Florida is home to some of the most beautiful national parks in the country.
From the marsh lands and gator-filled swamps of the Everglades to the underwater world of Biscayne, Florida national parks have a lot to offer.
Growing up across the border in Georgia I’ve been to these places countless times.
Many of my favorite memories are from these incredible Florida national parks.
So where to start? Well, that’s up to you! Florida is home to 11 national park service sites, 3 of which are full-fledged National Parks.
In this post we’ll cover everything you need to know about each of these amazing places. Let’s jump in!
Why Listen to Us About the Florida National Parks?
You should probably know that we don’t just make this stuff up out of thin air. We’ve spent our entire adult lives exploring and filming America’s national parks and public lands.
We’ve worked with the National Park Service, the Department of Interior, and the U.S. Forest Service for years creating films on important places and issues.
Our work has been featured in leading publications all over the world and even some people outside of our immediate family call us experts on the national parks.
We’re Jim Pattiz and Will Pattiz, collectively known as the Pattiz Brothers.
Our goal here at More Than Just Parks is to share the beauty of America’s national parks and public lands through stunning short films in an effort to get Americans and the world to see the true value in land conservation.
Florida National Parks Ranking Criteria
Now, you might ask how on earth we ranked Florida’s national parks from best to worst.
We ranked all of the national parks based on a variety of factors including accessibility, recreational opportunities, crowd sizes, park amenities, and of course, scenic beauty.
Have a look at the breakdown below:
- Accessibility – Is this national park easy to access? We analyzed vehicle access, transportation options, proximity to major airports, lodging and accommodations, conveniences, and other signs of civilization.
- Recreation – Recreation opportunities found in the park like hiking, biking, boating, climbing, etc.
- Crowds – How crowded is this national park? We considered traffic, crowded overlooks & trails, limited campsite availability, lines, etc.
- Amenities – Developed amenities in the park like visitors centers, campgrounds, bathrooms, lodges, etc.
- Scenery – The scenic beauty of the park. Purely subjective of course, but has to be taken into account.
One More Thing
The first three sites on the list, which are the capital letter Florida National Parks, are the ones we’ve fully scored. The other 8 are still ranked but without the full scoring.
Things to Know Before You Visit the Florida National Parks
Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months we suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Sunscreen: Visiting Florida’s national parks means lots of sun. Seriously, these parks will zap you if you don’t wear sunscreen. So take it from us and lather up. We happen to like this one because it works AND it’s not full of a bunch of chemicals.
Leave No Trace: We’re big fans of Leave No Trace here at MTJP. Want to learn more? Read about the seven principals of Leave No Trace here.
Insect Repellent: You hope not to need it, but you want to have it. We typically bring an Eco-Friendly Insect Repellent with us.
Dogs are not allowed on trails in most national parks due to their potentially disruptive presence with the natural ecosystem. The basic rule is they are allowed where cars can go so be sure to check the rules before bringing along your furry friend.
Best Florida National Parks
1. Everglades National Park
- Accessibility – 5/10
- Recreation – 7/10
- Crowds – 7.5/10
- Amenities – 7/10
- Scenery – 6/10
Known for its reptiles, Everglades National Park represents the best chance people have to see the American Alligator in a national park.
While the park itself is actually quite massive (third largest in the lower 48), the hike-able regions of it are somewhat limited.
The best user experience is on a boat and the most popular iteration of this is the fan boat where folks can travel at high speeds and cover a lot of ground.
One of Florida’s many parks, the Everglades is a great addition to any south Florida trip.
Best Things to Do at Everglades National Park
Anhinga Trail is the “can’t miss” hike of Everglades National Park. The trail itself is only .8 miles long but is quintessential Everglades with a boardwalk, gators, the whole deal.
Fan Boat Tour – Everglades is best viewed by water and there’s no way to cover more ground by water than a classic fan boat ride through the park.
Wildlife Viewing While alligators may be a crowd favorite the Everglades are absolutely teeming with wildlife including some of the best bird watching in the world.
Camping in Everglades
There’s only two drive-able campgrounds in Everglades National Park. Both are accessed via the Homestead entrance of the park and managed by a third party outfit (not the park service).
There is an abundance of Wilderness camping opportunities at Everglades National Park. A popular option is kayak camping through the everglades.
To do this, you must fill out a wilderness permit in advance of your trip which can be done through recreation.gov.
In the nearby town of Homestead (mere minutes from the park entrance) there are a plethora of lodging options including:
2. Dry Tortugas National Park
Location: Florida Keys
- Accessibility – 4/10
- Recreation – 7/10
- Crowds – 9.5/10
- Amenities – 2.5/10
- Scenery – 7.5/10
What was once a strategic fort far out on the Florida Keys is now an incredible island national park. Dry Tortugas is one of the few “tropical” national parks in the system which is reason-alone to make the trip. And making the trip is half the fun.
