Discover 6 Perfect Florida State Parks
In Florida, a day at a park doesn’t always have to mean hanging out with The Minions, Mickey or Big Bird, though it often does. No surprise, considering the Sunshine State is synonymous with popular theme and water parks. But, Florida is also home to 175 state parks scattered from the Panhandle to the Keys, each offering an opportunity to experience the state’s myriad natural and cultural treasures, whether streams and rivers threading through a verdant landscape, a system of caverns peppered with stalactites, miles of undeveloped sandy beaches, dense tracts of forests dripping with moss, or historic forts and lighthouses. The entire compendium of state parks shows off Florida’s grand diversity of ecosystems, from mangroves to pinelands to dunes, as well as the resident and migrant creatures that call these vast expanses home or pay a seasonal visit. In the six state parks below, a grand array of enticing scenery and activities are on full display. (You can learn more at floridastateparks.org.)
1. Oleta River State Park
Just 30 minutes from downtown Miami, Oleta is considered Florida’s largest urban park and one offering numerous water- and land-based activities. Inside the park, BG Oleta River Outdoors rents canoes and kayaks so visitors can paddle through dark, foliage tunnels along the mangrove-lined river and then on to peaceful Biscayne Bay and the Intercoastal Waterway with opportunities to spot river otter, and sea turtles. (This concession also offers full moon and one-hour Friday sunset kayak tours.) And, despite Miami’s perfectly flat topography, Oleta is considered one of Florida’s best mountain biking venues, with more than a dozen miles of interconnected, challenging single track coursing beside the park’s waterways.
2. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
On the southern tip of Key Biscayne, Bill Baggs is most noted for its one-mile-some beach -- perfect for sunning and swimming -- that’s often named as one of the top 10 beaches in the U.S. by Dr. Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University, aka Dr. Beach. Bird watchers are also attracted to this park that’s a stopover on the Atlantic Flyway for migrating species, such as Cerulean and Bay-breasted wood-warblers. Anyone walking to the southern tip of the Pond Trail will be near the Cape Florida Lighthouse, South Florida’s oldest structure that provides stunning views of Biscayne Bay, Key Biscayne and South Beach.
3. Topsail Hill Preserve State Park
Named for the tallest of the coastal dunes along the Gulf of Mexico that resembles a ship’s sail, rising over 25 feet high, Topsail Hill, located in the Florida Panhandle, preserves these white quartz dunes with lakes -- a unique ecosystem -- where fresh and saltwater mix. Those with a fishing license can try to snag catfish, bream or bass in one of these lakes, or cast from the beach for Spanish mackerel, pompano or red fish. The paved Campbell Lake Bike Trail -- named for this coastal dune lake, a popular picnic spot -- that’s shaded by tall longleaf pines appeals to cyclists.
4. Hillsborough River State Park
Just a few minutes north of Tampa, Hillsborough is one of the few spots in Florida featuring whitewater rapids. Those who bring their own canoe relish the small section of Class II rapids. The park also rents canoes that can be put in just below the rapids on this blackwater river, the color deriving from the tannins leaching from fallen leaves. Growing along the shore, live oaks, magnolia and cypress trees provide for shaded paddling, with opportunities to see otters or alligators on the banks. History buffs often sign up on a guided tour of the reconstructed Fort Foster, a replica of the circa 1837 fort from the time of the Second Seminole Indian War.
5. Honeymoon Island State Park
Having received its name after several dozen honeymoon cottages were constructed (and subsequently demolished) in the early 1940s, this barrier island remains a stunning day-trip from Tampa for nature lovers. Though beachgoers flock to the sandy and seashell/rock studded four-mile stretch, a wild landscape of tide pools, sand dunes and salt marshes await those walking past the last parking lot to the shaded Osprey Trail. Hikers will find monarch butterflies fluttering about and the ever-present scent of pine. A real treat is seeing osprey with their young.
