The 11 National Parks in Florida: Why + How to See Each One!

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Big Cyprus National Preserve

Located about 45 miles west of Miami lies Big Cyprus National Reserve. At over 720,000 acres, this reserve became one of the first two national preserves in the United States National Park System on October 11, 1974.

Drawing a large crowd of approximately one million visitors a year, this reserve offers a variety of activities. Visitors can enjoy hunting and fishing in season. You might even see some alligators! Canoeing, hiking, and camping are great ways to take advantage of the beautiful scenery. The Reserve has been designated as an International Dark Sky Place by the International Dark-Sky Association. On a clear night, the celestial view is nothing short of breathtaking.

Biscayne National Park

South of Miami lies Biscayne National Park. The Park preserves Biscayne Bay and its offshore barrier reefs. The reefs are home to more than 200 species of fish as well as other sea life.

95% of the park is water which lends to plenty of fishing, boating, kayaking, windsurfing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. The reefs have been the cause of many shipwrecks over the years and some of them can be toured by participating in a ranger-led snorkeling adventure. These wrecks have been organized as the Maritime Heritage Trail, the only underwater archaeological trail in the National Park Service system.

Canaveral National Seashore

Established on January 3rd, 1975, by the US Congress, Canaveral National Seashore runs twenty-five miles off the Eastern coast of Florida. It’s located on a barrier island. The seashore is the longest area of undeveloped land in Florida. An estimate of over 1.8 million visitors come to check out the beaches, look for sea turtles, visit the John F. Kennedy Space Station, and explore Mosquito Lagoon.

The space station is the main launch for human space flight. One can book a tour and even purchase tickets to view a launch! If you’re lucky, you might see some bottlenose dolphins in the Mosquito Lagoon Aquatic Preserve!

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Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

Built by the Spanish in St Augustine Florida, Castillo de Marcos National Monument is the oldest masonry fortification in the continental United States. The fort was built to defend Florida and the Atlantic trade route.

Take a self-guided tour through the fort and watch history videos about it on your smartphone or in the theater on-site. Watch presentations put on by live actors dressed for the period of time as well. Ask questions, take pictures, and immerse yourself in the past. There is plenty to learn and plenty of ways to do it at Castillo de Marcos!

De Soto National Memorial

De Soto National Memorial commemorates the 1559 landing of Hernando de Soto. This landing started what would become the first European large-scale exploration of the now Southeastern United States.

Walk along a nature trail, talk with volunteers dressed in garb from the period of time, and enjoy a picnic. Seasonal bird watching is also popular. One can also participate in a free ranger-led kayak tour. The park provides kayaks! There are also spots for small boats and fishing. Lastly, there are a few small beaches to relax on. Dive into some history of America!

Dry Tortugas National Park

The seven Dry Tortuga Islands, some of the Florida Keys reefs, and historic Fort Jefferson are all nestled into Dry Tortugas National Park.

The coral reefs here are in shallow water, which separates them from most of the reefs in the Florida Keys. This makes for a great view of the reefs as well as many types of tropical fish, barracudas, moray eels, and nurse sharks.

During the American Civil War, Union ships used the harbor Fort Jefferson protects to try to blockade Southern shipping. Although it’s no longer in use today, Fort Jefferson is bound to fascinate history buffs!

Everglades National Park

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The title of “largest tropical wilderness in the United States” goes to Everglades National Park which comprises the southern 20% of the original Everglades in Florida. Established in 1934, it was built to protect the Everglades from turning into a metropolitan area.

This park is teeming with wildlife including thirty-six threatened or protected species. Among these species are the Florida panther, American crocodile, and the West Indian manatee. There are also 350 species of birds, 300 species of fresh and saltwater fish, 40 species of mammals, and 50 species of reptiles. If wildlife is your passion, look no further than Everglades National Park.

Fort Caroline National Memorial

Adding to another part of American colonization history is Fort Caroline. The fort was founded by France on June 22, 1564, as a new territorial claim as well as a religious refuge for Huguenots. However, the fort was ransacked by Spanish troops on September 20th and occupied by the Spanish until 1569. Under Spanish control, the fort was known as San Mateo.

Visit the Timucuan Preserve Visitor Center to check out the exhibit “Where the Waters Meet”. This shows the environment in northeast Florida and how humans have interacted with the environment for thousands of years. History and preservation. 

Fort Matanzas National Monument

Built by the Spanish in 1740, Fort Matanzas was designated a United States National Monument on October 15th, 1924. About 100 acres of salt marsh and barrier islands along the Matanzas River are also included. The fort was built to defend the southern approach of St. Augustine. The only way to get to the fort is by ferry, so make sure to book your ticket ahead of time. Once there, take a self-guided tour of the fort including a virtual tour to areas that aren’t accessible such as the gun deck or observation deck. There are also trails and recreational fishing spots for outdoor enjoyment.

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Gulf Islands National Seashore

Established by United States Congress on January 8th, 1971, the Gulf Islands Natural Seashore preserves natural and historical resources along the Gulf of Mexico barrier islands of Florida and Mississippi. The Florida section features offshore barrier islands and offers beautiful beaches and nature trails.

History has a lot to say about this area. One can explore Fort Pickens and Fort McRee from the Civil War era. Both forts have a place in American history and offer a glimpse into the past.

If you are staying overnight, Pickens Campground is a great place to camp. It features hookups for RVs too!

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

The Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, established in 1988, covers 46,000 acres in Jacksonville Florida. Fort Caroline National Memorial is included in the preserve.

The Kingsley Plantation, which was founded before the Civil War can be visited for a history lesson. Fast-forwarding time a bit, one can check out the Theodore Roosevelt Area, named after the United States 26th president. This 600-acre area is comprised of hardwood forest and wetlands, and scrub vegetation. Nature trails and sightings of water and land life can be enjoyed.

There are also boat ramps and trails to be traveled at Cedar Point. 

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