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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’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.
What to bring to Florida
Long sleeve shirt – A long sleeve shirt will help protect you from mosquitos. This is a must for a summer visit, but not 100% necessary for January and February, but it would be helpful.
Good hiking shoes – If you’re sticking to boardwalks and other dry trails, Chacos will be good. If you want to go in the water or flooded areas, you’ll want closed toe shoes so you don’t get cut by sawgrass. Chaco Odysseys with socks are my favorite for hiking in Florida.
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.
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
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Book Sanibel hotels here.
National Park Pass + Other National Park Deals
- If you’re planning on visiting multiple parks (3 or more) on this trip or within the year, I would highly recommend getting a national park pass. It’s $80 but will pay for itself in about three trips to parks. It’s so worth it and I buy one every year! They’re also great for gifts for the park lovers in your life.
- To help plan the best national park trip ever, this Ultimate National Park Planning Bundle is perfect! 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! Buy a national park journal here.
- 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.
- Planning a big national park trip? Check out these other posts: National Park bucket list, Make the most of a National Park trip, National Park camping packing list, My favorite National Park hikes, More National Park hikes I love, Underrated National Parks.
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.
Join a haunted trolley tour here.
Book Key West hotels here.
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.
Book Homestead hotels here.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Book Tallahassee hotels here.
Fakahatchee Strand State Park
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.
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!
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 your’e renting a kayak making it super easy for you. Plus, its so beautiful!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Join a 10,000 Islands shelling tour here.
Book Marco Island hotels here.
Kennedy Space Center
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.
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.
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?