6. Caladesi Island State Park
A short ferry ride away from Honeymoon Island, Caladesi was once attached to its sister island prior to a major hurricane in 1921. Though now connected to Clearwater Beach after a land bridge formed, Caladesi feels like the Florida of another era, once visitors wander past the ranger station/concession, with nothing but the sounds of bird calls, and the tide lapping at the powdery beach. In 2018, Dr. Beach ranked Caladesi’s dazzling quartz sands as one of the country’s top 10. A network of sandy trails wind through the heart of this island where signs remind visitors that the dense interior is snake territory.
Wyoming is the last bastion of the West, where bold, independent and curious spirits are encouraged to forge their own way to adventure both big and small. Wyoming is home to many firsts, including the country’s first national park (Yellowstone), first national monument (Devils Tower) and first national forest (Shoshone). In addition, Wyoming was the first government in the world to guarantee women their inherent right to vote and hold office. These special places, along with other natural wonders like Grand Teton National Park and the Bighorn Mountains as well as Wyoming’s heartfelt cowboy hospitality, welcome millions of visitors annually. As the weather cools down and blankets of snow begin to cover pristine landscapes, Wyoming becomes a winter wonderland for all types of travelers. With fewer crowds, award-winning ski-resorts, new direct flights and winter events, the Cowboy State offers endless winter experiences. Here is a selection of new and notable this season: Winter EventsSkijoring at the Sheridan Winter Rodeo - Photo Credit: @sprouseandneuhoffSkijoring Rodeo may be Wyoming’s official sport, but skijoring is the state’s unofficial winter sport. It is a uniquely Western athletic and cultural phenomenon combining two of Wyoming’s favorite pastimes: skiing and horseback riding. Travelers can spectate competitive Skijoring at the Sheridan WYO Winter Rodeo, Sundance Winter Festival, Saratoga Skijoring Races, Skijor Wars (Buffalo) or Pinedale Winter Carnival. Most Skijoring competitions are held in February with 2023 to be announced.Pinedale Winter Carnival Join Pinedale in February as they host their annual winter carnival. Enjoying skijoring, a blizzard bash and more. Enter the Cardboard Classic, where you can create your own sled out of cardboard, duct tape, glue and paint. See if you can build a sled worthy of the course and snag a prize in the process.Sundance Winter Festival For a fun twist on skijoring, join Sundance for their Wild Horse and Tube Race every February. While you can still catch traditional skijoring at the winter festival, you can now register for the tube experience. On this take of the sport, the horse and rider pull you in a tube instead of on skis. For more information on Wyoming’s annual winter events, click here.Ski DestinationsJackson Hole Mountain Resort- Courtesy of jacksonhole.com Jackson Hole Mountain Resort New Lift (Jackson, WY) - Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR) will replace its Thunder quad chairlift with a faster and more powerful detachable quad chairlift ahead of the 2022-23 winter season. The speed of the new lift is 1,000 feet net per minute, twice the velocity of the original Thunder, and will cut riders’ time down from just over 7 minutes to 3.6 minutes. Grand Targhee Resort's New Terrain (Alta, WY) - For the first time in over 20 years, Grand Targhee Resort is opening new terrain with the construction of the Colter Lift on Peaked Mountain. Construction is underway and the opening is slated for the start of the 2022/23 winter season. The Colter Lift will transport up to 2,000 people per hour and gain 1,815 vertical feet in just five minutes. The brand-new six-pack will give skiers and riders access to over 600 skiable acres of fall line skiing, open glades, world-class side-country, and extraordinary views of the Grand Tetons. Snow King Mountain Expansion & Improvements (Jackson, WY) - Located