3540 Thomasville Road
Alfred B. and Louise Maclay first planted these gardens in 1923. Recreational activities at Lake Hall include swimming, fishing, canoeing and kayaking. Boats without motors or boats with electric motors are permitted. Pavilions and grills are available along the lake shore. Two short nature trails extend through the woods overlooking the lake. Five miles of shared-use trails and five miles of designated biking trails are available for hikers, bicyclists and equestrians through the woods surrounding Lake Overstreet, which is located on park property that adjoin the gardens.
146 Box Cut Road
Bald Point State Park is located on Alligator Point, where Ochlockonee Bay meets Apalachee Bay. This park offers both land and water activities including two Apalachee Bay beaches for swimming, sunbathing, fishing, canoeing, kayaking and windsurfing. Facilities include a fishing dock and picnic pavilions.
12301 Gulf Beach Highway
Big Lagoon State Park’s 655 upland acres separate the mainland from Perdido Key and the Gulf of Mexico. Recreational activities include camping, swimming, fishing, boating, canoeing and hiking. Crabbing in the shallow waters of Big Lagoon is a popular activity as well.
BLACKWATER RIVER STATE PARK
7720 Deaton Bridge Road
Blackwater River is one of the purest sand-bottom rivers in the nation, making Blackwater River State Park a popular place for swimming, fishing, camping, and paddling. The park boasts over 600 acres of undisturbed natural communities. In 1980, the park was certified as a Registered State Natural Feature for its exceptional illustration of Florida’s natural history. One of the largest and oldest Atlantic white cedars located in the park was recognized as a Florida Champion tree in 1982.
23937 Panama City Beach Parkway
Panama City Beach
Camp Helen is bordered by the Gulf of Mexico on three sides, and by Lake Powell, one of the largest coastal dune lakes in Florida. From 1945 until 1987, Camp Helen was a company resort for the employees of an Alabama textile mill, and some of the buildings have been restored. The 180-acre park is for day use only. Activities include swimming, beach-combing, nature study, hiking, freshwater and saltwater fishing.
200 Allen Memorial Way
Port St. Joe
The museum, which sits on a portion of the park’s 12 acres, commemorates the work of 56 territorial delegates who drafted Florida’s first constitution in 1838. A self-guided tour through displays and exhibits of the era, as well as a replica of the convention hall is available for visitors.
6350 East County Road 30-A
Santa Rosa Beach
Deer Lake State Park shares its name with the coastal dune lake within its boundaries. Coastal dune lakes are extremely rare worldwide and in the United States they occur only along the Gulf Coast. A boardwalk across the dunes offers easy access to the beach where visitors can picnic, swim, and fish. It also offers a fantastic view of the dune ecosystem, one of 11 natural communities found in the park.
1900 East Gulf Beach Drive
St. George Island
This park is located on St. George Island, 10 miles southeast of Eastpoint, off U.S. 98. Sunbathing, swimming, canoeing, boating, hiking, camping, fishing, shelling, and nature study can be enjoyed on the miles of undeveloped beaches on this barrier island. Two natural boat ramps provide access to the bay for small boats. Anglers can fish for flounder, redfish, sea trout, pompano, whiting, Spanish mackerel and other fish off the beach or in the bay. The park has six large picnic shelters equipped with grills, tables and nearby restrooms. The campground features 60 full-facility campsites with water, electric, a central dump station and two bathhouses. A primitive campsite can be accessed by a 2.5-mile trail or by canoe or kayak. A group camp area is available for scouts and other organized groups.
County Road 14 South
Ecofina River State Park is nestled along the northern Gulf Coast. Nature lovers can explore the scenic beauty by foot, off-road bicycling or horseback on 14.8 miles of wooded trails – or drift along the river in a kayak, canoe or boat. The Econfina River empties into the Gulf of Mexico, 2.2 miles south of the park’s boat ramp. Picnic facilities are located near the boat ramp, and visitors can also enjoy wildlife viewing and bird watching.
181 Eden Gardens Road
Santa Rosa Beach
The two-story Wesley House, with its elegant white columns and wrap-around porch, is the focal point of this 161-acre park. Named after a wealthy Florida timber family, the park is part of the family’s estate. In 1963, Lois Maxon bought and renovated the home, which holds the second largest known collection of Louis XVI furniture in the United States. Visitors can also take a stroll along the grounds and enjoy the picnic area.
465 Wakulla Park Drive
This park is home to one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. Visitors can enjoy swimming and nature trails. Daily guided riverboat tours offer a closer view of wildlife, and glass bottom boat tours are available when the water is clear. The Wakulla Springs Lodge was built in 1937 by financier Edward Ball and is open year-round. A full-service dining room overlooks the spring, and lodge meeting facilities offer an excellent place for retreats. Wakulla Springs State Park and Lodge is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is designated as a National Natural Landmark.
