotel in Cassadaga and it’s reported to be haunted. They have in-house spiritualists and healers that you can make appointments with and you can join classes daily at the Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp Church if that’s more your speed (or budget.)
There are also Spirit Encounters Night Photography Tours, healing classes, Reiki healing circles, and more are offered throughout the week as well. If you like spiritual/haunted travels, this could be a fun place to visit in Florida.
Where else to go nearby: Blue Spring State Park, Daytona Beach, Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
Cedar Key is Old Florida. It’s a tiny little town on the Nature Coast right on the coast. If you’re looking for a laid back place to go in Florida, Cedar Key is it.
It’s a wonderful place to eat seafood, kayak, hike in the Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge, walk around town and enjoy the shops, see the shell mound outside of town, and more.
I’ve been here twice but they were both very brief visits (like, an afternoon) and would love to come back for a few days to really do more in the area.
Where else to go nearby: Lower Suwanee Wildlife Refuge, Cedar Key Scrub State Park
Book Cedar Keys hotels here.
Matlacha is part Old Florida, part art community. It’s a colorful little town not far from Fort Myers. You could either spend a few relaxing days here or just pop in for an afternoon.
You can do some kayaking, admire lots of art, eat some seafood, and just enjoy the vibes in Matlacha.
I think it would actually be best to spend a night here, close to the main gallery area so you can walk around instead of driving in and finding somewhere to park which is not easy.
Where else to go nearby: Cayo Costa State Park, Gasparilla Island State Park, Fort Myers
Book Matlacha hotels here.
St. George Island
If you want a slightly more lively location in the pandhandle that isn’t quite as hopping as Destin or a city, consider St. George Island! This is less than an hour from Cape San Blas and Apalachicola, another great Old Florida town.
Hit the beach, eat some seafood, climb the St. George Island Lighthouse, and enjoy the ocean on this beautiful island away from the south Florida beach crowds.
You can easily take day trips to Cape San Blas and Port St. Joe, Apalachicola, Destin, Dead Lakes, Mexico Beach, or even Tallahassee. Or you could visit the island as a day trip from them.
Where else to go nearby: Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park, Apalachicola, Cape San Blas, Port. St. Joe
Book St. George Island hotels here.
Sanibel, a shelling a book lovers paradise off the coast of Fort Myers. Sanibel really is one of the best places in the US to go shelling.
I think it would be easiest to stay on the island if you want to do a lot of shelling just so you don’t have to get up as early and could bike instead of drive and worry about parking.
Aside from shelling, stop into all three(!) bookstores (if you like books, there’s an entire store for mysteries and thriller!), rent a bike and bike around the island, visit Captiva Island, and look for wildlife at the Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge.
I went here just for a day in 2021 and but would love to go back and actually spend a few days staying on the island to go shelling at all the beaches and spend like, a whole day at the mystery bookstore.
Where else to go nearby: Fort Myers Beach, Estero Bay Preserve State Park, Lovers Key State Park, Koreshan State Park
Book Sanibel hotels here.
National Park Goodies
- If you’re planning to visit three or more national parks within a year from your trip, definitely get the America the Beautiful pass. It will save you money in the long run if you’re going to more than three parks in a year. Buy the pass here.
- If you’re planning on doing a lot of hiking on your trip, or even at home, check out AllTrails! This is my favorite app to find, keep track of, and track my hiking activity. And it’s FREE! Sign up here.
- This Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is a must-have. You get two ebooks and a planner, saving 50% by getting them as a bundle! If you want all the details, this is the bundle for you. Buy the Ultimate bundle here.
- This National Park Planner (one of the ebooks from the bundle above) is perfect if you just want some guidance in your planning. Buy the planner here.
- Get yourself a little National Park notebook to write all about your adventures while you’re on the road. These from Field Notes are all very cute! If you want one for all of the NPS sites (400+!) then this one is for you!
- Before your trip, get some national park apparel for your trip!
- Consider reading some of these books set in national parks before your big trip, on your adventure, or once you get home to take you back to the parks until next time.
