A Guide to Florida’s National Parks

By Colleen McTiernan
Florida National parks

Florida has some of the most beautiful and historically significant tracts of land and parks  in our country. The National Park Service does more than just preserve our national parks (of which there are 58); they also protect national preserves, seashores, memorials, monuments and battlefields, to name a few. Take advantage of “America’s best idea” and immerse yourself in the natural beauty our state!


Biscayne National Park 

Take a trip down to the northern Florida Keys to see the longest stretch of mangrove forest on the east coast. Kayak the shallow bay or take a dip into the water to snorkel along one of the most extensive coral reefs in the world. Entrance Fee: Free!

Dry Tortugas National Park

Almost 70 miles west of Key West, this 100-square mile park is only accessible by boat or seaplane. Explore historic Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, or take advantage of the park’s crystal clear open waters and snorkel around the park’s coral and seagrass communities. If you’re a certified diver, be sure to check out the park’s many dive sites, including the popular wreck known as the Windjammer. Entrance Fee: $15 per visitor. Children under 16 are free!

Everglades National Park

Spanning across 1.5 million acres, the Everglades features a wide variety of ecosystems, including tropical hammocks, coastal lowlands and marl prairies. Although airboats are prohibited in most of the park, there is a section in the northern part of the park where guests can take an airboat tour. Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle


Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

If you’re taking a trip to St. Augustine, be sure to add a visit to the Castillo de San Marcos to your to-do list. The Castillo is  the oldest masonry fortress in the U.S. and only one of two forts in the world built out of the semirare coquina. As you explore the fort, keep an eye out for re-enactors giving presentations on historical weapons! Entrance Fee: $15 per visitor. Children 15 and under are free!

Fort Matanzas National Monument

Also located in St. Augustine, Fort Matanzas is the second of only two forts in the world built from coquina. Built to guard the southern mouth of the Matanzas River, visitors have to take a ferry from the visitor center to tour this Spanish fort. Entrance Fee: Free! *Parts of Fort Matanzas are currently closed due to the effects of Hurricane Matthew. Please check with the National Park Service for opening dates before planning your visit.


Canaveral National Seashore

Get in touch with nature on the undeveloped beaches of the Canaveral National Seashore. Take a boat out to Mosquito Lagoon for a chance to see sea turtles and manatees, or if you prefer to remain on land, try walking through dense coastal hammock on the Castle Windy trail. Entrance Fee: Per person or per bicycle, valid for 7 days, $10.00. Vehicle Entrance Fee – $20.00

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Pack your bathing suits and sunscreen and head off to some of the most beautiful beaches in Florida! Be sure to check out the Perdido Key Area and the Santa Rosa Day Use Area for some quality sunbathing. If a day at the beach isn’t your thing, head over to the Fort Barrancas Area at the Pensacola Naval Air Station to view three historic forts. Entrance Fee: $25 per car or $7 per person.


Fort Caroline National Memorial

Located inside Timucuan Preserve, Fort Caroline was one of the first French colonies in the U.S. Although the fort itself was sacked by Spanish troops, the Fort Caroline National Memorial recognizes the brief French presence in Jacksonville and serves double duty as the Timucuan Preserve visitor center. Entrance Fee: As part of the Timucuan Preserve, Fort Caroline National Memorial is free to the public.

De Soto National Memorial 

The De Soto National Memorial commemorates the landing of Hernando De Soto in the Tampa Bay area. De Soto and his men are credited with the first organized exploration of the southern U.S. Explore the park’s historic waterways on a ranger-led kayak tour or visit Camp Uzita, a living history camp featuring weapons and craft demonstrations. Entrance Fee: Free!


Timucuan Ecological/Historic Preserve

The Timucuan Preserve is a coastal wetland featuring dunes, salt marshes and hardwood hammocks. The preserve is home to the Kingsley Plantation, the oldest surviving plantation house in Florida, which you can tour on weekends. If you’re interested in birdwatching, be sure to visit Cedar Point, home to over 200 species of birds. Entrance Fee: Free!

Big Cypress National Preserve

Located about 45 miles west of Miami, Big Cypress features 729,000 acres of swamp in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city. Canoe or kayak through the freshwater creeks and rivers or hike along designated trails. If you’re looking to learn more about the area, head on out to Big Cypress on Dec. 3 for the Swamp Heritage Festival, an annual family-friendly event. Entrance Fee: Free!

*Note: Due to COVID-19, please check with each park regarding safety practices, mask requirement and hours of operation before visiting.