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Florida Bucket List: 12 Natural Wonders You’ll Love

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Florida is a place of contrasts. It has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, but it also has swamps, mangrove forests and subtropical rainforests. The state’s natural parks are an important part of this contrast. Here’s the ones you should add to your Florida bucket list!

Tiny island in Florida (USA)
Florida natural wonders are worth visiting!

Florida has always been a target for tourists and vacationers who want an unforgettable vacation. Inside the national parks in Florida, you’ll find deep caverns and botanical gardens, crystal-clear springs, super cute manatees, and untouched islands you can explore on foot. Let me show you 12 natural wonders for your Florida bucket list!

Planning your trip to Miami last minute?

Let me help you!
Here are our favorite experiences, tours, hotels and more: no need to stress out, we have you covered!
Don’t forget to plan ahead also when visiting Orlando!

Top Activities and Tours in Miami & Orlando:
1. Open-top tour and Millionaire’s Row Cruise
2. Biscayne Bay Evening Cruise
3. Everglades National Park Airboat Tour and Wildlife Show
4. Kennedy Space Center Entrance Ticket
5. Orlando Hop On Hop Off Trolley Pass

Our Favorite Hotels in Miami:
1. Mandarin Oriental
2. Mondrian South Beach
3. Shelley Hotel

Our Favorite Hotels in Orlando:
1. Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress
2. Floridays Condo
3. Universal’s Endless Summer Resort

Click to check out the updated rates to rent a car!

Biscayne National Park in Florida
Biscayne National Park has so much to offer!

Biscayne National Park

Looking for a beach and nature combo?
Located in the alluring Florida Keys, Biscayne National Park is set 95% underwater, which pretty much means you should go below the surface to truly experience it.

Biscayne National Park is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful parks in the world. That’s why it should be at the very top of your Florida bucket list.

The park stretches along the southern coast of Florida and is home to more than 1,000 species of animals. The rare white lionfish is one example of a creature that lives in the park’s waters.
Visitors to the park can see a variety of animals, including dolphins, manatees, alligators, and sea turtles.

Obviously, the best ways to explore this Florida natural park is snorkeling or scuba diving.
If you’d rather not get wet, you should still book a glass-bottom boat tour, to have the chance to see below the surface.

While 95% of Biscayne National Park is set underwater, there’s still a 5% set on land that has so much to offer!

Think of small islands spread all over, which include epic hiking trails, unparalleled wildlife sightings and romantic sunsets. So good that in fact you’ll wish you could linger a while longer!

All in all, it’s easy to say that Biscayne National Park includes many of the activities in Florida that people usually add to their bucket list.

Planning something super special?
Book a personalized Biscayne Bay and Biscayne National Park boat tour!
Click here to check rates and availability.

Entry Fee

Free entrance.

Distance from Miami

Biscayne National Park is located about 30 minutes from Miami by car.

Best time to visit

December to February in terms of weather.
Yet as many Florida natural wonders, also Biscayne National Park will get a bit busier during this time.
Spring is generally more quiet. 

Everglades National Park Florida
The Everglades are a must visit in Florida

Everglades National Park

The Everglades is one of the finest national parks in the United States. It’s located in the southern part of Florida, and it boasts an impressive range of natural and manmade attractions.

Established in 1934, the Everglades is the domain of millions of tourists every year. It had been on our Florida bucket list for quite a while.
When we finally visited, we realized… wow. It was really worth all the hype!

Not many people know that Everglades National Park is the only place on Earth where alligators and crocodiles coexist. Hence why this park is easily referred to as one of Florida natural wonders.

Me and Al explored the Everglades by going on a scenic drive. Then we also decided to hit a few short hiking trails.
While our road trip in Florida was amazing, hiking in the Everglades was one of the cool things to do in the Sunshine State that you can’t miss!

The Eco Pond Trail is absolutely perfect if you want to take gorgeous pictures of flamingos in the wilderness.
If you’re more interested in alligators, the Anhinga Trail is where we got up close to them.

Beware: I’m not particularly brave when it comes to crocodiles and alligators. So I have to admit that I got super scared! They are easy to spot on the Anhinga Trail, but they’re also super close to you. Be careful when you hike there!

Another bucket list experience at the Everglades is to book a boat tour in the Gulf Coast area. With a good guide, you’ll get to know life around the park’s water.
If you’re lucky enough you’ll also see manatees and dolphins!
Click here for rates and availability.

Alligator at Everglades Park in Florida
It’s the only place on Earth where crocodiles and alligators co-exist!

Entry Fee

Park visitors are required to pay an entrance fee of $30 per vehicle.
Motorcycles will have to pay $25, while pedestrians and cyclists only $15.

