Florida's Hidden Gems
Many of us hope to see every nook and cranny that our awe-inspiring nation has to offer. Unfortunately, taking in all the beauty of a single state is a daunting task, much less catching all 50.
Florida features 65,000 square miles of gorgeous landscapes and recreational areas. While people may gravitate to the peninsula's well-known attractions or sites like Everglades National Park, , state parks tend to fly under the radar.
Like visiting Disney World without all the lines, these hidden gems in the Real Florida will leave you amazed minus the fuss.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park1 of 9
Nestled on the peninsula between Santa Rosa Island and Washington State Forest, Topsail Hill Preserve provides some of the best fresh and saltwater fishing the Sunshine State has to offer—which is really saying something.
Blanketed in rare dune lakes—coastal lakes created from tributaries, groundwater seepage, rainfall and storm surges Topsail Hill Preserve is home to bass, panfish and catfish. Add the park's cabins and a 3.2-mile stretch of secluded beach along Florida's Emerald Coast, and you have a park that provides the perfect opportunity to play in the sun and sleep under the stars.
Suwannee River State Park2 of 9
History buffs, take note! See Native American mounds, Civil War battlement sites and remnants of 19th century bridges and cemeteries at this amazing park. Suwannee River is at the heart of the Real Florida and visitors can discover its natural beauty from the comforts of a fully equipped riverside cabin. Campers can also sleep under the stars at one of the oak-shaded RV or tent campsites.
Fishing, hiking, and picnicking are favorite activities in the park, and the location makes for a relaxed and easy-going getaway. Just inside the Suwannee River State Park you'll find a high bluff that overlooks the spot where the Withlacoochee River joins the Suwannee on its way to the Gulf of Mexico.
This park serves as a central location to some of Florida's best natural attractions. The Suwannee River Wilderness Trail traverses through the park and makes exploring the North Florida region easy and fun. Just around the river bend is Troy Spring State Park – a historic swimming hole and a scuba diver's paradise.
Lake Louisa State Park3 of 9
Designated as an Outstanding Florida Water Way, this park's three lakes provide heaps of activities for those who don't mind getting a little wet.
Whether you choose to canoe or kayak the beautiful waterways of Lake Louisa, you can easily find accessible places to launch your vessel, along with affordable rentals. A short drive from Orlando's major attractions, Lake Louisa State Park provides peace and quiet just outside the hustle and bustle of Orlando.
Tomoka State Park4 of 9
Once home to the Timucuan, one of the largest Native American inhabitants of the region. Explore the Tomoka River by canoe or kayak, both of which may be rented at the park.
Tomoka State Park's 1,800 acres of scenic marshes and live oak hammocks are now a birdwatcher's wonderland. With over 160 bird species spotted, visitors must remember to bring binoculars and a field guide to immerse themselves in the majesty of our winged friends.
The picturesque park also offers excellent opportunities for geocaching enthusiasts who want to add a little treasure hunt to their outdoor adventure. With 20 caches in the park itself , including an official Florida State Parks Operation Recreation GeoTour cache, and dozens more in the surrounding area, it could take you days to find them all.
Little Manatee River State Park5 of 9
Little Manatee River brings hikers, campers, cyclists and wildlife enthusiasts together to enjoy one of Florida's best-kept secrets.
Cyclists will enjoy the Sand Pine Trail system, a three-mile trail that weaves through the park's majestic trees.
There's also an additional 15-miles-worth of trail system perfect for those who prefer to take in the scenery at a slower pace. These trails take hikers through the park's many natural communities, including floodplains, scrubby flatwood and mature sand pine forests.
Hillsborough River State Park6 of 9
One of Florida's first state parks, the massive Hillsborough River State Parkis a hop and a skip from Tampa.
With over seven miles of trails that offer diverse scenery along the Hillsborough River, you won't want to be caught without your hiking shoes and trekking poles. If paddling is more your style, the park offers canoe and kayak rentals.
While the park offers plenty of recreational activities, Hillsborough is also home to the Fort Foster Historic Site—a reproduction of the 1836 fort that stood during the Second Seminole War and includes reenactments and demonstrations of the fort's rich history.
Oscar Scherer State Park7 of 9
The gem of Florida's southwest coast, Oscar Scherer State Park greets visitors with diverse and abundant wildlife and over 15 miles of hiking trails. If you're looking for that old Florida feel, Oscar Scherer is the park for you!
Six easy-to-navigate trails take hikers through practically untouched landscapes. Moss-covered trees, tall pines and the picturesque South Creek border the dirt trails, which also offer plenty of benches for resting.
Don't forget to bring a watchful eye, as you won't want to miss the chance to see Florida scrub-jays, bald eagles, cotton-tail rabbits or alligators.
Jonathan Dickinson State Park8 of 9
Jonathan Dickinson State Park is a must-visit for those with a thirst for discovery. Visit the research laboratory or take a virtual tour of the park at the Elsa Kimbell Environmental Education and Research Center, where both adults and kids can learn about the park's natural and cultural resources.
Get a heightened perspective of the park upon Hobe Mountain, the highest natural hill in South Florida. The walk to the top is moderately strenuous, but the 360-degree view from the Hobe Tower at the mountain's peak is worth the trek.
The park features the nine-mile Camp Murphy Off-Road Bicycle Trail System, which includes incredible views and routes for beginners and experts alike.