Getting to this park requires an additional plane ride from Key West or ferry ride out to the island. Once there, visitors can snorkel, swim, relax, and otherwise enjoy the remains (well-intact) of Fort Jefferson.
Facilities are quite limited on the island and if you’re camping make sure to pack all of your own food and water.
Best Things to do at Dry Tortugas National Park
Explore Fort Jefferson – As the 3rd largest fort in the United States built with over 16 million bricks, Fort Jefferson is the parks most prominent feature. While the fort was actually never finished what remains today is breathtaking in scale and beauty.
Snorkeling – Dry Tortugas National Park is home to some crystal-clear waters and beautiful reefs. Because of this, snorkeling is a favorite activity in the park.
Where to Stay
Camping is really the only option on the island as there are no restaurants, hotels, or creature comforts to speak of.
Every camper is guaranteed a spot to sleep on the island as access is fairly tightly controlled.
For everything you need to know about camping on Dry Tortugas check out the park service page.
3. Biscayne National Park
Location: South Florida
- Accessibility – 5/10
- Recreation – 6/10
- Crowds – 8/10
- Amenities – 5./10
- Scenery – 6.5/10
Biscayne is a snorkelers & divers dream with an immense diversity of underwater sea life begging to be explored.
While this park is not really a hikers park with more than 90% of it being underwater, it is a unique addition to the National Park System that is a great addition to a south Florida trip.
Best Things to Do at Biscayne National Park
Scuba Diving is one of Biscayne National Park’s primary activities as 90% of the park is underwater. The reefs here are no stranger to the adverse effects of climate change as the entire ecosystem is under threat.
Boating is another great way to see and explore the park. Biscayne is full of beautiful mangrove swamps which are best viewed by kayak or canoe.
There are only two campgrounds in Biscayne National Park, both of which are exclusively accessed by water. That means you’ll need a boat to get there.
The same town that services Everglades National Park, serves Biscayne as well. In the nearby town of Homestead (mere minutes from the park entrance) there are a plethora of lodging options.
4. Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Timucuan is a beautiful region of coastal wetlands, some of the last of its kind, located near the Florida – Georgia border.
This area is home to wonderfully preserved coastal dunes (similar to what you might find on Cumberland Island), vast salt marshes, white sand beaches, and hardwood forests.
Theodore Roosevelt Area – This 600 acre natural area features great hiking trails amongst a wonderful hardwood forest.
Kingsley Plantation – This 19th century plantation tells the history of the plantation era on Fort George Island from the perspective of the folks who owned enslaved people as well the enslaved people themselves.
There are two campgrounds within the preserve that are actually managed by state & local agencies.
Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve is located right next to Jacksonville which has a plethora of lodging options to choose from.
5. Big Cypress National Preserve
Location: Southwestern Florida
Famous as one of the final refuges for the once-prevalent Florida panther, the Big Cypress National Preserve is a vital conservation area.
This massive swamp (729,000 acres) is home to a vast array of wildlife and plant species.
Named for the abundant cypress trees that exist on the preserve, Big Cypress features all sorts of beautiful wetland scenery.
The preserve itself shares a border with Everglades National Park and is worth a stop if you’re in the area!
Go Hiking – There are lots of great hikes in the Big Cypress National Preserve. The Kirby Storter Boardwalk is a great entry level quick hike that gives visitors a beautiful glimpse into the preserve.
Canoeing – Perhaps the best way to soak in the scenery Big Cypress National Preserve is via canoe. For everything you need to know about canoeing including where to put in and safety tips visit the Big Cypress NPS canoeing page.
Birding – Big Cypress is home to nearly 200 bird species which makes it a popular spot for birders.
Big Cypress has great camping options featuring 7 campgrounds with 150 campsites including tent, RV, drive-in, & group sites.
- Bear Island Campground
- Burns Lake Campground
- Gator Head Campground
- Midway Campground
- Mitchell Landing Campground
- Monument Lake Campground
- Pinecrest Campground
- Pink Jeep Campground
For hotels I recommend staying in Naples which is about 30 minutes driving from the preserve. All of the major chain hotels are there.
6. Canaveral National Seashore
Location: Eastern Florida
Canaveral National Seashore is world famous for its prime rocket launch viewing but there’s so much more to the park than just that.
This barrier island plays an important role in protecting Florida from storms and harboring a vital ecosystem.
