Florida is famous for its incredible natural scenery, from pristine beaches right through to wild backwaters and murky swampland. Take a holiday in Orlando and you'll find the area is also home to some stunning state parks, many of which are far enough off the tourist trail to warrant some serious exploration. Here's three of our favourite Florida state parks…
A natural sinkhole reaching depths of more than 100 feet below the surface gives way to lush greenery, cooler temps and a dozen springs at Devil’s Millhopper State Park. The historic Orlando landmark is a favourite for naturalists and novices alike, and leaves plenty of room for exploration with a man-made path of a whopping 236 steps to the bottom and half-mile trail around the perimeter. Less than two hours away by car from Orlando, this Gainesville-area park is a must-see.
From sinkholes to serenity, Hontoon Island State Park is a haven for water lovers who prefer not to share their surroundings with the masses. In fact, it’s only accessible by water—so, if you don’t have your own boat, you can hop aboard the park’s ferry from as early as 8 a.m. until sunset. If you’re a history buff, a 3-mile hike gives a glimpse of age-old Indian Mounds from native inhabitants, the Timucuan Indians. And, if a winter trip brings you to Hontoon, don’t be surprised when you see boats of an unexpected variety, as the park’s main marina, Hontoon Landing, is home to rowing camps from all over of the country. Less than an hour from Central Florida’s attractions, it’s a no-brainer side trip for your Orlando vacation.
Named an “Outstanding Florida Water Way” for a reason, the next bit of Florida state park charm can be found just a few miles from Orlando’s city centre. Lake Louisa is the big-mama lake in a chain of 13 others and the only one ripe for swimming. Its vastness might seem like an open invitation for dropping a motorboat in and fishing for dinner, but only vessels without engines are allowed, adding to the primitive delight and peaceful atmosphere. State parks aren’t equipped with lifeguards, though, so leave your inexperienced kiddos behind.
Add to your state park adventures by checking out the camping options at each. Some, like Lake Louisa, offer full-facility camping and furnished cabins for rent, while others offer back-to-nature, no-frills options that are equally enjoyable.
Written by Kim Taylor
Have you visited any of these Florida state parks, or are there others that can top them? Share your experiences below.
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About the author: KimTaylorKim Taylor
Kim Taylor is vice president and partner with Curley & Pynn Public Relations, and co-founder of PulseofCentralFlorida.com, a Central Florida activities blog. A resident of Florida for more than 25 years and a Central Floridian for more than 10 years, Kim co-founded the blog PulseofCentralFlorida.com in 2008 with the hope of sharing an insider’s view of Orlando that goes beyond the theme parks. In her spare time, Kim can be spotted checking out her favorite musicians at one of many Central Florida music venues, on the tennis courts or rowing starboard with the Orlando Rowing Club.