5 of the Best Florida State Parks
Take your imagination on a backwoods adventure at one of the best Florida state parks.
"It was rough living in that house with the Widow who'd hope to civilize me all the time, considering the trails I'd been wanting to blaze and the caverns to explore and island treasure to chase; and so I lit out for adventure."
Imagine that Mark Twain had set his favorite adventures in the wilds of Florida, and named his most recognizable hero after a Florida state park. From the caverns to desert islands, this "Fakahatchee" Finn would find plenty of excitement at the best Florida state parks.
"We'd been fixing on bivouacking overnight in the caves, but once we got there, we figured camping out in one of the 38 full-facility campsites would be rugged enough for us."
Tours of the caverns, the stalactite and stalagmite formations -- the Cathedral, the Wedding Cake, the Cavern Waterfall, the Christmas Tree -- an old-fashioned swimming hole, camping, canoeing, nature trails' . . . Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna is a ragamuffin's dream. The rooms and tunnels of the caverns cover nearly two acres. Just like Fakahatchee's friends, Tom and Becky, you can explore the handiwork of nature's great patience and persistence. The park and Chipola River allow for fishing, hiking, or just plain lollygagging.
"It must'ave been close on to one o'clock when we got below Dampiers Landing at last, and the tubes did seem to go mighty slow."
The nine major springs of Ichetucknee Springs State Park are a comfortable 73 degrees year 'round. Floating on a tube down the clear, lazy waters is a summer adventure unlike any other. The park limits the tubers to 750 a day on the upper section of the river in season (summer months), so the earlier you are the better chance you have of being one of the lucky. Vendors just outside the park entrance rent tubes. There is a park shuttle to take you back to where you started, but it doesn't run off-season.
"It's lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and maybe you could hear a fiddle or a song coming over from one of them banks."
On the banks of the Suwannee River, the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park brings camping, canoeing and hiking along this historic river together with living folk culture. The park, named for the composer of Florida's state song, "Old Folks at Home" (better known as "Way Down Upon the Suwannee River"), hosts the Florida Folk Festival, a three-day celebration of the unique Florida music, dance, stories, crafts and food, every year bringing some of the world's biggest folk music performers together. Throughout the year, working artisans share their crafts -- quilting, basket-making, glass staining, blacksmithing and pottery -- through demonstrations and classes.
The Ghost Orchid
"We weren't going to hurt it none, we just had a hankering to see this flower all the books and movies were all on about."
The Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park is the home of the elusive ghost orchid, made famous in the best-selling book The Orchid Thief and in the award-winning movie Adaptation. This state park is 75,000 acres of preserved wilderness with an abundance of rare ferns, royal palms and more than 40 species of orchids. A half-mile of boardwalk winds its way through the swamp. The cypress strands and domes have trees as big as six feet around and 100 feet tall. Swamp, prairie and forest meet in luxuriant green, making it one of the best Florida state parks.
"I would be mainly telling the truth if I said we'd paddled all the way out to the Dry Tortugas; just the paddling part would be a stretch."
The last stop on the Florida Keys, 70 miles past the end of the road in Key West, Dry Tortugas National Park tantalizes the adventurer in us all with legends of Spanish gold and sunken treasure and one of the largest brick coastal forts ever built. Each of the seven islands that make up the Dry Tortugas is distinct - Fort Jefferson dominates Garden Key, the lighthouse on Loggerhead Key draws the most attention and the thousands of birds rule the well-named Bird Key. This pristine park is a mere dot of land in a vast sea.
"I figure these'll keep me during those long months of civilizing until I can light out for the wilds again."