Visiting natural Florida

Florida might be privy to some of the best beaches and theme parks in the world, but this state also offers untouched landscapes of the more laid-back variety. We’re talking Florida State Parks – of which there are an incredible 161 in total – plus the uber-famous Everglades National Park. The latter is the one you’ve seen in films, with airboats whizzing down narrow waterways as crocodiles and alligators slip up to the surface.

Florida’s natural landscape is in a league of its own, and well-worth the journey once you’ve been down every ride and taken pictures with every character at the Walt Disney World Resort. Here are a few of our top picks to see some of Florida’s stunning scenery.

Everglades National Park

The Everglades National Park is one of the largest in the United States, covering more than 1.5 million acres of land in southern Florida. Located an hour and a half outside of Fort Myers, this park is everything it’s cracked up to be. It’s home to a network of waterways, wetlands and forests, hundreds of animal and bird species, and some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the entire state.

Such a diverse park allows for a wide breadth of activities, too. The airboats you see gliding down mossy canals in films are the real deal here, but they’re not the only way to get around. You can kayak or canoe, hire a bicycle to circle around the 24-kilometre loop in Shark Valley or hike through any number of trails cutting through the dense vegetation.

And the Everglades wouldn’t be the Everglades without its most famous residents – crocodiles and alligators. Spotting them skulking through the reeds is far from uncommon here, with many tours devoted exclusively to this task. All in all, there are 36 endangered or threatened animals that can be found in the Everglades National Park, including the Florida panther, four species of sea turtles and the West Indian manatee.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Homosassa Springs has been a tourist hotspot for more than a hundred years, and a home for animals in showbiz, but is now a property of the Florida parks system. It’s located about an hour and a half’s drive north of Clearwater.

With its underwater and floating observatories, it’s listed as being one of the best places in the state to view manatees. It’s also known for its population of black bears, bobcats, river otters and a hippopotamus called Lu, who’s known for his film appearances over the last 40 years.

Crystal River Preserve State Park

The Crystal River Preserve State Park is an amazing example of what Florida might have looked like over the past few hundreds of years. It covers more than 27,000 acres of land, which includes pinewoods, forests, islands and salt marshes, among other landscapes. Just north of Homosassa Springs, this patch of protected land is virtually untouched.

Activities here include hiking or biking along 11 kilometres of trails, fishing at the Mullet Hole or wildlife-watching from a boat tour. There are turtles and bald eagles, manatees and storks that frequent these parts.

Caladesi Island State Park

Caladesi Island State Park is one of the few remaining natural islands along Florida’s Gulf Coast, located just above Clearwater. It offers holidaymakers a peaceful day in the great outdoors.

The island has all the amenities of a beach spot – with the whole award-winning white sand beach and all. But on top of this is a five-kilometre nature trail and an additional five-kilometre kayak trail through mangroves and into the bay, each offering opportunities to spot local wildlife along the way.

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