COVID-19 Restrictions Vary County To County: Stay safe


Last updated on June 16th, 2020 at 09:54 am

Florida State Parks have been recognized as the best in the nation four times, a record no other state has achieved, so it’s not easy picking the best Florida State parks from 175 terrific contenders.

We haven’t visited them all, but between the two Florida Rambler publishers/writers, we’ve hiked, camped, kayaked, cabined and enjoyed the vast majority. Honestly, not one park disappoints us.

Which are the best Florida state parks? We wanted to identify parks where there’s something extra special and with a variety of activities. Also: We looked to recognize parks from every region of Florida. We list them here in no particular order.

COVID-19 Notes: Campgrounds and day-use areas are open, though density may be decreased. Cabins reopen on June 1 and reservations are being accepted. Restrooms in day-use and camping areas close frequently for cleaning. Social distancing required in all state parks. Day-use admission fees are being charged and must be exact change or credit/debit cards. Day-use passes can also be purchased online at some parks. Buy before you go.


Our favorites: Best Florida State Parks in every region

Silver Springs State Park: Wonderful kayaking is just the start of why this is one of the best Florida state parks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Silver Springs State Park: Wonderful kayaking is just the start of why this is one of the best Florida state parks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Silver Springs State Park, North Central Florida (Ocala)

Florida has a lot of state parks built around springs and they are all terrific, but Silver Springs State Park is the best of all.

It starts with the remarkable spring, which was Florida’s original tourist attraction where glass-bottom boat trips originated 140 years ago.

Those glass-bottom boat tours are still marvelous, the electric boats gliding quietly around the spring allowing you to peer into a deep, clear waters filled with fish.

Kayakers won’t find a waterway with more varied or easy to see wildlife, from wild monkeys to manatees to alligators to otters to a vast variety of birds. And the scenery along the river is just as great. 

The park also has some of best cabins in the state park system and a beautiful shaded campground. There are good hiking trails too. (Note:The one thing Silver Springs lacks is swimming.)

Nearby is the vast Ocala National Forest with other springs to kayak and trails to hike.

Read more: Silver Springs State Park

Google Maps: 5656 E Silver Springs Blvd, Silver Springs, FL 34488

COVID-19 Notes: Open for day use and camping. Services may be limited. Restroom availability may be limited. Visitors are expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart and limit group size to ten or fewer people. Campground reservations.


On a March visit, two dozen roseate spoonbills were feeding in a wetland along the Myakka River inside Myakka River State Park. The extensive bird life is one reason we think it's one of the best Florida state parks. (Photo: David Blasco)
On a March visit, two dozen roseate spoonbills were feeding in a wetland along the Myakka River inside Myakka River State Park. The extensive bird life is one reason we think it’s one of the best Florida state parks. (Photo: David Blasco)

Myakka River State Park,  Southwest Florida (Sarasota)

At this park east of Sarasota, you can spend many days and not run out of things to do. Kayaking on the Myakka River is excellent with some of the biggest alligators I’ve seen, and in huge numbers.

Even better to me were the birds we saw along the way, including my favorite, those roseate spoonbills who manage to look both goofy and elegant at the same time.

Myakka would be a great park even without the kayaking. There are miles of excellent hiking and biking trails, three outstanding campgrounds and historic palm-tree log cabins built during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

The CCC buildings in the park aren’t the only cool history. Early resident, the wealthy socialite Bertha Palmer, had a ranch here, and you can hike past its site and even see a few broken pottery shards and other evidence of past history.

Read more: Myakka River State Park

Google Maps: 13208 State Rd 72, Sarasota, FL 34241

COVID-19 Notes: Open for day use and camping. Boat tours are not available. The restaurant and canopy walkway are closed. Trails are available. Restroom availability may be limited. Visitors are expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart and limit group size to ten or fewer people. Campground reservations.


Jonathan Dickinson State Park has extensive trails for hiking and biking, along with great kayaking, camping and cabins. Together those assets make it one of the best Florida state parks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Jonathan Dickinson State Park has extensive trails for hiking and biking, along with great kayaking, camping and cabins. Together those assets make it one of the best Florida state parks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Southeast Florida (Jupiter)

With its proximity to the populous southeast Florida coast, Jonathan Dickinson State Park is a godsend for urban residents. It’s vast and wild with something for everyone. It stretches out along the northern shore of the Loxahatchee River, one of Florida’s two nationally designated Wild & Scenic Rivers. It’s no surprise, then, that it offers outstanding kayaking.

