Top South Florida Parks
Hear from park experts on the natural wonders you need to see on your next trip to South Florida
Explore the vast wilderness of Everglades National Park, just one of our stops among South Florida’s natural gems.
A vacation to South Florida might signal a trip to Miami’s colorful bars and restaurants or sandy beaches. But for families who want to wander a bit off the beaten path, South Florida is also home to virtually untouched wilderness and fascinating ecosystems within its parks and preserves. Marvel at the starry night skies of Big Cypress National Preserve, dive beneath the waves at Dry Tortugas National Park, learn about Florida’s history at Biscayne National Park or discover something truly wild at Everglades National Park.
If you’re looking for adventure for the whole family, find a way to make these wild, wonderful and truly unforgettable South Florida parks part of your next vacation!
Seek out the swamp at Big Cypress National Preserve
Birds, panthers and bears, oh my! Keep your eyes open for an abundance of wildlife at Big Cypress National Preserve.
Big Cypress National Preserve is a freshwater swamp that’s home to animals you might not know are still roaming South Florida, including black bears and the endangered Florida panther. “The panthers are incredible, and it’s [somewhat] rare to spot one,” says Ardrianna McLane, chief of interpretation and education at Big Cypress. “It does occasionally happen, though, and lucky guests might also spot tracks or other signs of panthers.”
Big Cypress is also a birdwatcher’s paradise. The nearly 729,000 acres of this South Florida park, located in Ochopee, about an hour and a half west of Miami, are home to thousands of migratory birds during the winter months. “The abundance of birds—everything from egrets and herons to spoonbills and white ibises—in those months is amazing,” McLane says. “Visitors can see huge waves of them moving through the park.”
If you’re looking for a unique way to see the national preserve (and maybe get just a little bit dirty), climb aboard a swamp buggy. “It’s a lifted, off-road vehicle that allows you to travel along designated trails in the backcountry,” McLane says. “It gives visitors the chance to experience something most people never do.”
Just make sure you stick around after sunset: Big Cypress National Preserve is a designated International Dark Sky Place, which means you’ll get views of the Milky Way that’ll leave you starry-eyed long after you head home.
Be one with the bay at Biscayne National Park
The deep-blue waters of Biscayne National Park are ideal for snorkeling.
Strap on a snorkel and explore 10,000 years’ worth of shipwrecks or get up close and personal with more than 500 species of reef fish and endangered marine life in Biscayne National Park. Located in Homestead, just an hour from Miami if traffic is good, the park is a treasure trove of islands and reefs with a whole lot of history. If above-water adventures are more your speed, you can also appreciate this South Florida park’s unique vegetation on a ranger or self-guided canoe tour through the mangrove forests.
Enjoy colorful reefs in Caribbean-blue seas at Dry Tortugas National Park
The imposing brick walls of Fort Jefferson are a mighty contrast to the sparkling waters at Dry Tortugas National Park.
It may be a little more difficult to get to Dry Tortugas National Park, situated almost 70 miles off the coast of Key West, but the trip is more than worthwhile.
“You really don’t know how stunning it is until you’re actually here,” says Alan Scott, park ranger for Dry Tortugas and Everglades national parks. “Even photos don’t do it justice, with the Caribbean-blue seas and the red brick fort rising out of the water.”
Fort Jefferson, the largest brick structure in the Americas, was built in the 19th century to protect the United States coast. Today it’s being preserved so future generations can learn about South Florida’s history. Plan to spend most of your time at Dry Tortugas on the water, paddling or snorkeling among the colorful reefs packed with marine life. While most South Florida parks see their highest visitation numbers in the winter months, Dry Tortugas, which is only accessible by boat or seaplane, is best seen in the summer.
“In the winter we can have rough seas, wind and cold fronts,” Scott says. “The rest of the year, it’s calm and spectacularly beautiful.”
Explore a true wilderness at Everglades National Park
Basking alligators are a fairly common sight at Everglades National Park. Needless to say—look, but don’t touch!
“Everglades National Park was the first national park designated to protect what’s alive,” says Scott, and there is a crazy amount of life in the park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States. Rare and endangered species like the manatee, the American crocodile and the Florida panther call the park home, and the best time to spot them is during the winter months, when water is low.
“From just about December through March, low water levels concentrate the wildlife in places people typically go, which makes it really easy to see animals up close,” Scott says. “It’s like a National Geographic special every day!”
Some of the ultimate visitor experiences in this South Florida park include the Anhinga Trail—a short boardwalk that winds through a sawgrass marsh full of wildlife—and a two-hour tram tour through the Shark Valley section of the park. But Scott says there are lots of unique ways to see the Everglades.
“A canoe trip at Nine Mile Pond will take you through mangrove tunnels, through creeks and into the sawgrass prairie,” he says. “We also have what we call a slough slog, which gives you the chance to walk out into the water and really discover this landscape.”
What makes Everglades most appealing is its proximity to the city and the many Miami hotel options. “Here’s this great big city, and you can drive to a true wilderness in 45 minutes,” Scott says. “You can experience what this part of the world was like hundreds of years ago, and it’s not a re-creation. You can see it for real.”
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