in the heart of Jackson, Snow King Mountain unveiled a new, 8-passenger Leitner-Poma gondola and zipline, the steepest in North America (available in the summer months). The new gondola offers spectacular views of the Grand Tetons, the National Elk Refuge and the town of Jackson. In addition, Snow King will expand its operations with a new summit restaurant, observatory, planetarium and 100 acres of ski terrain. Outdoor AdventureSandsurfing at Killpecker Sand Dunes - Courtesy of tourwyoming.com Sandboarding on 2nd Largest Sand Dunes in the World (Rock Springs, WY) - With sand dunes reaching up to 100 feet high, the landscapes of Killpecker Sand Dunes are punctuated by towering rock formations in the form of buttes and spires, like the famous Boars Tusk spire, making it a can't miss experience. Visitors can visit the new attraction located in Southwest Wyoming on their very own sandboard or sled. The boards are like snowboards, with two-foot holds and curved edges, while the sleds are like winter downhill sleds. While surfing the dunes, keep an eye out for the desert elk. The area is home to one of the largest desert elk herds in the world.Lodging & CampingReid Creek Lodge - Courtesy of wagonhound.com/reidcreeklodge Luxury Property, Reid Creek Lodge, Opens in Central WY (Douglas, WY) - Reid Creek Lodge, a luxury property, opened in the summer of 2022. Reid Creek Lodge features an 8,000 square foot lodge with seven beautifully appointed bedrooms accommodating up to 22 guests and one group at a time. The exclusive experience includes a personal chef, curated programming, cozy gathering spaces and rustic mountain design. Little America Hotel Unveils New RV Park (Green River, WY) - Featuring 42 spacious sites, including back-in and pull-through spots, Little America RV park provides a variety of hotel-like amenities, including marble showers, a heated outdoor pool, a kid’s playground, a fitness center, a fuel center and a 24-hour convenience store. Rates start at $55 per night. Snow King Resort to Open New Spa (Jackson, WY) - Snow King Resort is close to unveiling its new Grand View Spa in December 2022. The resort’s new addition will feature six treatment rooms including a couple’s suite, locker rooms with experiential showers, hot tubs and eucalyptus-infused steam rooms, men’s and women’s private lounges, an infrared sauna, a boutique retail shop and scenic outdoor deck with a large hot tub. 2023 Milestone Anniversaries: Carissa Mine at South Pass City - Courtesy of southpasscity.com 30th Anniversary of the National Bighorn Sheep Center (Dubois, WY) - July 3, 2023 - The National Bighorn Sheep Center operates in Dubois, Wyoming. The Center features dioramas with full-scale taxidermy mounts that recreate bighorn habitats, interactive exhibits about wildlife management and special adaptations of wild sheep, and wildlife films the whole family will enjoy. 30th Anniversary of International Climbers’ Festival (Lander, WY) - July 13-16, 2023 - The 30th Anniversary of the International Climbers’ Festival (ICF) is the longest-running climbers’ festival in the world and has stayed true to its grassroots origins 110th Annual Fremont County Fair (Riverton, WY) - July 29 to Aug 5, 2023 - A celebration for those near and far that showcases all that Wind River Country has to offer. Plenty of things to do and see for all ages, such as children’s activities, entertainment, food and merchandise vendors, livestock and agriculture competitions, midway rides and much more. 10th Anniversary of the Grand Opening of the Carissa Mine for Tours at South Pass City (South Pass City, WY) - May/June TBD- The Carissa Mine was the largest gold mine in the Sweetwater Mining District. The history of the Carissa Mine is tied to the hopes and dreams of many men starting in 1867, but it never truly took off. What remains today is one of the best-preserved historic mining operations in the world. Tours include a walk-through of the historic structures, a live demonstration of milling equipment, and a great story of life in a gold town.