The Everglades is one of the natural parks in Florida which has entrance fee-free days.

Here are the dates for 2022:

  • January 17: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
  • April 16: First day of National Park Week
  • August 4: Anniversary of the Great American Outdoors Act
  • September 24: National Public Lands Day
  • November 11: Veterans Day

Distance from Miami

Everglades National Park is located about 40 minutes from Miami by car.

Best time to visit

November to March for wildlife sightings and bird-watching. 

Another bonus is that water levels are low during these months.
That makes hiking trails and several other activities more accessible.

Fort Jefferson - Dry Tortugas (Florida)
Fort Jefferson welcomes you to Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park

Palm-fringed beaches, crystal-clear turquoise waters… is that paradise or what?

Dry Tortugas National Park is proof that you don’t need to fly to St. Thomas. Just dig into your Florida bucket list and you’re all set!

Home to the largest coral reef system in the U.S., Dry Tortugas can be considered one of the “secret” Florida natural wonders. Why?
Well, even most local Floridians haven’t heard of it!

Due to its remote location, this national park is one of the least-visited in the Country, making visiting it a once-in-a-lifetime experience worth boasting about.

Dry Tortugas should actually be on your Florida Keys bucket list, actually.
It is in fact tucked away in the Gulf of Mexico, about 70 miles (112 km) west of Key West.

Dry Tortugas National Park is 99% water, with the remaining 1% constituting seven small islands spread all over.
This means you can snorkel – mostly on your own – in search of coral reefs, tropical fishes and sea turtles.

Don’t forget to add reef safe sunscreen to your Florida packing list!
You’re going to need it!

Discover what to do in Key West with the help of our video itinerary!

Entry Fee

The ferry ride from Key West to Dry Tortugas takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Board the Yankee Freedom to the historic Fort Jefferson, and then you can just explore and spend the rest of the day having fun at one of Florida’s hidden gems.
Rates are seasonal.

Note: The ferry tickets include the cost of entrance to the park, not the camping fees.

Another way to get to Dry Tortugas National Park is by flying there on a seaplane.
Upon arrival, you will be charged a $15 entrance fee.

Distance from Miami

The Dry Tortugas National Park is quite remote
You can only get there by ferry or seaplane.

The distance from Miami is about 3:31 hours, if you could ideally drive there.

Our tip is to actually plan this day trip well in advance, by booking your tickets online.

Best time to visit

May through October for weather and snorkeling. 

Do keep in mind this is hurricane season, so make sure you check the park’s official website in case of any closures due to severe weather conditions.

Gulf Islands National Seashore in Florida
Gulf Islands National Seashore is the coast where you get the beach all to yourselves

Gulf Islands National Seashore

The Gulf Islands National Seashore is one of the best natural parks in Florida.
Located in Florida’s mid-Atlantic region, it boasts stunning natural beauty and manages to be easily accessible from major cities in the area.

With nearly 30 miles (48 km) of gorgeous coastline, stretching from western Florida to Mississippi, it offers plenty to see and do throughout the year.

This Florida national park encompasses emerald-colored beaches with a Mediterranean-like climate, paired with an array of historical forts and sites that tell stories from way back.

The beauty of the Gulf Islands National Seashore lies in the miles of pristine shores. Finding yourself a spot to enjoy the views in solitude is pretty easy, thanks to the expansiveness of the place.

Considered the one place where you can find a ton of natural attractions in Florida, Gulf Islands boasts breathtaking sand dunes and vibrant marine ecosystems.
You can relax on sun-soaked beaches, or spend the day fishing.

If you’re like us, you’ll love to explore on foot!
There are so many easy trails leading to mountain top viewpoints, lighthouses and forts.
Definitely one for a natural wonders Florida bucket list, and a must-visit place.
Don’t you think?

Entry Fee

The Gulf Islands Seashore entry fee is $15 per person, or $25 per vehicle or $20 per motorcycle.

An entrance pass is good for one to seven days.

Distance from Miami

Gulf Islands Seashore is at about 9:40 hours from Miami by car.

The closest airport is Pensacola International Airport.

Best time to visit

While Gulf Islands is one of the natural attractions in Florida you can visit any time of the year, there are a few tips we can offer.

March-August is going to be super crowded.
So the best time to visit Gulf Islands, according to our experience, is September/October especially if you want to get in the water.

Bill Baggs Florida Bucket list park
Bill Baggs State Park is a super romantic day trip from Miami

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park

Bill Baggs Cape Florida State park isn’t only on our Florida bucket list. It’s also one of our favorite places to visit in Florida, and for a good number of reasons.