Dry Tortugas National Park
Dry Tortugas is the one Florida national park I haven’t been to yet and I cannot wait to go! This park is about 70 miles off the coast of Key West and can be reached by sea plane, ferry, or private boat.
It’s not a cheap park to get to ($200+ per person depending on how you get there) but it totally looks worth it.
The main key you visit is home to Fort Jefferson and you can even camp here! That’s the only option to stay in the park and you can only visit in day trips otherwise.
If you have a boat or kayaks and are a strong kayaker, you can visit Loggerhead Key, a more remote neighboring key with a lighthouse where the artists in residence stay.
I would definitely plan to spend a weekend in Key West before or after your Dry Tortugas trip.
Where else to go nearby: Key West, Hemingway House, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Southernmost point of the continental US
Book Key West hotels here.
Everglades National Park
Everglades National Park is easily the most popular national park in Florida and it’s huge. Like a lot of Utah parks, it has three areas to explore: the main Flamingo area, Shark Valley, and the Gulf side.
If you only visit one, do Royal Palm/Flamingo and be sure to hike the Anhinga trail. You can do some more hiking, too and enjoy tons of short interpretive trails.
If you want to bike, Shark Valley is perfect for that. And if you/re in Marco Island, Naples, or Fort Myers, the Gulf side will just be easier to visit but it has less to it.
Everglades National Park also makes a great day trip from Miami or Fort Lauderdale and if you’re really short on time, you could probably visit both Everglades and Biscayne in one day but you won’t get to do much.
Where else to go nearby: Big Cypress National Preserve, Biscayne National Park, Coral Museum, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Book Homestead hotels here.
Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park is a great free national park not far from Miami. You can see the skyline from the park. There is a small section on land with the visitor center and a short trail but most of the park is underwater!
The best way to experience the park is by kayak or boat tour out to the islands, Elliot Key and Boca Chita Key.
It’s a great park for snorkeling, too. You can also camp on the keys, which I think would be really fun!
They even have a snorkel/dive trail! It’s done by boat but there are stops where you hop out to explore underwater.
It’s a cool thing that’s pretty unique to Biscayne National Park. I’m sure more are out there, but I haven’t seen others in Florida.
Where else to go nearby: Coral Castle, Cape Florida Lighthouse, Stiltsville, Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, West Palm Beach, art deco district of Miami, Miami Beach
Book a sunset tour in Biscayne Bay here.
Big Cypress National Preserve
I think Big Cypress is my favorite place to visit in Florida. Maybe just one of my favorite places to visit, at all.
I love it and look forward to our yearly trip there. It’s a great alternative to Everglades National Park or addition to a Florida national park trip.
There is so much to do in Big Cypress including hiking, paddling, and boating. You can do plenty of birding, look for wildlife all over, and even visit an art gallery.
And the best part is, it’s not that busy so your chances of having places to yourself are a lot higher. Just writing this now makes me want to go back so bad!
Where else to go nearby: Everglades City, Fakahatchee Strand State Park, Shark Valley, Ten Thousand Islands, Everglades National Park
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
The first time my parents came to visit we went to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and it was wonderful. It set the bar for wildlife refuges pretty high for all three of us.
There isn’t much for hiking in the refuge but the wildlife viewing drive is totally worth doing! This is the perfect addition to a trip to Cocoa Beach or the Kennedy Space Center, maybe even as a day trip from Orlando.
Where else to go nearby: Cocoa Beach, Cape Canaveral National Seashore, Kennedy Space Center
Book Cocoa Beach hotels here.
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge
St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge wasn’t as good as Merritt Island, but it could have just been a bad trip (we saw almost no wildlife the entire two weeks in Florida on this trip) but it’s a cool refuge to visit.
And there are hiking trails here! They’re mostly short but it’s still enjoyable. The longest trail we did was an under two-mile loop through the woods where we got to see tons of birds.
There is a lighthouse at the end of the scenic drive and some small beachy areas. There were a lot of people down in this area fishing. It’s a really nice place to go in Florida if you want to be outside without tons of crowds.
