Thumbnail image from Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park’s website page on FloridaStateParks.org
By Rebecca Fending
Road trips are a classic “summer to-do”: print out a map or follow along with your phone’s GPS, pack a cooler with snacks and drinks and take in the scenery along I-10. But what if you’ve exhausted all of your typical destinations? Whether you’re looking to ogle at Florida’s natural beauty that’s hidden from the public eye or looking for a fun day trip that won’t gouge your wallet, these natural places are the best way to get out of your house and explore your state.
Road Trips for Nature Lovers
Torreya State Park
Starting in the Panhandle, Torreya State Park is a must-see road trip destination for anyone who can’t get enough of the unique natural sites Florida has to offer. This state park overlooks the Apalachicola River, giving the park its claim to fame as “one of Florida’s most scenic places”- quite a feat given the number of breathtaking natural destinations the state holds.
According to the park’s website, most visitors come for camping, hiking (with a number of different intensity levels) and even bird watching. Perhaps the most popular attraction that draws in visitors is the park’s name sake, the Torreya tree. These trees thrive exclusive within two Florida counties: Gadsden and Liberty. This endangered tree is protected within the park, along with a number of other native species of both flora and fauna. For only $3 per car, this state park is a steal of a deal in terms of entertainment and education.
Florida Caverns State Park
Since we all know Florida summers are brutal, getting away from the sun might be on your list. What better way to escape the rays than going underground? At Florida Caverns State Park, you can explore the only open-air caves accessible to the public. Also located in the Florida Panhandle, these limestone caves are famous for their karst topography which forms distinct structures (as seen below) that are characteristic of drainage systems in limestone caves. For $5 per vehicle and $20 to camp for the night, this makes for the perfect summer road trip stop.
Rainbow Springs State Park
If you’re looking to experience a piece of state history, you may want to consider Rainbow Springs State Park. According to their website page, this park is more than 10,000 years old and is kept sacred through careful conservation through government regulations and committed volunteers. Initially brought to life through tourist attraction bate such as an amusement park, zoo and even a monorail to transport visitors throughout the almost 1,500 acre park, Rainbow Springs was reopened in the 90s as a state park and preservation began.
Starting at just $2 per person, you can swim, tube and camp at Rainbow Springs during the summer. If you’re looking for a serene weekend getaway, this is the place for you.
Road Trips for Staying Local
Sunken Gardens of St. Pete
If you prefer to stay a bit more local, St. Pete’s Sunken Gardens is a great place to unwind and marvel at ancient beauty while still being in the city. With four acres of over 100-year-old specimens of native Florida flora, the Sunken Gardens has a multitude of uniquely Sunshine State photo opportunities. The Gardens is also home to a flock of flamingos, donated from the Flamingos Forever Committee. With free parking at only $12 for adults or $10 for seniors (62 years old and up), this natural paradise is a must-see (or revisit!) this summer.
Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park
With more than 45,000 acres of protected nature and wildlife, Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park is your place to escape the ordinary within Charlotte and Lee counties. From paddling along Gasparilla Sound or simply hiking, take in the mangroves and wading wildlife within this state park. The preserve is also home to a number of aquatic life such as manatees and dolphins, which often show themselves at various times throughout the day.
Myakka State Forest
Named after the Myakka River that runs through the park, Myakka State Forest has been a protected area since its purchase in 1995. This state forest presents a number of recreational activities to its visitors; from horseback riding to fishing, you’re sure to find a way to spend your day here. The generally flat land of the park makes it a perfect area for anyone who’s looking for a tame hiking path or even for the avid bird watcher. The numerous depression marshes make for excellent animal life observation.
No matter how you’re looking to shake up your summer, getting outside and exploring the natural beauty that Florida has to offer is a perfect way to spend your days in the sun. Whether you’re looking to adventure alone or with the whole family, support your local state parks with a road trip visit.