The seashore is home to ancient Native American burial mounds as well as a massive number of plant and animal species.
Canaveral represents an all too rare undeveloped coastline on east coast of the US.
Rocket Launch Viewing – Cape Canaveral is one of the best places in the world to watch a rocket blast off into space. As such, the national seashore draws millions of folks for this very reason every year.
Windy Castle Trail – The Windy Castle Trail is a great way to experience the flora and fauna of the region. Be sure to pack mosquito repellent as there is a very high chance you will encounter some on the trail.
7. Gulf Islands National Seashore
Location: Pensacola, Florida
Pristine white sand beaches, abundant sunshine, warm crystal-clear waters, and rich historical sites comprise Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Located right near the popular tourist city of Pensacola, this area sees millions of visitors every year.
Not only is the Gulf Islands National Seashore beautiful but it has lots of recreational opportunities including hiking, camping, swimming, wildlife viewing, biking, boating, and more.
Biking – Gulf Islands is home to some incredible biking opportunities including on the Florida National Scenic Trail.
Camping on the Beach – Another popular activity and one that I highly recommend is getting a backcountry permit and camping out under the stars on the beach. There’s nothing quite like listening to the sounds of the ocean lull you to sleep.
8. Fort Matanzas National Monument
Location: St Augustine, Florida
Fort Matanzas is an approximately 300 acre park that preserves an 18th century watchtower, coastal wetlands, marsh lands, maritime forest, and more.
The fort itself is really cool to visit, having been built by the Spanish in 1742.
With it’s location right near St. Augustine, this is a great addition to a trip in the area. Great for kids as well!
Tour the Coquina Watchtower – The focal point of the park is the 18th century watchtower. Touring this amazing piece of history is something you have to do if you visit the park.
Nature Trail – The nature trail is another great and easy activity. The trail features all of the local flora and fauna and gives visitors an idea of what the ecosystem is like.
9. Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
Location: St. Augustine, Florida
Castillo de San Marcos National Monument preserves an incredible 17th century structure that is the oldest existing masonry fort in the continental US.
The fort itself has a dark history (especially under US control) having been used by the United States to imprison Native Americans including Chief Osceola and Geronimo.
Best Thing to Do at Castillo De San Marcos
Tour the Fort – Touring Castillo de San Marcos is a lot of fun and a great activity for families visiting the St. Augustine area.
10. De Soto National Memorial
Location: Tampa Bay, Florida
The De Soto National Memorial recognizes the arrival of conquistador Hernando de Soto to the Tampa Bay Area.
The site tells the story of the indigenous people who resisted his conquest of their native homeland.
This park is great for kids and families and makes a great day trip from the Tampa Bay area.
Best Things to at De Soto National Memorial
Living History Demonstrations – The National Park Service does a wonderful job of reenacting and recreating what life might have been like for the Spanish and natives through their living history programs.
11. Fort Caroline National Memorial
Location: Jacksonville, Florida
Whereas most folks think of the Spanish when they hear about an historical fort in Florida, Fort Caroline happens to be French.
The story of the settlement here is a short and failed one.
The basic history is that France, wanting to expand its empire like the Spanish, attempted to establish a foothold in America to capture some of the areas riches. It didn’t go so well for France.
The national park site is still a great one to visit, perfect for families.
12. *Ocala National Forest
While this last recommendation isn’t a National Park or even managed by the National Park Service, but it’s still worth a stop!
Situated in north central Florida, the Ocala National Forest comprises 430,447 acres of immense beauty.
Here visitors can discover a primeval forest teeming with rare birds, alligators, manatees, and jaw-droppingly beautiful natural springs.
No you won’t find the mountain peaks and valleys commonly associated with other national forests here.
Instead you’ll enter a dense world of quiet beauty, where sandy longleaf pines sway and old oaks bend, where toads croak and birds chirp, and where alligators swim and manatees play.
Map of Florida’s National Parks
See below map with the locations of all 11 of Florida’s National Parks.
Summary of Florida National Parks (ranked from best to worst)
- Everglades National Park
- Dry Tortugas National Park
- Biscayne National Park
- Timucuan Ecological & Historic Preserve
- Big Cypress National Preserve
- Canaveral National Seashore
- Gulf Islands National Seashore
- Fort Matanzas National Monument
- Castillo de San Marcos National Monument
- De Soto National Memorial
- Fort Caroline National Memorial
See Our Full National Park Rankings
We actually ranked ALL 63 National Parks from best to worst using the same point system featured in this article here.
Curious to see how Utah’s parks stack up against the rest of the parks nationwide?
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Georgia National Parks: 10 Amazing Georgia National Parks Worth Visiting
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