The park has a small sandy beach, so there is even swimming.

Hikers can head into woods on trails that are many miles long, and there’s a popular network of mountain-biking trails. In the winter, a concessionaire offers horseback riding on wooded trails.

Like the best of Florida’s state parks, there is both camping and cabins.

Jonathan Dickinson also has some very cool history, too.

A scenic riverboat tour takes visitors to the historic site where “the Wild Man of the Loxahatchee” lived – a fascinating story of an early settler who set up an attraction in the wilds along the river.

The park was home during World War II of Camp Murphy, a top-secret radar training school. A few buildings remain and a historical marker.

Read more: Jonathan Dickinson State Park

Google Maps: 16450 SE Federal Hwy, Hobe Sound, FL 33455

COVID-19 Notes: Open for day use and camping. The trails, canoe/kayak launch and boat ramp are available. Boat tours, equestrian tours, equipment rentals, the restaurant and the visitor center are closed. Restroom availability may be limited. Visitors are expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart and limit group size to ten or fewer people. Campground reservations.


Calusa Beach at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys is one of the Keys' top beaches. But we love that old bridge you see in the background -- one of several reasons we think this is one of the seven best Florida state parks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)
Calusa Beach at Bahia Honda State Park in the Florida Keys is one of the Keys’ top beaches. But we love that old bridge you see in the background — one of several reasons we think this is one of the eight best Florida state parks. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

Bahia Honda State Park, Florida Keys (Big Pine)

The Florida Keys have some excellent state parks, but Bahia Honda has a few things that make it exceptional. Unfortunately, it is still suffering from the effects of the 2017 Hurricane Irma. Its beachfront Sandspur Campground – probably the best tent campground in the Keys – has not reopened. But even without it, Bahia Honda State Park is terrific and easily one of Florida’s best state parks.

Despite the hurricane damage, Bahia Honda State Park has other campgrounds and even cabins. The problem is both cabins and campgrounds are so popular that you have to make a whole project out of acquiring reservations.

Even as a day tripper, though, Bahia Honda is worth a visit. Calusa Beach is a gorgeous crescent-shaped, white-sand beach with clear turquoise water where snorkelers see wonderful sea life.  Kayaking over this clear water is a joy. (A fun expedition is kayaking out to Little Bahia Honda, a tiny island off the Atantic.) And we love admiring the old saddleback Bahia Honda Bridge, the centerpiece of this park, the most difficult bridge built by Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad in the early part of the 20th Century.

Read more: Bahia Honda State Park

Google Maps: 36850 Overseas Hwy, Big Pine Key, FL 33043

COVID-19 Notes: Open for day use. Campground and cabins reopen June 1. The beach and trails are available. The concession is closed. Restroom availability may be limited. Visitors are expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart and limit group size to ten or fewer people. Campground reservations.


Grayton Beach
Grayton Beach

Grayton Beach State Park, Panhandle

There are many fabulous beaches on Florida’s Emerald Coast, not to mention an impressive grouping of beachfront state parks that rival any in the state, making a “best” selection in the Panhandle a real challenge.

The variety of recreation opportunities at Grayton Beach puts it over the top. It doesn’t hurt that Grayton Beach, year after year, ranks among the top ten beaches in America.

Grayton Beach State Park sprawls nearly 2,000 acres and offers beautiful beaches, fishing and four miles of trails through a coastal forest.

Paddle through the unique chain of “dune lakes” tucked behind the dunes, and if you’ve never visited the picturesque oceanfront communities of Watercolor or Seaside, then this would be your chance. They’re next door.

Ride your bicycle on multi-use coastal trails and unpaved forest roads and trails in the adjacent 15,000-acre Port Washington State Forest.

Besides a campground with 60 sites, this park also offers 30 two-bedroom cabin rentals near the beach in a restricted section of the park.

Read more: Grayton Beach

Google Maps: 357 Main Park Rd, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459

COVID-19: Open for day use and camping. Cabins reopen June 1. The beach, trails and canoe/kayak launch are available. Restroom availability may be limited. Visitors are expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart and limit group size to ten or fewer people. Campground reservations.


