Last updated on October 17th, 2021 at 07:37 pm
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.
Our favorites: Best Florida State Parks in every region
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
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
Jonathan Dickinson State Park, Southeast Florida (Hobe Sound)
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
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
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 Point 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
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
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
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. For reservations, call 800-326-3521.
Read more: Lake Kissimmee State Park
Resources for discovering the best Florida state parks
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Veteran journalists who worked together at Fort Lauderdale’s SunSentinel newspaper, Bonnie and Bob founded FloridaRambler.com in 2010 to explore the natural, authentic Florida, writing about their natural interests in hiking, biking, paddling, RV and tent camping, wildlife, unique lodging, dining and historic places.