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WILDLIFE IN FLORIDA YOU’RE BOUND TO SEE
Wildlife in Florida is incredible. It is an irresistible place for visitors, from the best nature parks in Florida to observe wildlife to the best day hikes in Florida for outdoor adventures. Florida is a dream location for wildlife enthusiasts. The incredible array of habitats makes the sunshine state an ideal location to explore nature. In addition to numerous aquatic creatures and invertebrates like butterflies, the state is home to more than 700 terrestrial animals, 500 mammals and marines, and about 200 fish.
Florida’s outdoor life is also diverse and full of surprises. While enjoying the best day hikes in Florida, there is a good chance you will interact with an array of wading Florida birds, alligators, wild horses, and bison. Apart from wildlife in Florida, you will also see rare plants and trees, such as ancient cypress trees and orchids.
Follow our lead to the best nature parks in Florida to spot some very natural wildlife in Florida.
Best Nature Parks in Florida to Spot Wildlife
1. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
The wildlife refuge is among the best nature parks in Florida. Located near Cape Canaveral, the refuge has been protected for years by the sensitive space program operations happening at Kennedy Space Centre.
Sea turtles heave their enormous bodies onshore to lay eggs while manatees graze nearby at the rocket launch pads. The refuge occupying about 220 sq miles, you will see an array of wildlife species, including bald eagles, American alligators, manatees, roseate spoonbills, and 15 rare species like Florida’s Scrub-Jay.
Black Point Wildlife Drive is among the best and most accessible spots to observe wildlife in Florida at the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It maintains a 7-mile one-way road that will drive you through marshes and flatwood environments. You will have the opportunity to observe alligators, iconic Florida birds, and other wildlife.
As one of the best nature parks in Florida, it offers some best day hikes in Florida. Most of these hiking trails are short and perfect for family tours. These include:
· Visitor Center Boardwalk trail eases you into an introduction to different habitats.
· Oak Hammock hiking is truly a delight. You walk through a thicket of ferns under the shade of live oaks. On your way, you will spot plenty of armadillos roaming around.
· The Palm Hammock trail will introduce you to a lush green forest of saw palmettos.
· Wild Birds Unlimited trail is ideal for bird viewing. It is short and has multiple observation points to observe wildlife.
· Cruickshank trail is the longest hiking trail on Merritt Island, making a large loop off Black Point Drive.
2. Everglades National Park
In addition to housing some of the most incredible wildlife in Florida and hiking trails for the best day hikes in Florida, Everglades National Park also borders a frenetic metropolis like Miami. A short drive just south of the city and even remotely urban feels like a universe way.
Moreover, as one of the best nature parks in Florida, Everglades covers an expansive area of about 2,500 sq mi, including an alligator and snake-infested world that invites only the heartiest adventurers.
Anhinga Trail, which is a mile-long, is perfect for best day hikes. Paved trails and boardwalks will take you through sawgrass marsh, where you can get personal with residents, including alligators, cormorants, and some of the iconic birds in Florida like egrets and blue herons.
· Shark Valley Tram Trail is located in the heart of a freshwater marsh. It is paved and offers some best day hikes in Florida. You can enjoy walking, riding a bicycle, or taking a guiding tram tour.
· Gumbo Limbo Trail is also a paved but short, sweet trail that goes through a tropical forest. The self-guided trail leads you through an amazing forest packed with local flora and fauna.
· Mahogany Hammock Trail is another self-guided trail in Everglades. It will take you through a hardwood hammock to see an array of plant species.
3. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs
A part of a gigantic underwater springs and caves system, the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs state park is located west-northwest of Orlando. It is among the best nature parks in Florida and a winter home for Florida’s gentle giants – Florida manatees.
These endangered, slow-moving herbivores like the freshwater bubbling from central Florida springs. You will love its underwater viewing area known as the Fish Tank at the park. There, you can get personal with manatees and enjoy watching them swim, eat, and chill out.
The park is also a great spot to observe wildlife in Florida, including black bears, alligators, flamingos, and the oldest hippopotamus. However, these wild animals cannot be released back into the wild. You may also want to enjoy boat rides, picnic pavilions, and a café.
Moreover, Three Sister Springs, a part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, is just a few miles away from the park where you can legally swim with manatees.
Some of the best nature trails in Orlando at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Nature Park include:
· Homosassa Springs Boardwalk is an incredible trail that offers the best day hikes and showcases Florida’s native wildlife.
