Florida has some of the most gorgeous state parks in the country, and there are many options that include both nature and human-made fun. You can enjoy the pristine nature of the state on one day, and on the next go crazy with roller coasters and ice cream. If you’re looking for a destination that will get you and your kids out in nature AND is also close to a fun vacation hotspot, check out these places to visit.
Silver Springs State Park is near Orlando, which makes it an excellent choice for both kids and adults. Silver Springs is known for its clear, sparkling water so that you can swim, canoe, kayak, paddleboard, and even take a tour in a glass-bottom boat to see all of the ocean life up close. There are also plenty of trails in this state park if you are more inclined to go for a family hike. Like most places in Florida here you will see wildlife ranging from squirrels to alligators to Florida black bears if you are lucky. Once you are done soaking up the sun at Silver Springs, then you can drive an hour and a half over to Orlando to experience all the fun of Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.
Another good choice near Orlando and all of its family fun is Rainbow Springs State Park. This park is also a great choice for water activities, camping, and hiking. Enjoy the beautiful waterfalls, stunningly clear water, snorkeling, tubing, and bird watching with your family. It’s located less than two hours away from the excitement of Orlando, and it’s known for being the perfect temperature of 72 degrees, regardless of the season.
If your vacation takes you near Tampa, there are a myriad of things to do around here as well. Busch Gardens at Tampa Bay, Adventure Island water park, Zootampa at Lowry Park, The Florida Aquarium, even the Cracker Country Living History Museum make great destinations for kids and adults alike. Empower Adventures offers ziplining fun over the 396-acre Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve, where you can see the beautiful waters of Tampa Bay as well as the local wildlife and the gorgeous natural scenery. When you’re ready for a more up-close and personal experience in nature, check out some of Tampa Bay’s ecotourism adventures. There are three scenic rivers (Alafia, Hillsborough, and Little Manatee) that are stunning and a great way to explore nature and enjoy the great outdoors.
If your vacation takes you closer to the Florida Panhandle, you are in for a real treat! You can visit some cool water attractions at Panama City Beach such as Shipwreck Island Water Park, or watch sports at the Publix Sports Park where you can experience a state-of-the-art sports complex that specializes in sports tourism and community recreation for all. You and the kids can participate or watch soccer, football, baseball, softball, field hockey, or lacrosse, then enjoy any of the fun dining options available around Panama City Beach. After a day or two spent enjoying these tourist attractions, you can relax by visiting the beach, swimming with the dolphins, snorkeling, or any other water sports fun you enjoy.
Take a drive along the Emerald Coast, a 24-mile stretch of white sand beaches that include Destin, Okaloosa Island, and Fort Walton. Stop in at treasures such as Seaside, Seagrove Beach, and Grayton Beach, which are smaller and more relaxing places to explore. Seaside itself will take you back to simpler times when everyone lived in a more walkable, friendly community – with no hotels or tall buildings, Seaside’s vacation rentals are pastel-colored houses with white picket fences everywhere, while many shops and restaurants are located along the beach and in the quaint town center. The beach here is exquisite and not overly crowded. Nearby is Grayton Beach and Grayton Beach State Park, which offers a 2,000-acre state park with ocean swimming, very rare coastal dune lakes, hiking and biking trails, and many opportunities to camp and explore the natural surroundings.
On the opposite end of Florida, you can visit the Florida Keys and all the fun and sun they offer. Key West is famous for its coral reefs, historic sites, and its pastel, conch-style architecture. Visit Duval Street if you want to shop, eat or check out the bars. Next up is the famous Sloppy Joe’s bar, which was Ernest Hemingway’s favorite place to hang out. You can also check out the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and have the kids try to find the celebrated six-toed cats. If you or your kids are animal lovers, check out the sea turtles at The Turtle Hospital in Marathon, where injured turtles are given a chance to recuperate before being released back into the wild. As well as the countless restaurants, historical sites and museums, the Keys offers the chance to hike or bike down the trails that link all of the Keys together.
The Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail provides you with paved trails along a planned 106-mile corridor from Key Largo to Key West. The trail links to Everglades National Park, Biscayne National Park, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, the Great White Heron National Wildlife Refuge, Key Deer National Wildlife Refuge, and Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge – as well as 10 state parks! Camp at any of these beautiful sites and enjoy some family time out under the stars.