The 15 Best Places to Visit in Florida for Nature Lovers in 2024

Throughout my Florida travels, I have found that there is no shortage of amazing ways to experience nature in this state. From diverse ecosystems to stunning beaches, the Sunshine State has so ways to feel connected to the Earth. Whether you want a swim in the sea or a hike in the forest, this blog post has all the best places to visit in Florida for nature lovers.

I have highlighted fifteen different locations that Florida nature lovers should prioritize visiting. These areas all have something unique to offer that is hard to find anywhere else in the world. I have divided it up into South, Central, and North Florida to more easily determine your ideal location. Though there are many more than fifteen awesome places to see nature in Florida, these are the places I have identified as the best.

nature lover destinations in Florida

Places to Visit in South Florida for Nature Lovers

When many think of South Florida, they think of partying on Miami Beach, however, this part of the state is actually a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. With its unique blend of tropical and subtropical ecosystems, South Florida has so many places to visit for nature lovers, including the state’s three national parks! These first five destinations take full advantage of the South Florida ecosystem.

1. Everglades National Park

First off, every nature lover needs to visit the iconic Everglades National Park. This vast wetland has one of the most unique ecosystems in the world and includes nine distinct habitats. Here you can find all sorts of fascinating creatures, including alligators, manatees, and so many species of birds. This is even the only place on earth where both alligators and crocodiles coexist in the wild!

There are five different visitor centers where you can access different parts of the Everglades from. If you are going on an Everglades-focused trip, I would stay in Miami Beach or Fort Lauderdale and travel to either the Shark Valley or Flamingo Visitor Center. These both offer in-depth tours and a chance to see what makes the Everglades unique. You can even camp here if you want a really authentic experience, but make sure to bring bug spray!

everglades alligator sighting rotated

2. Key West

  • Where to Stay: Key West Floating Home
  • Things to Do: Dry Tortugas National Park, Bahia Honda State Park, Butterfly Garden, Turtle Hospital

Key West is a party destination that has a bit of a wildlife side as well. Nature lovers should definitely plan a road trip down to the Keys to experience this island paradise. The number one attraction is checking out Dry Tortugas National Park. Here you can explore the historic fort and snorkel in the crystal-clear waters.

This is not the only outdoorsy experience you can find in Key West. I also recommend visiting Bahia Honda State Park. This state park has one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen and even has a campground. Round off the trip with a visit to the Key West Butterfly Garden and the Marathon Key Turtle Hospital to learn about the creatures that reside in the Florida Keys.

things to do in the florida keys

3. Key Largo

  • Where to Stay: Bayside Cottage
  • Things to Do: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Biscayne National Park, Kayaking

Scuba enthusiasts will want to plan a trip to Key Largo, as you could spend weeks exploring the stunning reefs here. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park is the first undersea park in the United States and is home to tropical fish and sea turtles. However, you can also appreciate it by snorkeling or taking a glass-bottom boat tour.

In addition to snorkeling, diving, and fishing, Key Largo is also an excellent destination to visit the third Florida National Park, Biscayne National Park. This is a protected ocean area where you can enjoy boating, snorkeling, and paddling. I highly recommend taking a tour as well, to learn about this part of the Sunshine State.

sea turtle scuba diving florida

4. Fort Myers

  • Where to Stay: Buckingham Preserve Cabin
  • Things to Do: Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades Gulf Coast Visitors Center, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, Lovers Key State Park

Over on the gulf coast, Fort Myers makes for an excellent place to visit in Florida for nature lovers. This charming beach town has all sorts of state parks, beautiful beaches, and even an Everglades entrance to check out. The highlight is nearby Big Cypress National Preserve where one can spend days hiking and camping through the cypress swamps.

For hiking and exploring, I would also prioritize the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, which is a paradise for birders, and the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve. This short boardwalk packs a big punch with so much wildlife to see along the trails. Make sure to look for roseate spoonbills, otters, alligators, and turtles on these trails. Of course, beach lovers will also be happy with its miles of white sand stretches. My favorite spot is Lovers Key State Park, which even has a great dog beach for pet parents to bring their fur babies to.

southern fresh farms fort myers

5. West Palm Beach

  • Where to Stay: Headwaters Eco Retreat
  • Things to Do: Scuba Diving, Blue Heron Bridge, John D. MacArthur State Park, Coral Cove Park, Palm Beach Zoo, McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary, Manatee Lagoon, Loggerhead Marine Life Center, Mounts Botanical Garden

Last, but not least, West Palm Beach and Jupiter offer a thrilling destination for nature lovers to visit. This is my absolute favorite place to scuba dive in Florida, with charters or shore dives at Blue Heron Bridge making it easy to spot plenty of wildlife in the clear water. There is also a plethora of secluded and natural beaches like John D. MacArthur State Park and Coral Cove Park.

