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11 Florida National Park Units You Must Visit | Things to Do + Interactive Map

Read the list of Florida national park units, browse the interactive map, and learn about things to do at each park.

By Jason Barnette | Travel writer and photographer with 15+ years of road tripping experience

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my Affiliate Disclosure here.

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The most prominent features of Florida’s national park sites are coasts and seashores. Long beaches, crystal clear water, coastal wildlife, and endless opportunities for water activities. But that’s not all these eleven national park sites offer. You can explore America’s oldest fort, fly in a seaplane to the largest fort, and visit the site where De Soto’s expedition landed in the 1500s.

Florida is known as the “Sunshine State,” a moniker that accurately describes the tropical climate. The national park sites capitalize on this attribute with beaches, coastal campgrounds, hiking trails, and water trails.

Some national park sites are perfect for day trip visits while exploring Florida. But others, like Dry Tortugas National Park, require planning to get the most out of your trip.

Read this list of the 11 Florida national park sites to learn what to do at each site, find links to more information, and save the address to your Google Maps account.

Note | The national park sites are listed in order of appearance on the map from left to right. This is not a ranking of the national park sites.

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Florida National Parks Map

How to use this map | Click the icon in the top-left corner to open the Map Legend, then click on any of the legend items to display more information. If you have a Google account, click the (very faint) star at the end of the map’s name to save this map to your account, then access the map from your smartphone during your trip.

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National Park vs. National Park Unit

When someone searches for a “national park,” they are usually looking for information about one of the 63 national parks—the pinnacle of the National Park System. However, national parks only account for 15% of the system’s units.

What about national monuments, national seashores, and national military parks? What are these parks collectively called?

The National Park Service explains, “While there are at least 19 naming designations, these units are commonly referred to as parks.” However, two adjectives were used in their explanation: units and parks.

I use the term “national park unit” to describe any of the 429 individual named units of the National Park System, and then I use the term “national park” specifically for those vaunted parks.

When I write a roundup of National Park Service sites, I include all the national park units because each park is worth visiting for its own reason.

Read More | Complete List of All 429 National Park Units | Interactive Map + NPS Websites

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National Park Service app displayed on three smartphones

National Park Service App

The official National Park Service app is an all-in-one tool for planning a national park adventure and finding your way around the park. The app has information about every national park site across the country, essentially putting all the online information at your fingertips.

The free app features interactive maps, self-guided tours, amenities like restrooms, and lists of things to do. The powerful app has an offline mode – with a single tap, you can save the park for offline use to access all the information later. You’ll also have access to important information like alerts, contacts, fees, and operating hours.

Download the free app on iOS and Android.

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America the Beautiful Pass

Most of the National Park Service’s units are free to visit, but some require an entrance fee. Fortunately, there are ways to save money on those fees if you frequent the units. 

The Standard Pass allows one person to enter one park for seven consecutive days. The Annual Pass provides entrance to one park for a year. 

The America the Beautiful Pass is the golden ticket hidden in a chocolate bar. This pass covers the entrance and day-use fees for up to one vehicle or four adults for all National Park Service units. 

There are several types of America the Beautiful Passes catering to different segments of society and with different price tags: 

  • Annual Pass is available for everyone for $80
  • Annual Senior Pass is available to US citizens 62+ for $20
  • Lifetime Senior Pass is available to US citizens 62+ for $80
  • Annual Military Pass is available to active duty US military and dependents for free
  • Lifetime Military Pass is available to Gold Star Family members and veterans for free
  • Access Pass is available for US citizens with a permanent disability for free
  • 4th Grade Pass is available to US fourth graders for free

The best place to purchase an America the Beautiful Pass is at a national park unit. Visit the National Park Service’s website to learn more about interagency passes

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No. 1

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Gulf Islands National Seashore is an interesting mixture of nature and history on barrier islands in Mississippi and Florida. Explore history at places like Fort Barrancas and Fort Pickens, forts built during the country’s early years. Then, spend a day at the beach at Okaloosa, Perdido Key, or Santa Rosa.

Spend a few nights in coastal comfort at the 200-site Fort Pickens Campground. The campsites feature electrical hookups and are suitable for tents or RVs.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

No. 2

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve

Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve covers 46,000 acres of wetlands and waterways near Jacksonville, Florida. Established in 1988, the preserve is an excellent opportunity to watch coastal wildlife and enjoy water activities like kayaking and scenic coastal views.

Visit Kingsley Plantation, the oldest extant plantation in the state, and then take a self-guided tour of Fort Carolina National Memorial.

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No. 3

Fort Caroline National Memorial

In 1564, René Goulaine de Laudonnière established a French settlement on the banks of the St. John River. A year later, Spanish troops from St. Augustine, led by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés, captured the settlement and eventually destroyed it.

Fort Carolina National Memorial preserves the site of the French settlement. Nothing remains, but the visitor center has exhibits about the early colonial history and the conflict between France and Spain.

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No. 4

Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

In 1565, Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded St. Augustine, Spain’s first settlement in North America. After a hundred years of relative peace, the settlement was brutally attacked by English pirate Robert Searle. Queen Regent Mariana of Spain ordered the Florida governor to build a masonry fort – the Castillo de San Marcos.

Construction on “Castle of Saint Mark” began in 1672 and was completed in 1695. It’s America’s oldest fort in the oldest town.

Read More | Exploring America’s Oldest Fort – Castillo de San Marcos National Monument

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Visitors to Castillo de San Marcos National Monument can take self-guided tours of the fort’s interior, explore the canons mounted along the fort’s walls, and visit the cell where Patriot Christopher Gadsden was held in solitary confinement during the Revolutionary War. It takes about two hours to see everything in the fort.

