Florida has an award-winning state park system, one of the largest in the country, and features 175 parks covering 800,000 acres and 100 miles of sandy beaches. While national parks governed by the federal government are typically larger, state parks often have more amenities, like hiking trails, campgrounds, boat rentals, and planned activities. Check out the top seven largest state parks in Florida and learn about their locations, natural features, amenities, and recreational activities.
1. Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park – 85,000 Acres
In South Florida, just west of Copeland, Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve consists of a vast forested strand of big cypress in the Florida Everglades. Fakahatchee is Florida’s largest state park, covering 85,000 acres of lush vegetation teeming with native wildlife. Due to its goal of preservation, this state park has limited facilities, but it offers visitors a wilderness experience they won’t find anywhere else in the country.
A 2,500-foot-long boardwalk winds its way through swamps and ponds, where you can spot exotic birds and alligators. You can also canoe, kayak, fish, and bike. However, no swimming is allowed anywhere in the park. Along with nature trails, you will find historic sites, picnic areas, canoe launches, and restroom facilities. And other than alligators, you might spot Florida panthers, Everglades mink, black bears, fox squirrels, white-tailed deer, red-shouldered hawks, wild turkeys, and wood storks.
2. Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park – 54,000 Acres
Located in South-Central Florida in Okeechobee County, the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park is 54,000 acres of expansive Florida prairie. This preserve protects the last dry prairie in the state and features a vast blue sky and miles of grasslands in all directions. To say this state park is unique is an understatement, the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve is an essential habitat for many rare and endangered species, like grasshopper sparrows and burrowing owls.
The park is a popular recreational spot for hiking, biking, birding, camping, horseback riding, and wildlife viewing. It also lacks light pollution, making it a perfect spot for stargazing in the night sky. The preserve has amenities, such as nature trails, campgrounds, equestrian trails, RV hookups, and restrooms. And visitors may spot coyotes, bobcats, raccoons, skunks, hawks, owls, and snakes.
3. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park – 53,000 Acres
As the country’s first undersea park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park includes 70 nautical square miles of Atlantic Ocean water. This park is in Key Largo and covers approximately 53,000 acres of mangrove swamps, beaches, and coral reefs. Visitors can take glass-bottom boat tours, boat, camp, fish, hike, paddle, picnic, scuba dive, snorkel, and swim. You can also stop by the visitor center and check out a large saltwater aquarium filled with unique sea animals.
Along with pristine beaches, the state park offers boat ramps, campgrounds, an amphitheater, concessions, picnic pavilions, a playground, water refill stations, and restrooms. The most common wildlife you might find is lobster, urchin, shrimp, sea cucumber, anemones, and hundreds of fish species.
4. Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park – 45,000 Acres
This 45,000-acre park preserves the islands, shoreline, and lands surrounding Charlotte Harbor in Punta Gorda, Florida. Spanning 70 miles, this shoreline nature preserve features mangrove forests, scrub, pine flatwoods, and beaches. One of the best ways to access the park is via canoe or kayak in the paddle trail system, but visitors can also use the pedestrian walk-throughs in the upland areas, featuring six miles of marked trails. You can also access unmarked and wild areas of the park, but you do so at your own risk.
Some of the most popular activities at Charlotte Harbor Preserve are paddling, hiking, biking, boating, fishing, birding, and geo-seeking. And visitors have access to boat launches, picnic pavilions, and interpretive exhibits. Some of the most common animals at this location include red-shouldered hawks, eastern diamondback rattlesnakes, otters, alligators, wading birds, manatees, and dolphins.
5. Myakka River State Park – 37,000 Acres
Located several miles east of Interstate 75 in Sarasota County, Myakka River State Park is one of the largest state parks in Florida, covering 37,000 acres of wild wetlands, pinelands, and prairies. The Myakka River flows past live oaks and palm trees, winding its way through unspoiled wetlands, hammocks, and pinelands. Visitors can explore the park via boat, canoe, or kayak or stay on the trails and backroads, meandering on foot or bike.
The recreational opportunities are endless at Myakka River State Park and they include biking, birding, boat tours, camping, fishing, geo-seeking, hiking, paddling, wildlife viewing, and horseback riding. The park also features abundant amenities, such as boat ramps, cabins, campgrounds, concessions, an amphitheater, equestrian trails, nature trails, picnic pavilions, a playground, restrooms, and a visitor center. Abundant creatures inhabit the region, and you might encounter alligators, great blue herons, snakes, fish, bald eagles, hawks, and armadillos.
6. Waccasassa Bay Preserve State Park – 30,700 Acres
The Waccasassa Bay Preserve State Park protects 30,700 acres of the vast gulf hammock and expansive salt marshes. Mandy endangered species call this park home. You can find this state park along the Gulf Coast, south of Cedar Key and north of Yankeetown. You can only access the park by boat as you use the waterways to wind through tidal creeks, salt marshes, and islands. The unforgettable scenery consists of dense tree islands and hydra hammocks as you make your way to the estuary before reaching the Gulf of Mexico.
The most popular activities at Waccasassa Bay Preserve include paddling, boating, fishing, birding, wildlife viewing, and primitive camping. This wild area does not contain any amenities, so come prepared. You are likely to see alligators, sea turtles, manatees, otters, dolphins, bald eagles, osprey, deer, great egrets, gulls, pelicans, and herons.
7. Crystal River Preserve State Park – 27,500 Acres
Covering more than 27,500 acres, Crystal River Preserve State Park protects hardwood forests, salt marshes, mangrove islands, pinewoods, and scrub. You can find this state park in Citrus County in Crystal River, Florida. It sits along 20 miles of coastline and consists of miles of explorable original Florida wilderness. It is the most biologically diverse estuary in the state, where spring-fed rivers flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Visiting this park is like stepping back into the past. You can get a glimpse of what Florida looked like centuries ago.
Some of the most popular activities at Crystal River Preserve include boating, paddling, boat tours, biking, hiking, and wildlife viewing. And you will find amenities such as boat launches, restrooms, and picnic pavilions. When visiting, you can expect to see many species of birds, fish, turtles, amphibians, sharks, and alligators.
A Recap of the Top 7 Largest State Parks in Florida
|Rank||Largest State Parks in Florida||Size in Acres|
|#1||Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park||85,000|
|#2||Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park||54,000|
|#3||John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park||53,000|
|#4||Charlotte Harbor Preserve State Park||45,000|
|#5||Myakka River State Park||37,000|
|#6||Waccasassa Bay Preserve State Park||30,700|
|#7||Crystal River Preserve State Park||27,500|
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Claudia Cooper/iStock via Getty Images
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