First things first, it’s the perfect day trip from the super busy South Beach. Then it can be quite romantic, hence why it’s a great option if you’re planning a couple trip to Miami.
Or even anywhere in Florida, really!

We also rarely found this state park crowded. And, if it wasn’t enough… We saw manatees here!

One of the best things to do in Florida for us is driving around, exploring and looking for places to shoot.

Well, while not technically part of the busy city center, you can consider Bill Baggs Cape as one of the best places to take pictures in Miami.

The park is romantic, super quiet, and it boasts blue water, manatees, huge iguanas and great hiking trails.

If this isn’t enough to convince you to visit, know that Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park is where you’ll find the only lighthouse in South Florida. It dates back to 1825!

Planning your honeymoon in Miami?
Discover the most romantic activities in Miami with this useful video!

Entry Fee

Entrance to Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park will cost you $10 per vehicle, for 2 to 8 people.

A single-occupant vehicle or motorcycle will only pay $6.

Distance from Miami

This gorgeous Florida nature preserve is about 30 minutes from Miami by car.

Click to watch our Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park video tour!

Best time to visit

The park is open 365 days a year, from 8 a.m. until sunset.

Visit whenever you want, yet try to avoid the winter months. That’s when Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish sometimes invade the beach.
Warnings will be posted at the ranger station!

Big Cypress Preserve (Florida)
Big Cypress National Preserve is nothing like the Everglades!

Big Cypress National Preserve

Big Cypress is one of the best nature preserves in Florida.

Many visitors seem to be confused by the fact that “it’s a swamp“, so it must be just like the Everglades, right?
Actually, Big Cypress is mainly a cypress swamp, while the Everglades National Park is a prairie, submerged by a shallow sheet of water.

Another thing is that you can find alligators in several areas of the Preserve, but there are no crocodiles.

Visiting a preserve like Big Cypress means enjoying scenic road trips and tons of outdoor activities.
Also having the chance to see – if you are very lucky – the endangered Florida panther.

Big Cypress National Preserve is good for your Florida bucket list if you absolutely love the great outdoors. It protects over 700,000 acres of swamp in South Florida.
Which is home to tropical plants and a diversity of wildlife.

If you love to look up to a gorgeous starry sky, then you’ll love Big Cypress. This nature preserve in Florida is in fact a designated International Dark Sky Site.

This is one of the last protected night skies where you can enjoy the splendor of the Milky Way, with only the naked eye. Super romantic, don’t you think?

There are two scenic drives if you have rented a car to explore.

Loop Road is a 27 miles (43 km) loop that will drive you through a dwarf cypress forest and some of the most instagrammable spots in the Preserve.

Turner River / Wagonwheel / Birdon Roads Loop is a 17-mile (27 km) drive through open wet prairies and bird feeding areas.
Keep your camera at hand, because this is where you can easily spot wildlife!

Entry Fee

You can visit Big Cypress for free!

Distance from Miami

Big Cypress National Preserve is about 1 hour from Miami.

Best time to visit

The preserve is one of the places to visit in Florida from November through April.

The abundance of migrating birds makes the area a birder’s paradise.
There will also be abundant wildlife concentrated in ponds and canals.

Like many other National parks in Florida, Big Cypress is amazing during the dry season. Most of the tourists visit between December and March.

To avoid the crowds, consider planning your trip in November or April.

Big Lagoon State Park (Florida)
Big Lagoon is very close to several amazing little towns in Florida

Big Lagoon State Park

Big Lagoon State Park is one of the natural attractions in Florida you should visit if you’re going to hit the Pensacola area.

It’s quite likely that you’ll be pretty close to this park in case you added a few small towns to your Florida off the beaten path itinerary.
The gorgeous Destin, Seaside and Fort Walton Beach are all within a couple of hours by car!

This coastal state park in Florida sits on the northern side of Big Lagoon. It protects a wide variety of birds, as well as beaches, bays, nature trails and open woodlands.

One of the popular activities at Big Lagoon is crabbing in the shallow waters.
Don’t worry if you’re not into that. You can still have fun swimming, canoeing, boating and hiking!

Big Lagoon is one of Florida’s natural wonders also thanks to the fact that it’s a gateway for the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail.

This park is a stopover for more than 23 species of birds, including sandpipers, ducks and black-bellied plovers.

Entry Fee

The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to sunset.

The entrance fee is $6 per vehicle (2 to 8 people), or $4 per single-occupant vehicle.

Distance from Miami

Big Lagoon is over 10 hours from Miami by car.
The best option is to find a hotel in the Pensacola area, or to fly there.