1130 State Park Road
This park is home to Florida’s highest waterfall, which can be accessed from the boardwalk located along Sink Hole Trail. Falling Waters Sink is a 100-foot deep, 20-foot wide cylindrical pit into which flows a small stream that drops 73 feet to the bottom of the sink. Only a few miles south of I-10, the park provides visitors with a quiet, serene stop where they can see native and migrating butterflies in the butterfly garden, take a dip in the lake, or have a family picnic. Hikers can enjoy the gentle sloping landscape of North Florida. Park rangers host interpretive programs in the amphitheater. Full-facility campsites are also available in the park’s shady pine forest.
3345 Caverns Road
Located three miles north of Marianna on State Road 166, this is one of the few state parks with dry (air-filled) caves and is the only state park in Florida to offer cave tours to the public. Guided cave tours are offered Thursday through Monday except Thanksgiving and Christmas (no cave tours on Tuesday and Wednesday). The tour lasts 35-40 minutes and is considered to be moderately strenuous. An audiovisual program about touring the cave and other natural areas of the park is available in the visitor center.
The Chipola River and a freshwater spring provide areas for fishing, canoeing and boating. Florida Caverns State Park is also popular for camping, picnicking and horseback riding. The park does not rent horses, however stables are available for equestrian campers. The park also features a nine-hole, New Deal-era golf course set in rolling terrain.
4281 State Road 20
Located on State Road 20, five miles east of Highway 85, Rocky Bayou, the main feature of the park, is the trailing arm of Choctawhatchee Bay. Visitors can enjoy boating, fishing, hiking, bicycling, picnicking, canoeing and wildlife viewing. A double-lane boat ramp makes this one of the best boat-launching locations on the bay, where saltwater fish is found. A well-shaded campground is available for full-facility camping.
357 Main Park Road
Santa Rosa Beach
Grayton Beach, consistently ranked among the most pristine beaches in the United States, provides an idyllic setting for swimming, sunbathing and surf fishing. The nearly 2,000-acre park features a boat ramp that provides access to the lake’s brackish waters for both freshwater and saltwater fishing. Visitors can paddle a canoe or kayak on Western Lake, and a nature trail winds through a coastal forest. Hikers and bicyclists can enjoy more than four miles of trails throughout the pine flatwoods. Options for overnight stays include modern cabins and a full-facility campground.
17000 Emerald Coast Parkway
More than 6,000 feet of natural scenic shoreline borders the shimmering blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Boardwalks provide access to the beach for swimming, sunbathing, and fishing. Four large and two small pavilions are available for picnicking and grilling. A nature trail with playground, provides visitors with a glimpse of the coastal dune ecosystem and abundant wildlife, and is also pet friendly. Sixty campsites are located in the secondary dune system, which includes water and electric hookups and access to air conditioned and heated bathhouse facilities. A separate beach access boardwalk with outdoor showers and a playground are included in the campground.
46 Sixth Street
John Gorrie was a physician that moved to Apalachicola in the early 1800s. At that time, Apalachicola was a prominent Florida port of trade, commerce, and shipping. Dr. Gorrie served as postmaster, city treasurer, town councilman, and bank director. He invented a method for cooling the rooms of his yellow fever patients, and as a result, became a pioneer in the field of air conditioning and refrigeration by inventing a machine that made ice. Dr. Gorrie received the first U.S. Patent for mechanical refrigeration in 1851. A replica of his ice-making machine is on display at the museum, as well as exhibits chronicling the history of Apalachicola.
3600 Indian Mounds Road
This park, located just north of Tallahassee, was part of what is known as the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex associated with Native Americans that inhabited the area more than eight centuries ago. The park encompasses four earthen temple mounds, with two available for viewing by the public. The largest mound is 278 feet by 312 feet at the base and approximately 36 feet in height. The village at the base of these mounds was a cultural, religious and population center in 1100-1200 AD. Hiking is available within the park, and the remains of an 1800s grist mill can be seen along the trail. Picnic tables are located within view of the two largest mounds, a pavilion is also available, and guided tours are available upon request. Lake Jackson also offers opportunities for wildlife viewing and bird watching.
14850 Jack Vause Landing Road
Lake Talquin is a 10,000-acre lake with outdoor activities that include canoeing, kayaking, freshwater fishing, hiking, wildlife viewing and bird watching. There is a 650-foot boardwalk along the water’s edge, and a picnic pavilion and two covered barbeque pits. Guided tours are available upon request.
4500 Sunray Road South
Florida’s tallest Native American ceremonial mound is located here. The 46-foot mound was built 1100 – 1800 years ago by people believed to have been members of the Weeden Island Culture, a group of Native Americans who lived in North Florida between 200 and 800 A.D. Recreational activities include picnicking, birding and hiking. The trail starts at the base of the ceremonial mound and winds past several smaller mounds. Guided tours are available upon request.
7502 Natural Bridge Road
Natural Bridge is the site of the second largest Civil War battle in Florida and where the St. Marks River drops into a sinkhole. The river flows underground for one-quarter of a mile before reemerging. During the final weeks of the Civil War, a Union flotilla landed at Apalachee Bay planning to capture Fort Ward (San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park) and march north to the state capital; however, the attacks were successfully repelled. The Union troops were forced to retreat to the coast and Tallahassee was the only Confederate capital east of the Mississippi not captured by the Union. A reenactment of the battle is held at the park every first full weekend in March. A monument at the site honors the Confederate soldiers who defended Natural Bridge. Recreational activities include picnicking and fishing. Guided tours are available upon request.