On land, flora and fauna enthusiasts can find plenty to enjoy. The Palm Beach Zoo is a wonderful place to see animals of all kinds. There is also the McCarthy’s Wildlife Sanctuary where animal lovers can learn about the rescued inhabitants. Manatee sightings are frequent at the Manatee Lagoon. And if you do not see turtles while scuba diving, you can visit the Loggerheard Marine Life Center and observe the turtle patients. I would be remiss not to mention the Mounts Botanical Garden where you can spend the day touring and picnicking surrounded by native plants. Though West Palm Beach does not have a reputation for being a nature-focused destination, it is actually great for families or adventurous adults.

Jupiter Florida from Above

Central Florida Destinations for Outdoorsy People

Next up, my home of Central Florida is not be overlooked. This touristy part of the state still has plenty of pristine beaches and hidden gem state parks that make for an amazing nature experience. You can see both native species in the wild or get up close and personal with any animal at theme parks. Here are my top recommendations for checking out the Central Florida nature.

6. Orlando

Despite all its theme parks, Orlando is a surprisingly wonderful place to get in touch with the natural side of Florida. Not only is it easy to get to, but it is also a hub less than an hour from beaches, freshwater springs, and state parks. I recommend prioritizing a day at the springs so you can paddle through, swim in, and even snorkel some of the most beautiful parts of Florida. Blue Springs State Park, DeLeon Springs, and Wekiwa Springs are my top picks.

In addition to the spring, there are plenty of other spots to visit for hiking, biking, and relaxing. Lake Louisa State Park in Clermont is a short drive away for those who want to hike or explore six gorgeous lakes and Little Big Econ is ideal for nature explorations or mountain biking. I also love touring gardens like the Leu Gardens and the Bok Tower Gardens, where you can find unique flowers, birds, and trees. Of course, even the theme parks do offer a taste of nature, with Gatorland being an especially big stand-out. This is the ideal way to see the famous Florida reptiles without getting too close to the wild!

blue springs state park

7. Crystal River

No longer endangered, the Florida manatees are a beloved marine mammal worth seeing up close. Crystal River is THE place to go and do just that, with thousands of them migrating here in the winter. To see them in their natural habitat, visit Crystal River between December and February for the nature experience of a lifetime. You can do clear kayak tours or snorkel tours and come inches away from a sea cow yourself!

However, even if it’s not manatee season, Crystal River is still one of the best places to visit in Florida for nature lovers. It’s a hidden gem that’s pretty undeveloped so you can visit a bunch of nearby state parks. I especially like to spend some time at the nearby Rainbow Springs and Homosassa Springs. The summer is also an excellent time to visit, as you can book scalloping charters. They are easy to harvest in the summer and afterward, you can enjoy a feast from the fruits of your labor!

crystal river watersports manatee swim

8. Cape Canaveral

  • Where to Stay: Beach Places Guesthouses
  • Things to Do: Turtle Nesting Tour, Canaveral National Seashore, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Bioluminescent Tour, Sunset Cruise

Whether you love beaches or wildlife, Cape Canaveral should be on your radar. In the summer, these beaches welcome thousands of turtles that lay their eggs right on the shore. You can even take a turtle-watching tour and see this spectacle for yourself! If relaxing is more your thing, the Canaveral National Seashore is still not to be missed. This park has over twenty-four miles of pristine beaches and is one of the most untouched stretches of sand in Florida.

Nearby, the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is another must-visit. Birdwatchers love it and you can look for the over 500 species that live here. There is also hiking, a wildlife drive, and places to kayak and see manatees. To top it off, visit during a new moon for an enchanting bioluminescent experience. This is an amazing place to kayak or paddle board through the water and see the plankton light up the sea like something out of Avatar. If you rather have a relaxing boat ride, Sail Cocoa Beach offers charters that go through secluded mangrove areas and past a bird island. For unique nature experiences, Cape Canaveral has most places in Florida beat!

sunset and bioluminescence kayaking

9. St. Petersburg

  • Where to Stay: Sea Turtle Bungalow
  • Things to Do: Fort De Soto, Shell Key Wildlife Preserve, Weedon Island Preserve, Boyd Hill Nature Preserve, Sunken Gardens

Though I love visiting St. Petersburg for its artsy downtown and abundant craft breweries, the nature side of it is also striking. A beachside stay here is perfect for exploring islands, looking for dolphins, and going fishing. Fort De Soto Park is most known for a reason. This park has gorgeous beaches (including a dog-friendly one), an ancient fort to explore, and scenic hiking trails However, beach lovers should also kayak or boat to the Shell Key Wildlife Preserve for amazing ocean views and crazy shell finds.