Hiking the pristine trails of the Olympic National Park is just what the doctor ordered to relieve the stress of the urban crowds. Rain forest, old growth forest, rivers, waterfalls, lakes, and a stunningly beautiful coastline offers plenty of options from easy to vigorous hikes. Three full days will yield a lot of spectacularly stunning nature, but five or more days will provide you with a fully immersive and very memorable experience. Getting there Sea-Tac, Seattle’s main airport, is the closest commercial airport to Olympic National Park. There are daily non-stop flights from most major airport hubs throughout the US. My wife and I flew Alaska Airlines outbound and Delta Air Lines for the return out of San Diego. Because the Seattle area is so popular fares for economy and business seats are more reasonable than you might think and for miles travelers the amount of miles needed seemed to be pretty low. Rental cars are easy enough to reserve in advance, and it’s always good to shop around for the best deal. A mid-size Avis fit our budget just fine. And no need for old time paper maps; Google will show you how to get to exactly where you want to go. Lodging One thing that makes Olympic National Park so great is that there isn’t much in the way of places to stay, which keeps the crowd sizes down. Camping is available in several places, but that’s limited also. There’s both RV and tent camping available throughout the park as well as wilderness camping. The Willaby Campground right on the shore of Lake Quinault in the south part of the park looked really nice as did the Sol Duc Campground right on the Sol Duc River more in the north of the park. All of the campgrounds appeared to be very well kept with fire rings, picnic tables, restrooms, and showers. Lake Quinault Lodge - Courtesy of Jerry Olivas Camping looked great but we chose to stay in two different park Lodges, the Lake Quinault Lodge in the south and the Lake Crescent Lodge in the north. These are not upscale accommodation so don’t get fooled by the term Lodge. Both places offer a variety of types of accommodations including staying in the main lodge itself with wide-ranging prices. Note that these lodges, cabins, and motel style rooms are a bit old so bring your ear plugs. WiFi is good around the Lodges and voice and cellular data works well in most places throughout the park. Positively don’t miss out on that heated pool at the The Lake Quinault Lodge. Dining Oyster Saloon - Courtesy of hamahamaoysters.com For food, like lodging there are not too many choices but the Lodges themselves offer a variety of food options including formal sit-down, bar service, and take away. Nothing seemed too pricy except alcohol. However, it’s easy enough to stock up with supplies before entering the park. The town of Forks on Hwy 101 about halfway between the Quinault and Crescent Lodges has a large supermarket called Thriftyway. One tasty restaurant just a couple of miles from The Quinault Lodge is the The Salmon House Restaurant. It’s all about salmon here and a takeaway picnic is a good way to go because lake Quinault is just a few steps away. Don’t miss that yummy marionberry, or any berry, pie or cobbler, which are popular in the spring, summer, and fall. Another couple of dining experiences worth mentioning, but not actually in the park, are Hama Hama Oyster Saloon on Hwy 101 on the east side of the park. It’s all about oysters here; I mean the freshest and tastiest you have ever had. Another restaurant with both fabulous food and a view is Ocean Crest Restaurant on Hwy 109 on the coast about 30 minutes from The Lake Quinault Lodge. This is one of those places where you wonder who the heck is in that kitchen, because they definitely know what they are doing. Hiking Sol Duc River Valley, Olympic National Park - Istock/Bkamprath Hanging around the lodges, particularly sitting in the lobby near one of those nice big open fireplaces, can be intoxicating, but it’s the trails that offer the biggest rewards. All of the trails in the park have good signage and are well maintained and many have parking lots and restrooms. And no need for a map or GPS system because the trails are easy to navigate. However, there are plenty of trail maps to view and purchase online, but it’s easy enough to just pick up a free map at any of the lodges or park ranger stations. The trails run the gambit of difficulty with many flat broad paths and others that are more narrow and steep. As with any hike it’s best to have a partner, water, and comfortable walking shoes. Good to have waterproof shoes with good gripping soles