Where else to go nearby: Tallahassee, Bald Point State Park, Wakulla Spring State Park
Book Tallahassee hotels here.
Fakahatchee Strand State Park
Fakahatchee Strand State Park and Preserve is one of the places we go every time we’re in Everglades City. It’s also home to the Fakahatchee Hilton, one of my favorite easy Florida hikes!
Right along the Tamiami Trail is the Big Cypress Bend Boardwalk, which is another great easy hike in the area great for seeing wildlife. If you want more hiking, there are some old logging roads along the Jane’s Memorial Scenic Drive.
Where else to go nearby: Florida Panther Preserve, Big Cypress National Preserve, Ten Thousand Islands, Collier Seminole State Park, Everglades City, Marco Island
Big Talbot State Park
Big Talbot State Park is a great little beachy state park near Jacksonville. It may not be the fluffy white sands of the west side of Florida (that could be because it was rainy the day we were there, I’m not 100% sure) but it’s still a beautiful beach.
After a short walk through the woodsy palmettos, you’re on the beach that is full of driftwood.
We just walked along the beach down to this sort of grassy river area, watched crabs, and grabbed a few shells. I would love to come back here and visit Little Talbot, too!
Where else to go nearby: Jacksonville, Fernandina Beach, Amelia Island, Little Talbot State Park, Fort Clinch State Park, Amelia Island Lighthouse
Book Amelia Island hotels here.
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Ichetucknee Springs State Park is an incredible place to visit in Florida just a short drive from Gainesville. You can hike, swim, paddle, and maybe even see manatees if you’re lucky in the winter!
Last year we kayaked the Ichetucknee River and I loved it! It takes 2-3 hours and you can get dropped off and picked up if you’re renting a kayak making it super easy for you. Plus, its so beautiful!
Where else to go nearby: O’leno State Park, High Springs, Ginnie Spring, Gilchrist Blue Spring State Park
Anastasia State Park
Anastasia State Park is just outside of St. Augustine and and it’s a great little beach state park in north Florida. I’ve been a couple of times and really liked it.
While you won’t find much for big shells here, there are tons of small ones. The sand isn’t powdery but it’s a great place to just relax on a sunny day and you can even see the St. Augustine Lighthouse from parts of it!
Where else to go nearby: St. Augustine, Crescent Beach, Fort Matanzas National Monument, Castillo de San Marcos, St. Augustine Lighthouse, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve
Blue Springs State Park
Blue Spring State Park outside of Orlando is wonderful. And busy. It’s one of the best places to see manatees in Florida, though you can’t swim with them.
You can kayak and paddle board on the St. Johns River and up part of Blue Spring Run (I think) but not in the area where the manatees are. There is a short hiking trail to the head springs, which is really nice and great for seeing birds, too.
There are a few different viewing platforms along the way. You can also join boat tours and walk through a historic home in the park.
Where else to go nearby: Cassadega, Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park, Orlando, Universal Studios, Walt Disney World
Book Orlando hotels here.
Paynes Prairie State Park
Paynes Prairie State Park is one of my favorite state parks, I love it. But Florida state parks are the best. I love a lot of them.
Paynes Prairie is another one near Gainesville with lots of hiking and some good chances of seeing alligators and tons of birds.
La Chua Trail is partially flooded still but even the boardwalk section is really nice. And there’s a Geocache on the boardwalk!
Bolen Bluff is another good trail in the park. AND you can see wild horses and bison if you’re lucky, which is pretty cool!
Where else to go nearby: Micanopy, Sweetwater Wetlands, Sweetwater Preserve
Lovers Key State Park
I love Lovers Key State Park. This beach is beautiful, there are tons of great shells, and I found my first whole sand dollar here! It can get pretty busy here during the day so go first thing when they open if you want to do a lot of shelling.
But the first time I went here was during the day and I found more shells but no sand dollar, so your mileage may vary. Either way, it’s a beautiful beach near Fort Myers and perfect to relax in the sun.
Where else to go nearby: Little Hickory Island Beach Park, Mound Key Archaeological State Park, Koreshan State Park, Barefoot Beach, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park
Book Fort Myers hotels here.