The closest airport is Pensacola International Airport.

Best time to visit

The best time to visit Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola is from April through November.

Yet the park is open year-round: avoid the warmer months if you want to stay away from the crowds!

Inside of Florida Caverns
Florida Caverns is the only cave system in Florida which offers tours to the public

Florida Caverns State Park

Your Florida bucket list should include unique places to visit.
How about a large cave system that was officially opened to the public in 1942 and is still virtually unknown to tourists?

Florida Caverns is the only state park in Florida that offers cave tours to the public. It’s one of those unique places on Earth that almost feel out of place in a state that is known for its beaches and crystal-clear waters!

Visiting is almost surreal. The silence is only broken by the distant sound of dripping water. You’ll walk through a maze of fascinating stalactites, stalagmites and draperies. While a guide will tell you the story of the one place you wouldn’t expect in Florida.

Every cave tour at Florida Caverns lasts approximately 45 minutes and is considered to be moderately strenuous.
Make sure to pack hiking boots because the floor can be slippery and uneven!

During the tour you’ll have the chance to see plants and animals that have adapted to living in the caves. Like blind crayfishes, salamanders and many others.

This unique natural park in Florida also features 9-hole golf course.
While they do not rent horses, stables are available to explore the area on horseback.
Other popular activities are camping, picnicking, fishing and hiking.

Entry Fee

The Florida Caverns Park entrance fee is $5 per vehicle.

Cave tours will cost you $10.75 per person. Children aged 3 to 12 will pay $5, while those under 2 can visit for free.

Distance from Miami

Florida Caverns State Park is 8 hours from Miami by car.

The closest international airport is the Tallahassee Airport.

Best time to visit

While Florida Caverns is open every day of the year, the weather is great in October and November. Cool and crisp, without too much humidity.

April and May are also good, but they tend to be particularly crowded.

Manatees at Blue Spring (Florida)
Blue Springs State Park is one of the largest gathering sites for manatees

Blue Spring State Park

Manatees roam the waters of Florida from April to October. When the weather is a bit chilly, they swim to places like freshwater Florida Springs.

If you have planned a trip to Florida in the winter months, by all means, add Blue Springs State Park to your bucket list and go see manatees!

This gorgeous park in Florida is home to a freshwater spring that is one of the largest winter gathering sites for manatees in the state.

You’ll be able to see hundreds of manatees, and that alone is one of the best natural attractions in Florida, if you ask me.
They’re so cute!

At Blue Spring you can spend the day swimming, snorkeling, diving, tubing, canoeing or kayaking. There’s never a dull moment, and the fun includes the whole family!

Entry Fee

Visiting Blue Spring State Park will cost you $10 per vehicle.

Because parking is limited, you should try to get to the park early in the morning.

Distance from Miami

Blue Springs is one of the natural spring water parks in Florida that is close-ish to Miami. However, driving there will still take you about 4 hours and 20 minutes.

The closest airport is Valdosta Regional Airport.

Best time to visit

While the park is open 365 days a year, from 8 a.m. to sunset, during manatee season all water activities are closed.
If you’re planning to visit in spring to swim with manatees, I’m sorry but that won’t be possible!

You can see manatees at Blue Springs State Park from mid-November to March.

John Pennekamp underwater Christ statue
Christ of the Abyss statue is underwater at John Pennekamp State Park

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Your Florida Keys bucket list should include the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Which you can easily visit on a road trip from Miami to Key West.

The John Pennekamp is the very first undersea park in the U.S.!
Located on Key Largo, it includes about 70 nautical square miles of Atlantic Ocean.
You can also find it on the National Register of Historic Places. Hence why it’s a must-see in Florida!

Coral reefs and tropical fishes are the main attractions at this underwater park.
This is a place widely considered home to clear-water natural wonders in Florida. And you can visit it with a glass bottom boat tour, by scuba diving or snorkeling.

While canoeing and kayaking are popular activities, me and Al definitely prefer to explore the John Pennekamp by snorkeling or through a glass bottom boat tour.

Full disclosure: scuba diving is not for us!

The Visitor Center includes a 30,000 gallon saltwater aquarium that you’ll absolutely love. If you have enough time, stop by its theater: they show incredible nature videos!

Check out our video itinerary with the best stops on a road trip from Miami to Key West!

Entry Fee

Entrance fee is $8 per vehicle, or $4 per single-occupant vehicle or motorcycle.

You’ll also have to add a $0.50 extra fee per person due to the Monroe County Surcharge.

Distance from Miami

The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is about 1:12 hours from Miami by car.
On the way to Key West.