429 State Park Road
Ochlockonee River is a mix of brackish, tidal surge, and fresh water, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Recreational activities include picnicking, swimming, hiking, boating, fishing, and full-facility campsites with access to restrooms and showers.
177 Fifth Street
Located in Apalachicola off U.S. 98, the Orman House was built in 1838 by Thomas Orman, and overlooks the Apalachicola River. Orman House is open Thursday through Monday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day (Eastern Time Zone) and closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Guided tours are offered hourly, except noon, and ranger programs are also available. Chapman Botanical Garden adjoins Orman House, and has a butterfly garden, other botanical features, walkways and open spaces. The Three Soldiers Detail, a bronze replica of the Vietnam memorial statue in Washington, D.C., can also be viewed at the park.
15301 Perdido Key Drive
Perdido Key is a 247-acre barrier island near Pensacola on the Gulf of Mexico. Recreational activities include swimming, sunbathing and surf fishing. Covered picnic tables are also available. Boardwalks from the parking lot allow visitors to access the beach without causing damage to the dunes and beach vegetation.
2860 Ponce de Leon Springs Road
Ponce de Leon
This spring is named for Juan Ponce de León, who led the first Spanish expedition to Florida in 1513 searching for the “fountain of youth.” The main spring is a convergence of two underground water flows, that produce 14 million gallons of water per day. Recreational activities include walking, hiking, picnicking, and fishing. There are two self-guided nature trails that wind through a hardwood forest. Rangers also conduct seasonal guided walks.
148 Old Fort Road
This National Landmark dates back to 1528 when Panfilo de Narvaez arrived in the area with 300 men; however, the first fort was not built until 1679. Andrew Jackson occupied the fort for a brief time in the early 1800s. A self-guided trail and guided tours are available, as well as a picnic area, and both fresh and saltwater fishing. The park is open 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Thursday through Monday, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
4607 State Park Lane
St. Andrews State Park is a former military reservation, and has over 1.5 miles of beach on the Gulf of Mexico and Grand Lagoon. Recreational activities include swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, canoeing, and hiking along two nature trails. Two fishing piers, a jetty, and a boat ramp provide a variety of fishing opportunities. Full-facility campsites, and primitive youth group camping are also available. Shell Island Boat Tours are available during the spring and summer.
8899 Cape San Blas Road
Port St. Joe
This state park is located west of Port St. Joe on Cape San Blas. Recreational activities include sunbathing, snorkeling, swimming, fishing, bird watching and wildlife viewing. Two nature trails, a picnic area, playground, 119 family camp sites, youth group camping or primitive camping, and eight cabins that overlook St. Joe Bay are also available, as well as hiking in the 1,900-acre wilderness preserve. A permit is required to access the wilderness area and nature trail. A boat ramp which accommodates most trailered vessels is located at Eagle Harbor. Ranger programs can also be arranged.
12301 Gulf Beach Highway
Tarkiln Bayou can be observed via a boardwalk. Recreational activities also include picnicking and hiking. Visitors can also take a day-hike across the park to the Perdido River.
7908 Three Rivers Road
The Chattahoochee and Flint rivers converge to form Lake Seminole, the setting for Three Rivers State park. Recreational activities including hiking, picnicking, and fishing accessible by a boat ramp, or from a 100-foot pier in the camping area. Overnight visitors can stay in a full-facility campground next to the lake or in a modern cabin.
7525 West Scenic Highway 30A
Santa Rosa Beach
Topsail Hill Preserve boasts 3.2 miles of white sand beaches and 25 foot tall sand dunes. Recreational activities include hiking, biking, walking, sunbathing, beach combing, and bird watching. Shoreline freshwater fishing is provided on three coastal dune lakes. The Gregory E. Moore RV resort features a non-heated swimming pool and shuffleboard courts. Furnished bungalows are available for weekly stays, and a camp store offers a variety of camping items.
2576 N.W. Torreya Park Road
The park is named for a rare species of Torreya tree that only grows on the bluffs along the Apalachicola River. Recreational activities include camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird-watching. Over 100 species of birds have been spotted in the park. Forests of hardwood trees provide the best display of fall color found in Florida. The main campground offers full-facility campsites and a YURT (Year-round Universal Recreational Tent). Primitive campsites and a youth campground are also available. Ranger-guided tours of the Gregory House, a fully furnished plantation home built in 1849, are given at 10:00 a.m., EST on weekdays and 10:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m., EST on weekends and state holidays.
County Road 191
Santa Rosa County
The Yellow River Marsh Preserve is located in Santa Rosa County on Garcon Point, which separates Escambia Bay from Blackwater Bay. The preserve protects one of Florida’s last remaining tracts of wet prairie, including the largest community of pitcher plants in the state. There are no recreational facilities in the preserve, but the pitcher plant prairies offers a unique opportunity for photography and appreciation of nature. A small parking area, gazebo and public access point are located on Dickerson City Road.
Photos: Used with permission. Courtesy of Florida Division of Recreation and Parks, Tallahassee, FL