because it can be a bit wet. And don’t forget that umbrella. There are signs warnings about wildlife including Roosevelt elk, black bears, and mountain lions but we didn’t see any. However, we did see several black-tail deer. But luckily no Sasquatch sighting. Our four favorite hikes were the Rain Forest Nature Trail and Gatton Creek Trail both near The Quinault Lodge, the North Fork Sol Duc Trail on the road to Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort, and Barnes Creek Trail near The Crescent Lodge. These trails offer lush rain forest, old growth forest, streams, and falls. It’s certainly fine to back track and redo a section of a trail and it’s okay to just stop, close your eyes, listen, smell, and let your body feel the air. Don’t miss The Giant Sitka Spruce Tree near The Quinault Lodge is a 1,000-year-old, 190 feet tall, and 17 feet in diameter tree that is quite simply amazing. The Salmon Cascades is about halfway up the road to the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. In the late summer and fall this is where you will see coho salmon leaping up the treacherous falls attempting to return to their spawning pools. The small town of La Push on the Pacific coast is a good place to take in some of the Olympic National Park coastal beauty. There’s plenty of trail hikes and on-the-beach sand walks to do. Lake Crescent - Istock/YinYang Lake Quinault or Lake Crescent sunrises and sunsets will positively set the tone for a great day on the trails or a relaxing evening planning your next day’s adventures. There are a variety of fees and passes for visiting The Olympic National Park. We used our lifetime National Park and Recreational Area Senior Passes. No matter what the costs the pay back you get from experiencing nature up close and personal on the trails of The Olympic National Park is well worth it. This is one of those trips you will remember for a long time to come. Jerry Olivas - is a travel writer and photographer specializing in "do-it-yourself" adventures worldwide. Some of his work can be found at European Travel Magazine. He has lived and worked in England, Italy, and Israel and is based in Carlsbad, Carlsbad, California, USA
Florida has some of the most beautiful state parks in the entire United States. They attract visitors from across the world for all kinds of outdoor activities and of course, camping. A new in-depth study analyzed data from multiple sources to rank the top Florida state parks as most loved by campers. The top 5 parks scored highly in all areas of the study including camping-related Google searches, ratio of Instagram hashtags to annual visitors, and Tripadvisor 5-star reviews. Some popular parks such as Honeymoon Island and Caladesi Island were removed from the rankings as they do not permit overnight stays. Here are the top 5: 5. Ichetucknee Springs Traveling the pristine waters of the Ichetucknee River is the perfect outing, whether you’re looking for a vigorous adventure or a relaxing day on the water. Although well-known for its warm weather tubing, Ichetucknee Springs State Park is a 2,669-acre wildlife haven, where beaver, otter, gar, softshell turtle, wild turkey, wood duck and limpkin all find a home. The main draw is the park’s eight major crystal-clear springs that join to create the 6-mile Ichetucknee River. 4. Weeki Wachee Springs Pair of Manatees in WeekiWachee Springs State Park - Istock/JulieHewitt Weeki Wachee is an enchanted spring where you can see live mermaids, take a trip on a river boat cruise, learn about Florida wildlife, and swim in the pristine waters at Buccaneer Bay. You can also embark on a paddling adventure down the pristine waterway of the Weeki Wachee River. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park is one of Florida’s most legendary and unique family destinations, entertaining audiences since 1947. 3. Fort Clinch Fort Clinch State Park - Istock / KenWiedemann History meets nature at Fort Clinch State Park. Whether you’re a history buff, nature lover or a bit of both, enjoy exploring the unique natural and historic resources of this pristine park. A row of cannons pointing across the St. Mary’s River into Georgia are silent testimony to the strategic importance of Fort Clinch during the Civil War. Visitors can explore the fort’s many rooms, galleries and grounds, and learn about the life of a Union soldier through unparalleled living history programs. Make plans to visit on the first weekend of every month when a soldier garrison fires cannons and demonstrates other battlefield skills. The historic fort is only one aspect of this diverse 1,400-acre park. Maritime hammocks with massive arching live oaks provide a striking backdrop for hiking and biking on the park’s many trails. The park is known for its gopher tortoises, painted buntings and other species of wildlife. Camping, fishing, shelling and shark-tooth hunting are popular activities. 