· Pepper Creek Trail leads you from the visitor center to another trailhead. From there, you can expand your hike by going on to a birdwatching boardwalk after buying a pass or getting their membership card.
4. Wekiwa Springs State Park
Known for its dazzling emerald waters, Wekiwa Springs State Park is more than floating in the spring. It is the best place to canoe or kayak down the waterways or enjoy overnight camping among its beautiful trees and river banks for kayak lovers.
As one of the best nature parks in Florida, Wekiwa Springs is also a great place to watch an array of Florida bird species. Visitors from around the state love watching colorful birds that call it home. Additionally, the place also offers the best day hikes in Florida.
Among some of the most amazing nature trails in Orlando, the park also feature three of the best hiking trails that take visitors around the Wekiwa Park to observe Florida wildlife and enjoy the sounds of nature.
Hiking trails at Wekiwa Spring State Park include:
· Volksmarch Trail will let you follow the orange blazes throughout the stunning forested route, passing by a scenic lake. A part of the Volksmarch trail also travels along the Florida trail.
· White Trail Loop is one of the amazing nature trails in Orlando. This long and scenic trail will let you enjoy a fun-filled multiday backpacking trip. However, keep in mind that the route can get muddy during wet conditions.
· Mill Creek Loop Trail is a sandy trail going through dunes and flatland ecosystems. You can see palmettos lining the path and a variety of wildlife along your way.
· Seminole Wekiwa Trail is the best for skating, biking, or running. The trail is well-maintained and has a fascinating history along the way.
5. Blue Spring State Park
Located about 45 minutes from Orlando Blue Spring, this park is stunning. The temperature here is constant at 72 degrees, making it a perfect summer spot for snorkeling, swimming, canoeing, scuba diving, or kayaking.
It is also the largest spring situated on the St. Johns River and is designated manatee refuge. For outdoors lovers, you may want to check out their campsites or cabins to rent for a couple of days and enjoy the hiking trails and crystal clear water.
For wildlife nerds, you can say hello to sea cows, an array of wading birds, eagles and kingfishers, and ospreys. You can hike along the 4.5-mile Pine Island Trail for the best day hikes in Florida.
· Pine Island Trail is one of the best nature trails in Orlando that meanders through a scrub forest.
· Blue Spring Campground Trail leads you to the main area. The majority of the area is shaded, and you will see plenty of wildlife.
· Boardwalk Trail runs parallel to Blue Springs Run and allows tourists to stop along the way at multiple viewing points to observe turtles, manatees, and other sea life.
6. J.N Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge
Known for a wide variety of wading and resident birds, J.N Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge is located just off the coast of Fort Myers. For birdwatching lovers, you should know that over 245 species of birds either pass through or nest here.
You will see refuge stars, roseate spoonbills, bald eagles, white pelicans, and plenty of herons. For those visiting the refuge with families, you can challenge your kids to find nesting yellow-crown night herons who make their nests over alligator habitats.
Being one of the best nature parks in Florida, the refuge also features about a 4-mile wildlife drive, which is open for walkers, vehicles, and bikes. Visitors interested in birdwatching and nature will feel right at home. While visiting the wildlife refuge, start from the visitor center to get information and hands-on display.
· The Indigo trail at the wildlife refuge offers the opportunity to enjoy the best day hikes in Florida. This hiking and biking trail looks more beautiful when you see an array of colorful birds.
· Bailey Tract trails are made of hard-packed shell pitch patches, which are best for running and biking. Since the majority of these trails are exposed to the sun, and shaded spots are rare, don’t miss taking plenty of water with you.
· Captiva Conservation Trail provides you the opportunity to explore Sanibel Island. The trail is paved and runs about 22 miles. You can visit wildlife centers, shops, restaurants, and beach areas along the way.
7. Silver Springs State Park
There are hundreds of best nature parks in Florida built around springs, and all of them look terrific. However, Silver Springs State Park has its own charm and attraction. Starting with the stunning spring, it is Florida’s main tourist attraction, where glass-bottom boating trips originated more than a hundred years ago.
Those glass-bottom tours are still there, and the electric boats gliding inaudibly around the spring enable visitors to peer into the clear, deep waters to get personal with different species of fish.
