It’s no secret that Florida is great destination for families, but parents make the mistake of bypassing the natural beauty of the state. The “Sunshine State” is one of the most fascinating destinations on the planet, and Florida National Parks are living proof of it. There’s so much for kids to explore – from deep caverns and botanical gardens, crystal-clear springs, mesmerizing flowing rivers, and untouched islands you can explore on foot. See why you’ve got to add a visit to one of these parks to your family’s next Florida vacation.
Believe it or not, our family starting to seek out fun at Florida National Parks because my oldest is an alligator fanatic. The state does an awesome job at catering to families through educational programs and lodging that’s designed with kids in mind. Adding the parks to our family vacations has added so many great memories.
From kayaking through mangrove mazes to spotting alligators on glass-bottom boats or going in search of the next island on a park that’s 99 percent water, there’s just so many incredible things to do with kids in the state’s parks. The best part? Kids of all ages will be interested in going.
I promise that you can find thrills for your teenagers, ranger programs designed for grade school kids and even discovery opportunities for little ones. Your Florida family vacation itinerary is about to get a lot more exciting, without adding much to the price tag!
Florida National Parks Perfect For Visiting With Kids
If you’re a National Park newbie, you might want to check out purchasing an “America The Beautiful” National Parks & Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass. The pass covers entrance, standard amenity fees and day use fees – for more than 2,000 federal recreational lands. It’s a great deal if you’re planning to visit multiple national parks with in a calendar year – and Florida is the perfect state for that, since some of these are within driving distance.
Families can also download the National Park Services app on their smartphone. It’s full of interactive maps, accessibility information and travel tips. It’s constantly being updated by park rangers and it’s a great tool to have at your fingertips while you’re exploring the parks with kids.
Biscayne National Park
Think beyond Key West when it comes to family fun in the Florida Keys. Find beach and nature recreational activities in the keys. Biscayne National Park is set 95% underwater, which pretty much means you need to go below the surface to truly experience it. This is a great destination if your kids are trained swimmers.
A day spent snorkeling or scuba diving is the best way to explore under Biscayne’s waves, but if you’d rather not get wet, you can also book a glass-bottom boat tour which will give you the chance to see below the surface. Coral reefs, schools of fish and emerald water are just a few things for families to enjoy.
While 95% of the park is set underwater, the remaining 5% that’s actually set on land is also worth exploring! The rest of the park is made up of small islands spread all over, where you’ll find epic hiking trails, unparalleled wildlife sightings, and sunset views so good you’ll wish you could linger a while longer!
Every year, the park hosts a Family Fun Fest which offers hands-on activities for all generations to enjoy. Stories, games and themed dress up is part of the fun that families can expect when attending.
- Entry fee: Free
- Best time to visit: December to February in terms of weather, but you can expect the park to get a bit busier during this time compared to spring.
- Closest airport: Miami International Airport or Key West International Airport
Everglades Florida National Park
The Everglades is so much more than a swamp! Quite likely Florida’s most famous national park, there’s a whole lot more to the Everglades than most would think. Home to a whopping 15 million acres of pure wilderness, the park boasts a humongous array of subtropical ecosystems, including mangroves, marine, coastal lowlands, and so much more.
While alligators are the keystone species of Everglades, the entire park is home to an incredible variety of wildlife (here’s a fun fact for you: Everglades is the only place on the planet where alligators and crocodiles co-exist!)
While most people explore the Everglades by going on a scenic drive, the best way to go beyond the main sights and get close and personal with the nature around is by either hitting a few hiking trails (the Eco Pond Trail is great for flamingo sightings and the Anhinga Trail is another incredible pick if you’re brave enough to encounter alligators up close). Another must is booking a boat tour in the Gulf Coast area to get to know the life around Everglade’s water, including manatees and dolphins!
If you’ve kids who are interested in learning more about the Everglades land, I suggest booking a ranger tour. They’re offered year round and give guests an up-close experience. You’ll see more with a ranger, that you might’ve missed had you been exploring without them. Plus, the kids can ask whatever questions they have!
- Entry fee: $30 per vehicle
- Best time to visit: November to March for wildlife sightings and bird-watching. Moreover, water levels are low during these months, which makes hiking trails and several other activities more accessible.
- Closest airport: Miami International Airport
Dry Tortugas Florida National Park
Be Instagram-ready with Crystal-clear turquoise waters and palm-fringed beaches. You don’t need to jet set to the Maldives or Bora Bora to find paradise-like beaches because Dry Tortugas National Park has all of that.
If you’ve never heard of Dry Tortugas, it’s an off-the-beaten-path park that most Floridians don’t even know about. 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. That also leads to pristine untouched natural areas.
Dry Tortugas is only accessible via ferry or seaplane, and because most people can’t be bothered to endure the journey, your chances of getting it all to yourself are pretty high. Since this Florida National Park is bit more challenging to travel to, I recommend this park for tweens and teens.
There are no restaurants, water, fuel or food at the park. So plan ahead like you’re going to be camping, even if you’re just going for the day.
Dry Tortugas National Park is 99% water, with the remaining 1% constituting seven small islands spread all over. While visiting, you can snorkel in search of untouched coral reefs, find the colors of the rainbow in the sea life, or simply count how many different species of animals you can find in the depths below (sharks, sea turtles, coral, lobsters, octopus, and tropical reef fishes, to name just a few!)
Add the Junior Ranger program to your park trip itinerary. Dry Tortugas offers two Junior Ranger programs for kids. One explores the history of Fort Jefferson and the other teaches about the underwater habitats of the park. It’s a double opportunity to earn badges.
- Entry fee: $15 per person
- 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.
- Closest airport: Miami International Airport
Gulf Islands National Seashore
Stretching along the Gulf Coast from western Florida and into Mississippi, this 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 Florida side of the Gulf Islands is found in the miles of pristine shores, many of which are completely unspoiled and absolutely uncrowded. Relax in complete solitude – well – try to with the kids around.
Another highlight for those who enjoy exploring on foot is the mezzanine of trails leading to mountain top viewpoints, lighthouses, and forts that act as reminders of the First Nations and pioneer past.
Check out the event calendar prior to your trip. Kids will love the Campfire With A Ranger. It’s only 45-minutes and includes time around the campfire (s’mores anyone?) for educational Q&A sessions.
- Entry fee: $15 per person
- Best time to visit: Any time of the year is great!
- Closest airport: Pensacola International Airport
Visiting Florida National Parks with kids is a wonderful way to make memories as a family. Some of these designations might be a little more tough to get to, but they’re all worth your time. Just be open to exploring with kids, learning about wildlife and stumbling on amazing adventures.
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