2. Myakka River State Park Bird watching boardwalk in the marsh of Myakka State Park - Istock/LagunaticPhoto The majestic Myakka River flows through 58 square miles of one of Florida’s oldest and largest parks. In a scene reminiscent of what early Native Americans and Spanish explorers witnessed, arching palm trees and live oaks are reflected on a winding tea-colored stream. The cries of limpkins and osprey pierce the air while alligators and turtles sun lazily on logs and riverbanks. This is the Myakka River, Florida’s first state-designated wild and scenic river, and it flows through a vast expanse of unspoiled wetlands, prairies, hammocks, and pinelands that make up Myakka River State Park. Boating, fishing, canoeing and kayaking are popular activities on the water while hikers and bicyclists explore miles of trails and backroads. 1. Bahia Honda Calusa Beach at the Bahia Honda State Park - Istock/Orietta Gaspari Along with its iconic Florida Keys scenery, sandy beaches, gin-clear waters and magnificent sunsets, the park is known for balmy sea breezes that caress the shores year-round. Henry Flagler’s bold effort to build a railroad to Key West in the early 1900s turned the remote island of Bahia Honda Key into a tropical destination. Along with its iconic Florida scenery — palm-lined beaches, gin-clear waters and magnificent sunsets — the park is known for balmy sea breezes that caress the shores year-round. The park is an excellent place to observe wading birds and shorebirds, and introduces nature lovers to the island’s plants and animals. Kayaks and snorkeling gear can be rented, and boat trips to the reef for snorkeling excursions are available. The study was run by EpicGenerators.com who combined data from across the web for all Florida State Parks with more than 150,000 annual visitors. For more information and to see the full rankings click here.
New England gets all the credit. It is known for its seasonal changing of the leaves throughout Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont - and you can find a road trip guide to New England here. But this region is not the only part of the U.S. that cast off different shades during autumn. Here is where to see the best fall foliage in the western states. WEST Arizona Outside of Sedona, Red Rock State Park’s riparian area of Oak Creek Canyon goes by fremont cottonwoods, sycamores, velvet ash and Arizona alder trees on various trails. Be sure to head up the path to the Eagle’s Nest Trail to get a top-down view. See Slide Rock State Park on the same day; trees there also provide a vibrant contrast against the Oak Creek’s red rocks. Idaho The Boise River Greenbelt is a tree-lined pathway throughout the city that connects walkers and cyclists to its various riverside parks. Or you can head out on the Sawtooth Scenic Byway, as Highway 75 rolls north past the Harriman Trail and the Galena Summit Overlook, then on through the resort towns of Hailey, Ketchum, and Sun Valley. Great Basin National Park. Photo credit: Sydney Martinez/Travel Nevada Nevada In Eastern Nevada, the Great Basin National Park encourages you to drive around at your own pace. Its Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive is a paved 12-mile route leading to an elevation exceeding 10,000 feet and views of groves of aspen trees in yellow, red and gold. New Mexico The Santa Fe National Forest Scenic Byway leads to a 13,000-foot aspen filled alpine wilderness, where the hillsides from Hyde Memorial State Park to Ski Santa Fe shine vibrantly gold. Fall colors hit nicely along U.S. 64, across the Carson National Forest between Taos and Chama and through Tres Piedras and Tierra Amarilla, where the view of the Brazos Cliffs is worth the stop. Wyoming Battle Pass Scenic Byway, is a 57-mile paved highway over the crest of the little-visited Sierra Madre Mountains of the Medicine Bow National Forest, see the famous strand of trees known as Aspen Alley. In northwest Wyoming, Jackson is a gateway to two of the country’s most beautiful national parks – Yellowstone and Grand Teton where the colors are dazzling. Head east to drive along the Cloud Peak Skyway Scenic Byway, the southern-most route across the Bighorn National Forest, for views of the Bighorn Mountains that are framed by yellow- and gold-hued aspens.