For wildlife enthusiasts, you won’t find a waterway with more varied and easy-to-see wildlife, from manatees to wild monkeys to otters to alligators to a range of colorful birds. Moreover, the scenery along is just out of this world.
While the park houses some of the best cabins and marvelous shaded ground, you can also find incredible hiking trails. Nearby, you can visit the Ocala National Forest to view wildlife in Florida and enjoy kayaking and hiking adventures.
· Swamp Trail is a forested trail that leads you to stunning views of the river. It also features a boardwalk that runs over the swamp. It is well-maintained, easy to navigate, and offers one of the best day hikes in Florida.
· Silver Spring River Trail is another nature trail that you can visit. GPS can lead you to the wrong trailhead, so it is best to search for Silver Spring Museum to find the trailhead.
· Sinkhole Trail is another well-maintained trail with plenty of wildlife around to see. The amenities you can use there include pavilions with grills, restrooms, a play area, and a visitor center.
8. Myakka River State Park
When talking about wildlife in Florida, Myakka River State Park is another excellent spot. The park has everything from excellent kayaking to wildlife to the best day hikes in Florida. You can spend weeks and not run out of things. There are some of the biggest alligators I have seen, and in huge numbers.
Moreover, an array of colorful birds, including roseate spoonbills, also contributes to making it one of the best nature parks in Florida. Myakka would be a terrific place for biking and hiking adventures. The park also features campgrounds and historic palm-tree log cabins.
While the historic CCC buildings are cool, the wealthy socialite Bertha Palmer had a ranch here. While hiking, you can pass its site and might see some broken pottery shards and more as evidence of history.
· From the top, William S Boylston Trail offers a view that you don’t want to miss. Along the way, there’s plenty of shade throughout. You will have the opportunity to view local flora and fauna as well.
· Myakka Hiking Trail has a long loop that offers an excellent opportunity for multiday hiking trips. Along with the trail, the highlights travel through an array of ecosystems with an abundance of local flora and fauna.
· Ranch House Road is a wide old road that offers a short but pretty hike. It runs through the prairie and is an excellent option for those with dogs.
9. Bahia Honda State Park
The Florida Keys also have some amazing state parks, but Bahia Honda is something else. The beachfront Sandspur Campground is reopened after being damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017. The park also houses campgrounds and cabins. However, the only issue is both campgrounds and cabins are incredibly popular, and you have to do a whole project out of acquiring reservations.
Even for a day trip, the park is worth visiting. Calusa Beach is a stunning crescent-shaped, white sand beach with crystal clear water. Snorkelers can observe magnificent sea life. Kayaking over the clear water is so fun.
The old saddleback Bahia Honda Bridge is the park’s centerpiece, and we love admiring it. The bridge is also the most challenging one built by Henry Flagler’s Overseas Railroad in the 20th century.
The park used to have an incredible loop through a rare silver palm hammock. However, the last time we checked in (2020), it hadn’t reopened. The only signposted trail we saw was the Bahia Honda Bridge, letting visitors find stunning vistas of clear water and sandy beaches.
10. Lake Kissimmee State Park
Located in cow country, Lake Kissimmee State Park has a lake and paddle trails for biking and hiking. There is also a quiet, shady campground where you might see bald eagles, sandhill cranes, deer, wild turkeys, and maybe a bobcat.
With plenty of attractions at this family-friendly state park, Lake Kissimmee State Park is one of the best nature parks in Florida. It is hard to pick the main attraction, but if you were to choose one, it would be the living history of early Florida “cow hunters.”
Moreover, there is plenty of open space, three lakes for paddling, and the best nature trails. Since the park is in a remote area, visitors are allowed to spread out and enjoy themselves without any interference.
· Buster Island Loop is a well-maintained loop that runs clockwise and provides shade in the latter portion. The first portion is exposed and leads you to a forested area. The area is abundant with Florida wildlife, and you might get the opportunity to observe many diverse species.
· North Loop is half-exposed and half-shaded. The area is abundant with Florida wildlife, so be on the lookout to see an array of species.
· Gobbler Ridge trail offers some of the best day hikes in Florida. Instead of a single-track, the trail runs on a forest road. The oak hammocks and coastal prairie offer a haven for Florida wildlife.
Wildlife in Florida is so incredible that you can spend weeks. The state has hundreds of the best nature parks that offer the best day hikes. Above are some of the best nature parks in Florida that you should visit to observe wildlife, sea life, and colorful birds closely.