Those interested in hiking will want to visit Weedon Island Preserve and Boyd Hill Nature Preserve to venture through the wetlands. These are wonderful destinations for birding and forest bathing. No matter what you are into, I recommend everyone visit The Sunken Gardens. This botanical oasis has so many cool trees, flowers, birds, and even a koi pond to see. You will be shocked to know that it is right in the center of the city but Florida nature has a way of sneaking in all around.

sunken gardens tour

North Florida Nature-Focused Places

Finally, the northern part of the state also offers a plethora of destinations that nature lovers will adore. The weather tends to be cooler up here so it makes it even better for hiking as well! From the panhandle to Jacksonville, here are my recommendations of outdoorsy North Florida places to check out.

10. Ocala National Forest

  • Where to Stay: Salt Springs A-Frame
  • Things to Do: The Florida Trail, St. Francis Trail, Alexander Springs, Silver Springs, Salt Springs

Hikers should plan a visit to Ocala National Forest. Covering over 600 square miles, the Ocala National Forest is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. You can access many of the trails while staying in downtown Ocala or Mount Dora, or by getting especially close to nature while camping or staying in a cabin. Some trails to prioritize include The Florida Trail, the St. Francis Trail, and Alexander Springs Loop.

Another highlight of the Ocala National Forest is the abundance of crystal-clear springs.  The most famous of these springs is Silver Springs, a natural wonder that has been attracting visitors since the 19th century. Here, you can take a glass-bottom kayak tour, which offers a unique view of the underwater world below, or explore the surrounding trails and wildlife. This is an especially popular place for animal fanatics as you can see local species like alligators, bald eagles, and osprey. 

ft lauderdale nature hikes

11. Panama City Beach

  • Where to Stay: Beach Getaway Condo
  • Things to Do: Beaches, St. Andrews State Park, Shell Island, Camp Helen State Park

Over on the Panhandle, the vibrant city of Panama City Beach offers more than meets the eye. From protected natural areas to diverse ecosystems teeming with wildlife, this is not just a Florida spring break destination.

One of the most popular natural attractions in the area is the 1,200-acre St. Andrews State Park. Here you can hike along scenic nature trails that lead to picturesque overlooks and encounter native wildlife along the way. This park also is perfect for kayakers who can visit Shell Island and search for unique shells or snorkel in the crystal-clear waters to spot colorful fish.

Another hidden gem waiting to be discovered is Camp Helen State Park. The trails here should be a priority for anyone looking to hike, as well as birding enthusiasts. While visiting, keep an eye out for migratory birds, turtles, and other wildlife that call this diverse ecosystem home. Between the beaches, these state parks, and camping opportunities, Panama City Beach is the perfect destination for anyone in the South looking to enjoy Florida’s nature.

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12. Alachua

I could sing the praises of Alachua as a great place for nature lovers all day! We had an especially wonderful nature trip here during covid where we felt immersed in the land. We stayed in a tiny home that offered a camping-esque experience of seclusion with modern amenities.

This part of North Florida offers so much in the ways of hiking, swimming, or paddling. You need to check out Payne’s Prairie Preserve, which is a Florida savannah home to plentiful gators birds, and even free-roaming bison! Hikers will enjoy the trails of Devil’s Millhopper Geological Park and paddlers can find half a dozen or so springs to kayak through in High Springs. Staying in Alachua puts you right in the center of some swampy Florida action, and still close to a variety of excellent restaurants and shops too.

gilchrist blue springs

13. Flagler Beach

  • Where to Stay: Island Cottage Inn
  • Things to Do: Beaches, Bulow Creek State Park, Washington Oaks Garden

Many come to Florida seeking out a small beach town away from the hustle and bustle. For this I always recommend Flagler Beach with has experiences for beach bums and nature lovers to enjoy! It boasts miles of pristine sandy shores that provide an idyllic setting for connecting with the natural world. You will often find sea turtles and shorebirds here as well! I recommend staying at a dreamy BnB like Island Cottage Inn, to get away from the hustle and bustle of life.