Caladesi Island State Park
If you want an incredible beach that’s easy to get to but not horribly busy, look no further. Caladesi Island State Park is perfect and just outside of Tampa.
It’s one of my favorite state parks and probably my favorite beach in Florida, so far. It’s great for shelling and relaxing.
You can only get here by ferry or your own boat so it’s not as busy as parks you can drive to.
And even if it is busy, if you walk further down the beach (we went to the right) you’ll probably have it to yourself. I loves it and will absolutely go back. It’s one of my favorite places to go in Florida.
Where else to go nearby: Honeymoon Island State Park, Tampa Bay, Clearwater Beach, Sand Key Park, Anclote Key Preserve State Park, Fort de Soto, Anna Maria Island
Book Clearwater hotels here.
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary
Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is home to an impressive ghost orchid and the longest boardwalk in Florida! It’s a great easy hike and a wonderful Fort Myers day trip.
The Corkscrew Swamp boardwalk is about two miles for the whole thing and it gives you a great taste of outdoor Florida while being easy and close to civilization.
You can also probably see gators and birds here. And maybe a Florida panther if you’re lucky!
Where else to go nearby: Bonita Springs, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Naples, Fort Myers
Ginnie Springs might be the most popular or at least well-known spring in Florida and it’s definitely one of the best places to go in Florida for nature lovers.
It’s great for paddling and swimming near Gainesville and is the last place I haven’t been to on this list, which is surprising because of it’s proximity to where I spend most of my time in Florida. It looks beautiful and I can’t wait to go and share more about it.
Where else to go nearby: Rum Island Spring, Poe Springs, Gilchrist Blue Spring State Park, High Springs, River Rise Preserve State Park
Tigertail Beach on Marco Island is one of my favorite places in Florida to go shelling. Both times I went I saw tons of great shells without really crazy crowds.
It takes a little more effort to get too (not that much, though) because you have to cross a lagoon or walk around it but it’s worth it for the beautiful white sand and shells all over. It’s great for families and anyone that just wants to relax in the sun.
If you walk around the lagoon, there is a huge wide open are where you could easily find a place to set up shop, especially further from the shore. But it’s not super packed or anything, I love it.
Where else to go nearby: Ten Thousand Islands, Keewaydin Island, Collier Seminole State Park, Briggs Boardwalk
Book Marco Island hotels here.
Kennedy Space Center
Next up, the Kennedy Space Center, a place that made its way onto my radar thanks to Catherine Ryan Howard and Alex in Wanderland.
This is definitely the best place to go in Florida for space fans. And if you time it right, you can even see a launch here! This is one of the things I’m most excited to see in Florida.
There is so much to do at the Kennedy Space Center, you could spend days here. There is the usual exhibits and tours but there are also some special activities you can do, like space camp and other fun things, especially good for kids and teens.
Where else to go nearby: Cape Canaveral National Seashore, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Cocoa Beach, Daytona Beach
Get your Kennedy Space Center tickets here.
Book Titusville hotels here.
Finally, another awesome Gainesville trail, the Sweetwater Wetlands Trail, an awesome easy hike that is so good for seeing wildlife. Like, so good.
Last time I was there I saw alligators, lizards, a snake, and tons of birds. It’s part dirt trail, part paved trail, part boardwalk with little shade but a couple gazebos along the way.
I love this trail and while the scenery isn’t like, 10/10, the walk is really nice and it’s a great afternoon or morning hike. I’ve done this a couple of times and look forward to doing it again.
Where else to go nearby: Micanopy, Paynes Prairie State Park, Tu Vien A Nan, Sweetwater Preserve
Florida posts you may also enjoy:
Have you been to any of these places in Florida? Which ones? What is your favorite vacation spot in Florida?
2 thoughts on “28 Incredible Places To Visit In Florida For Nature Lovers”
Myakka State Park is a good spot as is Kissimmee Prairie which is an international dark site! Ft. Caroline and Timucuan are great places also!
Ooo Kissimmee Prairie sounds like a great place! I’ll have to check out the other two forts, too!