Florida's state park system is one of the biggest in the United States. There are 160 parks spread across more than 723,000 acres and 100 miles of sandy white beach. This system offers various activities like swimming, diving, hiking, fishing, birding, and riding. These parks provide outdoor activities for all ages throughout the year. The Florida Park Service won the Gold Medal in the National Recreation and Parks Association in 1999 and 2005. In 2005, it was called the 'Nation's Best State Park Service'.
State Parks in Florida
Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park
In 1923, Alfred B. and Louise Maclay planted these grand ornamental gardens. These have a secret garden, a walled garden, a picturesque brick walkway, a reflection pool, and many azaleas and camellias. Lake Hall has facilities for canoeing, fishing, swimming, and kayaking. Boats, with or without electric motors, are permitted. Hikers, bicyclists, and equestrians can savor five miles of multi-use trails across the woods surrounding Lake Overstreet.
Bald Point State Park
This is located at Alligator Point, where Ochlockonee Bay meets Apalachee Bay. There are coastal marshes, pine flatwoods, and oak thickets. These make it a good spot for birding and wildlife viewing. During every fall, bald eagles, monarch butterflies, and migratory raptors are usually seen. There is access to two Apalachee Bay beaches for sunbathing, swimming, and fishing. Kayaking, canoeing, hiking, and windsurfing can also be done here.
Camp Helen State Park
This is located towards the west of Panama City Beach, just inside Bay County. From 1945 to 1987, this was a company resort for the employees of the Alabama textile mill. Natural areas include coastal dunes, salt marshes, freshwater wetlands, and sand pine scrubs. Beachcombing, swimming, hiking, nature study, freshwater fishing, and saltwater fishing are the different options that visitors can choose from. The park is open from 8 a.m. to sunset, on all days of the year.
Deer Lake State Park
This park can be reached on County Road 30A in Santa Rosa Beach. This is a coastal dune lake. Golden asters, southern magnolias, scrub oaks, and woody goldenrod thrive in this environment. Spoonflower, gulf coast lupine, Curtiss sand grass, and pitcher plants are some of the rare species located in this park. The beach can be used for swimming or fishing. There is an enthralling scene of the dune ecosystem, which is one of 11 natural communities in the state park.
Eden Gardens State Park
The cynosure of this park is a beautifully renovated, two-story Wesley house, with impressive white columns and a wraparound porch. This house is surrounded by moss-draped live oaks and ornamental gardens. This park is a fraction of the estate belonging to Wesleys, a wealthy Florida timber family. The collection of Louis XVI furniture is ranked second in the United States. Planned tours of the house are facilitated Thursday to Monday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The park is located in Point Washington, off U.S. 98 on C.R. 395.
Fanning Springs State Park
This is located on the Suwannee River. On an average, Fanning Springs produces 65 million gallons of water every day. Snorkeling, swimming, and fishing are the popular activities enjoyed by people over here. The large open areas are used for football, Frisbee, soccer, and other local events. Gray squirrels, white-tailed deer, pileated woodpeckers, red-shouldered hawks, and barred owls can be seen here. During the winters, manatees are visible.
Highlands Hammock State Park
This is one of the oldest parks in Florida. Equestrians can enjoy a 11-mile trail here. There is a full-facility campground and a youth/group tent campground that can be availed of. A recreation hall, several picnic pavilions, and a full-service restaurant is available. A museum displaying the history of the Civilian Conservation Corps is open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. This state park is located on County Road 634, four miles west of Sebring.
Some other state parks in Florida are:
- Alafia River State Park
- Bahia Honda State Park
- Caladesi Island State Park
- Dade Battlefield Historic State Park
- Econfina River State Park
- Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park
- Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail
- Henderson beach State Park
- Ichetucknee Springs State Park
- John D. MacArthur Beach State Park