To get some hiking in, I recommend taking a break from the beach and visiting Bulow Creek State Park. This ancient live oak forest is filled with gorgeous cypress trees and is ripe for exploring. The sugar mill ruins add to this feeling by letting you explore this historic site! Lastly, everyone will enjoy a leisurely stroll through the Washington Oaks Garden. The colorful roses here are not to be missed and as part of the Florida Birding Trail, you are bound to see some colorful avians!

flagler beach bed and breakfast access

14. St. Augustine

  • Where to Stay: 2 Bedroom Vilano Beach Townhome
  • Things to Do: Anastasia State Park, Alligator Farm Zoological Park, Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve, Faver-Dykes State Park

Known for its rich history and charming atmosphere, St. Augustine is also a dream come true for nature lovers. From scenic parks to stunning beaches, St. Augustine boasts a diverse range of natural wonders that will leave you awe-inspired. My favorite beach is Anastasia State Park which not only has an unspoiled shoreline but also biking trails and paddleboarding opportunities.

I especially recommend going to the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. Not only can you see so many incredible kinds of gators and crocs, but there is a huge rookery where you can see all sorts of birds nesting and chicks! The best time to go is February through July and you can find the schedule here.

For hiking, biking, or kayaking, St. Augustine is close to many more natural areas. Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve encompasses over 73,000 acres of diverse ecosystems, including salt marshes, tidal creeks, and upland hammocks that are ripe for exploring. Faver-Dykes State Park is another peaceful retreat to bookmark and you can hike through lush forests or canoe along scenic Pellicer Creek. Of course, there is plenty of history to see around here, but do not overlook the natural aspects of St. Augustine!

alligator farm st. augustine

15. Apalachicola National Forest

  • Where to Stay: Whippoorwill Lodge
  • Things to Do: Camel Lake, Leon Sinks Geological Area, Big Bend State Scenic Byway, Silver Lake Recreation Area

I have saved the most adventurous option for last. Just west of Tallahassee, Apalachicola National Forest is the largest forest in Florida, with over 571,000 acres of wilderness to explore. You can hike the park’s trails, go fishing, or take a scenic drive through the forest. There are few hotels in the area, so you will either want to find an RV or go camping. Camping is allowed anywhere in the forest except during hunting season (November through January).

At this national forest, you can find short hiking trails, like the Camel Lake or Leon Sinks Interpretive Trails, or take on parts of the 1,400-mile Florida National Scenic Trail. Thrill Seekers can also enjoy mountain biking or ATV-ing on the trails here. Silver Lake and Wright Lake are two refreshing options for jumping in and cooling off on hot days. Though this seems out of the way for many, this area is a huge protected piece of land for a reason! Anyone who visits will be awestruck by the pristine waterways, ancient trees, and diverse wildlife.

kissimmee prairie preserve nature

Know Before You Go: The Best Places to Visit in Florida for Nature Lovers

Florida is a treasure trove for nature lovers, offering a perfect blend of natural beauty, biodiversity, and outdoor adventures. Whether you’re exploring the untouched beaches, wandering through enchanting gardens, or immersing yourself in the wetlands, you will never run out of options for adventures. I hope this list grace you an idea of somewhere new to explore! Before checking out any of these places to visit in Florida for nature lovers, remember the following tips.

  • If you are taking a nature-focused Florida vacation, I recommend visiting November through April. Summers and Falls can be very hot and have lots of thunderstorms. Whatever you do, try and avoid August and September, because there is always a risk of hurricanes occurring then!
  • Whenever you are venturing out, be sure to bring sunscreen, insect repellent, a hat, comfortable shoes, a reusable water bottle, and snacks. Florida’s sun can be intense, so protecting your skin and staying hydrated is crucial for a pleasant and safe experience in nature. Check out my Florida Packing Guide for more tips.
  • When encountering wildlife, maintain a respectful distance and observe from afar. Remember, you are a visitor in their natural habitat, so never approach, feed, or disturb them. Respect their space and behavior, and always prioritize their well-being.
  • Practice Leave No Trace Principles by packing out what you pack in, disposing of trash properly, and following any posted guidelines for preserving the environment.

What’s your favorite nature spot in Florida? Mine is the Everglades! For more ideas for unique things to do in Florida, check out my Florida Bucket List.

the best places to visit in Florida for Nature Lovers

Check out this flow chart to help determine which nature trip to take next!

places to go in Florida for a nature trip guide