Best time to visit

The best time to visit the John Pennekamp park in Key Largo is spring, if you want to enjoy the water activities.
Yet it will be super crowded!

Don’t like to push your way through the tourists?
Then you should try to visit from September to December, when it’s not too hot and the humidity is bearable.
While it might be a bit too cold to snorkel, you can still book a glass bottom boat tour!

Manatee in Florida  (USA)
Manatees are an endangered species that we should keep safe

Manatee Springs State Park

Manatee Springs State Park is one of the most beautiful natural spring water parks in Florida. The water is so clear that you can see fishes and colorful stones on the bottom.

We added this place to our Florida bucket list for two reasons. The first one being a particularly beautiful trail system. You get to hike around deep sinkholes, ancient forests and a great viewpoint along the Suwannee River.

The second reason…
Well, I’ll be honest. It’s manatees!
Italy doesn’t have manatees. So whenever we travel to Florida, we make sure to find a place where we can see them.

Manatee Springs is popular for its swimming-pool clear water, which turns a dazzling blue in the sunlight.
Hint: it’s a great instagrammable spot!

Snorkelers and scuba divers love this Florida park because they have a great underwater view.
Yet no one is actually allowed to swim in the spring run when it’s manatee season. So if you’re planning to actually swim with manatees at Manatee Springs, it won’t happen.

Manatee Spring is often added to the Florida state parks bucket list by the travelers who love being outside.

There’s something for everyone here, from scuba diving to hiking, boating, bicycling, shelling and horseback riding.

Entry Fee

Entrance to Manatee Springs will cost you $10 per vehicle (2 to 8 people) or $6 per single-occupant vehicle or motorcycle.

Photography at Manatee Springs state park is permitted without fee for all purposes.
When normal park operations are disrupted, you’ll have to pay a $75 to $100 fee.

Distance from Miami

Manatee Springs state park is 5:30 hours from Miami by car. 

The closest airport is Manatee Springs Airport.

Best time to visit

The chilly winter months are the best ones if you want to see manatees.

Visitors should be pretty lucky if they plan to visit this gorgeous state park in Florida between November and April.

Manatees at three sisters springs (Florida)
Three Sisters Springs has a world record of 528 manatees swimming in its waters!

Three Sisters Springs

A manatee sanctuary, with crystal clear waters, sand boils and three freshwater springs? Yes, please!
This place is unique enough that it should be on your Florida bucket list. Consider it a must-see!

Three Sisters Springs is famous for the world record of 528 manatees swimming in its waters, recorded in December, 2014.

This is a privately owned park, perfect for the whole family.
Even the little ones will be able to see manatees up close, thanks to a boardwalk circling a one-acre springs complex.

The crystal clear waters are also open to swimming from April 1 to November 14.

This gorgeous Florida natural park is a unit of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. The water stays at a constant temperature of 72 deg F (22 C). Which is perfect for manatees migrating from the Gulf of Mexico.

Entry Fee

Three Sisters Springs is open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., last admission and ticket sale at 3:30 pm.

Entry fees are different according to the season.

If you want to visit in summer, adult tickets will cost you $12.50, while tickets for children 6-15 cost $7.50. Children under 5 years old can visit this Florida park for free.

Winter is more expensive because… well. Manatees.
So the entrance fee for adults is raised to $20, with a discount for seniors (55+), who will only pay $17.50.

General admission for children is the same, in winter and summer.

Distance from Miami

Three Sisters Springs is about 5 hours from Miami.

The biggest airport close-by is Tampa International Airport.

You’ll then need to rent a car to reach the park.

Best time to visit

If you want to swim, then it’s allowed from April 1 to November 14.

On the contrary, if you want to visit this Florida natural wonder to see the manatees up close, you should visit from November 15 to late March.

White sand beach in Florida
Many Florida nature parks can be visited as day trips from Miami

Florida Parks You Can Visit as Day Trips From Miami 

There are dozens of parks in Florida.
Who says you can’t visit one or two even if you’re on a short trip to Miami?

Here are the nature parks you should add to your Florida bucket list if you’re planning to add a day trip from Miami to your itinerary!

  • Biscayne National Park
  • Everglades National Park
  • Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
  • John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

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Travelling Dany – Danila Caputo

Danila Caputo is a bilingual travel writer living in between Naples and the Amalfi Coast (Italy), graduating from the University of Naples Suor Orsola Benincasa in Foreign Languages and Literature. She travels and works with her husband Aldo, photographer and videographer. Their blog chronicles their adventures around the world, their love for the USA (where they have family), Italian/European culture and tips on how to be responsible travelers. You can find out more about their latest trips and their life on Youtube, Instagram and Facebook.

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