A Florida National Parks Bucket List
Arts & Culture
When most people think of the National Parks, their mind goes out West-Utah Big 5, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone or Yosemite, but the Florida National Parks should not be missed. They offer a great experience and can be done in a week’s time! We found these amazing bucket-list items on a road trip through Everglades National Park, Miami, Biscayne National Park, Key West and Dry Tortugas National Park! This is also great family-friendly option!
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Where to stay in Florida
Cheeca Lodge & Spa
Lush and ultra-comfortable Florida Keys accommodation with extensive gardens and numerous pools for the whole family to enjoy.
1 Hotel South Beach
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Kimpton Lighthouse Hotel
A vibrant boutique gem offering personalized service, chic decor, and an intimate atmosphere in the heart of Key West.
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Things to do in Florida
Get up close and personal with an alligator
Our first stop on our Florida National Parks Road Trip was Everglades National Park! Of course, the most sought-after animal while visiting (for us, anyways) was an alligator. We definitely wanted to see some wildlife, well, in the wild & we definitely got to do that! There are over 200,000 alligators in the Everglades.
To do this we highly recommend taking a bike ride around the Shark Valley Loop. This 15-mile loop is such a cool way to really experience the Everglades. There is so much wildlife to see: birds, snakes and, of course, gators! I definitely was nervous that I would be too scared to bike within feet of these powerful creatures and it was definitely an adrenaline rush each time we saw one. But overall, I felt very safe and this is something that I would highly recommend. We saw only two on the way to the watch tower (We took the windy clockwise direction first). I was a little bummed, but then we ran into a family who said, “Oh just wait until you get to the other side, we lost count there were so many!” and they were so right! Plus, they pointed out that there was a rare crocodile sighting from the top of the tower. Right again. We had the most incredible time on this excursion.
A Few Tips
The bike ride is 15-miles (almost exact!) It definitely is crowded for the first mile by the visitor’s center, but this thins out quickly and it seemed like we had a slice of the Everglades to ourselves (during busy December season!) We bike quite a bit & with a stop to check out the view at the tower this took us just over 2 hours!
Bring Sunscreen, Water and a hat. We luckily went on a beautiful 68-degree day and it was perfect, but when the sun came out in the afternoon it did get pretty warm! There is no shade on the trail and you will want to prepare for this!
Please respect the wildlife. This is their home. Close to the visitor’s center, we saw people getting SO close to the gators. They are wild animals and unpredictable! A picture is not worth your life!
Bike Rentals sell out quickly (they do reserve a few for first-come, first-serve)! We were lucky enough to take my parents’ bikes and this was awesome because we could walk right into the park and didn’t have to wait in any lines!
An America the Beautiful Pass is a great way to save money if you plan on seeing more than one park in a year!
Ride an Airboat
There are only three authorized companies to do an airboat tour through the National Park System-Check out the NPS website for more information. We wanted to do an authentic tour, so chose one of the above, Everglades Safari Park. With COVID protocols, and to keep our group safe, we chose to do a private tour. We were SO happy we chose this because we felt like we got to see things firsthand. Our guide was amazing and this was one of our top experiences at a National Park thus far. We not only enjoyed seeing the gators, but loved the experience of gliding over the water (it was really smooth, in case you’re wondering about going while pregnant like I was), taking in the views of the wetlands and seeing the other wildlife (birds and turtles). This would be a very fun activity with kids!
Kayak Biscayne National Park
Did you know 95% of Biscayne National Park is underwater? We were stoked for our Kayaking tour through the mangroves but the weather was not our friend. The morning of our tour, the winds were too high and our excursion was canceled. This puts getting out on the water on our list for something to do when we return. We were still able to stop at the visitor’s center and check out the bay from land.
Drive Highway 1 down the Keys - After our quick stop at Biscayne, we made the trek down the keys on Highway 1. This is a very scenic drive that everyone must do on a true Florida road trip!
Take a Sea Plane (or Ferry) to Dry Tortugas
There are only a few ways to get to Dry Tortugas National Park, making it one of the least visited. This is not because of its lack of beauty. Dry Tortugas quickly went to the top of the list of our favorite parks. On this trip, we booked our trip to the Tortugas on The Yankee Freedom Ferry, which is a great day trip from Key West. Although we had a really nice time, to make it bucket-list worthy, taking the seaplane would be the way to go!
Stargaze at Fort Jefferson
The only way to possibly do this would be to camp overnight on Dry Tortugas Island. We immediately regretted not planning this as part of our Dry Tortugas portion! We saw other campers taking the ferry to stay overnight and this is what we will do next time we take a trip there! The day trip gave us just enough time there to leave us wanting more!
Southernmost Point of the United States
Key West is a really fun town. A road trip to the National Parks would not be complete without a stop here! This is the jumping point to get to Dry Tortugas, so we would definitely recommend spending at least 2-3 nights here! Duval Street is a really fun place for just walking around, visiting shops, having a drink or watching the sunset at Mallory Square!
Stop along the Keys-Key Largo, Islamorada and Marathon are also other places you could add to ther bucket list. There are so many outdoor adventures, sailing excursions and things to do along this route making it the perfect family adventure!
Places to eat & drink in Florida
Everglades Gator Grill - If trying gator is also on your bucket list-this is the place to do it.
Robert is Here Fruit Stand - A key lime milkshake to go on your road trip? Yes, please!
Islamorada Brewing - This is a great stop along your road trip. They offer a great selection of beers with a fun back patio and yummy local appetizers.
Kaiyo Grill & Sushi- Some of the best sushi we've ever had and with one of the most picturesque settings in Islamorada. This is located inside the Cheeca Lodge & Spa and I highly recommend it for a special occasion. We loved sitting out on the terrace to enjoy a birthday dinner.
Lorelei Restaurant & Cabana Bar - Located right on the water, this place is great for traditional seafood dishes and live music.
The Conch Shack for Conch Fritters on the go!
Blue Heaven - Brunch here is a must-do! You can dine among their roosters, have a lobster eggs benedict and listen to live music.
Eaton Street Seafood - We had one of the best lobster rolls ever here and some pretty amazing Conch Soup.
Need to Know
Looking for more travel inspo? Check out Fora Travel Advisor Michelle Zelena's guide, See & Be Seen in Miami, Florida.
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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Florida.