Pro Travel Tip | A large parking lot at the national park site’s entrance is typically filled early in the day. The Historic Downtown Parking Facility behind the St. Augustine Visitor Center is the best place to park. It’s a 10-15 minute walk from the parking garage to the fort.

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No. 5

Fort Matanzas National Monument

In 1742, Fort Matanzas was built along the Matanzas River to protect St. Augustine from a southern approach. The fort is not typical – there are no walls, motes, or courtyards to explore. It’s a blockhouse built from local coquina.

Visitors must ride a free ferry from the park’s visitor center on Florida Highway A1A. The ferry takes about 10 minutes to cross the river to Fort Matanzas.

National Park Week 2024

Learn about the annual celebration of the National Park System and read my travel guides to national park units across the country.

No. 6

Canaveral National Seashore

At 24 miles long, Canaveral National Seashore is the longest stretch of undeveloped beachfront remaining in Florida. The seashore stretches from the Kennedy Space Center to New Smyrna Beach.

One of the park’s most popular activities is watching launches from Kennedy Space Center. Playalinda Beach is the nearest viewing spot on the seashore. But arrive early if you plan to watch a launch – there are a limited number of parking spots, and the park staff closes the entrance when it’s full.

Apollo Beach is the closest parking area to the northern end of the seashore. There are no roads for 13 miles between Apollo Beach and Playalinda Beach. It’s a rare opportunity to enjoy a spectacularly peaceful Florida beach.

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No. 7

De Soto National Memorial

In 1539, Hernando de Soto landed on Florida’s Gulf Coast with over 600 soldiers. Lustful for gold and under orders from King Charles V to conquer the natives, de Soto led the expedition on a 4,000-mile journey across North America.

De Soto National Memorial in Bradenton, Florida, preserves the generally accepted site of De Soto’s landing. Visitors can explore historic artifacts and learn about the expedition’s history at the visitor center.

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No. 8

Big Cypress National Preserve

In 1974, Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida and Big Thicket National Preserve in Texas became the first national preserves in the National Park System. The 720,000-acre Big Cypress National Preserve covers a vast area of southern Florida between Miami and Fort Myers.

The easiest way to explore the enormous preserve is the 27-mile Loop Road Scenic Drive or the 17-mile Turner River / Wagonwheel / Birdon Roads Loop Drive. It’s an excellent opportunity to enjoy the preserve’s wildlife and landscapes.

Other activities include bicycling, kayaking, and hiking along dozens of trails throughout the preserve.

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No. 9

Biscayne National Park

95% of Biscayne National Park’s 172,000 acres is underwater. The park preserves Biscayne Bay, islands and keys, and coral reefs, including the northern portion of the Florida Reef. Ten thousand years of human history lay within the park’s boundaries – most of it in sunken ships at the bottom.

One of the park’s most popular activities is scuba diving to the shipwrecks on the ocean floor. Other activities include snorkeling, kayaking, boating, and fishing. The Biscayne National Park Institute offers a series of guided tours to explore the watery portions of the park.

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No. 10

Everglades National Park

The 1.5 million acre Everglades National Park is the largest tropical wilderness in the United States and the third largest unit of the National Park Service. The park preserves 20% of the southern Florida Everglades south of Miami.

The most popular activities in the park are hiking, birding, kayaking, and fishing. Must of the park is a certified Dark Sky Park, perfect for astronomers of all levels to enjoy stargazing.

The park’s tropical climate rarely sees overnight lows below 40 degrees. Average highs throughout the year range from 78-94 degrees. The best time of year to visit Everglades National Park is February, March, October, and November.

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No. 11

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas National Park is one of the most unique units in the National Park Service. However, that uniqueness also makes it the most expensive national park in the country.

The national park is 70 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. The 100-square-mile park includes several keys – Loggerhead Key, Garden Key, Bush Key, Long Key, Hospital Key, Middle Key, and East Key.

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Fort Jefferson was built between 1846 and 1861. Comprised of 16 million bricks, it’s the largest masonry fort in the Western Hemisphere. Despite the heavy investment in building the remote fort, it was only used for a few years until 1874. During its short tenure, the fort was a prison for Confederate troops captured during the Civil War.

In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Fort Jefferson National Monument. The abandoned fort was stabilized and renovated. In 1992, the site was redesignated as Dry Tortugas National Park.

Visitors to the remote national park enjoy snorkeling the crystal clear water, taking self-guided tours inside Fort Jefferson, and spending a few hours on one of the keys. A primitive campground with eight campsites, each site large enough for three 2-person tents.

There are only two ways to get to Dry Tortugas National Park; either option makes it the country’s most expensive national park to visit. One option is a 4-hour roundtrip ride on the Yankee Freedom III, a passenger boat with a capacity for 150 passengers. The boat ride is $220 per adult and $165 for children aged 3 to 17.

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The second option is a 2-hour roundtrip flight on a seaplane. Tickets for the half-day excursion are $466 per adult and $372 for children aged 2 to 12. Tickets for the full-day excursion are $820 for adults and $655 for children.

Pro Travel Tip | Although the seaplane is the fastest way to Dry Tortugas National Park, I recommend taking the more affordable boat. The boat has two fully stocked bars, sodas, and snacks for the long ride.

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Do you have a question about travel or road trips? Are you a CVB or DMO interested in working with me? I typically respond to emails within 24 hours. Quicker if you include a good riddle.
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