Campsite No. 15 at Three Rivers State Park
Our lakefront campsite at Three Rivers State Park.

Three Rivers State Park, Northwest (Sneads)

Three Rivers may be the best Florida state park you’ve never heard about, a truly hidden gem at the Florida-Georgia-Alabama line and the junction of three significant rivers — the Chattahoochee and Flint rivers join here to form a lake that flows over a dam, forming the Apalachicola River.

It’s really hard to imagine you’re even in Florida anymore. In fall, the trees around Lake Seminole show their colors. Even the time zone changes from one side of the park to the other, depending on which tower your cell phone taps into.

The fishing, as you might expect, is fabulous. Visitors can enjoy camping, seven miles of paved and unpaved bicycle trails and five miles of nature trails through the park’s rolling hills and upland pine forests. Canoe and kayaks are welcome on the lake and up both rivers, as are small boats.

The park is still recovering from 2018’s Hurricane Michael, but don’t let that stop you.

Read more: Three Rivers State Park

Google Maps: 7908 Three Rivers Park Rd, Sneads, FL 32460

COVID-19 Notes: Open for day use and camping. Boat/kayak launch available. Restroom availability may be limited Visitors are expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart and limit group size to ten or fewer people. Campground reservations.


 

anastasia state park beach
Anastasia State Park: Its expansive, perfect beach and excellent camping make it one of the best Florida State Parks.

Anastasia State Park, Northeast (St. Augustine)

It would be hard not to experience social distancing at this vast, pristine beach on St. Augustine’s barrier island.

Four miles of wide-open pristine beaches welcome visitors. 

The beach parking lot is large, allowing you to park away from the crowds

Take a hike on the boardwalk through the dunes to the beach. You can bicycle on the beach, paddle a kayak on the park’s inshore pond and sail.

Anastasia has 139 campsites for RVs and tents in hammock forest, set back from blowing sand and salt spray but within easy bicycling or walking distance from the beach.

Learn more: Anastasia State Park

Google Maps: Anastasia State Park, 300 Anastasia Park Rd, St. Augustine, FL 32080

COVID-19 Notes: Open for day use and camping. Restroom availability may be limited. All other park facilities are closed. Visitors are expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart and limit group size to ten or fewer people. Campground reservations.


Lake Kissimmee State Park
Cracker cattle at Lake Kissimmee State Park. This park ranks as one of the best Florida State Parks because of the diversity of its offerings, especially its “living history” exhibit on Florida’s early cattle ranchers.

Lake Kissimmee State Park, South Central (Lake Wales)

Lake Kissimmee State Park is in cow country. Oh, yeah, it also has a lake and paddle trails, trails for hiking and biking and a quiet, shady campground where you may see sandhill cranes, bald eagles, wild turkeys, deer and maybe even a bobcat.

It’s hard to pick a main attraction at this family-friendly park, but if we were to choose one, it would be the living history experience of early Florida “cow hunters” in the park’s 1876-era cow camp.

The park has plenty of open space, lots of trails for people and horses, and three lakes for open paddling.

And it’s in a remote area, allowing campers to spread out and enjoy the night sky without interference from ambient light.

Read more: Lake Kissimmee State Park

Google Maps: Lake Kissimmee State Park, 14248 Camp Mack Rd., Lake Wales FL 33898

COVID-19 Notes: Open for day use and camping. Boat/kayak launch available. Restroom availability may be limited, all other park facilities are closed. Visitors are expected to maintain distances of at least six feet apart and limit group size to ten or fewer people. Campground reservations.


Resources for discovering the best Florida state parks


 

 

5 Comments

  1. I have been to all but one on this list, and I think you nailed them perfectly. Such beautiful places! I would also add Wekiva and Payne’s Prairie to the list, and Kissimmee Prairie for the stars and wildlife.

  2. Very nice list. I’ve been to half of these. I want to return to Jonathan Dickinson but getting a rover spot is almost impossible. I’ve never heard of Three Rivers State Park.

    • You are not alone. It’s definitely off the beaten path. We camped at Three Rivers in the fall in hopes of seeing leaf color, and we did! Not a lot, but just enough. One thing I failed to say enough about is the campground. Every campsite has at least a partial view of the beautiful lake. In fact, I think I’ll add that tidbit in this review. Thanks for reading FloridaRambler.com!

  3. Making a list to travel to each of them.

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