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10 Reasons to visit Florida for its Wildlife

  • By Christian Armond
  • Published 06 June 2016
  • Revised 30 August 2023
10 Reasons to visit Florida for its Wildlife
  • By Christian Armond
  • Published 06 June 2016
  • Revised 30 August 2023
10 Reasons to visit Florida for its Wildlife
  • By Christian Armond
  • Published 06 June 2016
  • Revised 30 August 2023
Every year millions of people travel to Florida to experience the breathtaking beaches, awe inspiring attractions, vibrant culture and exciting nightlife. However many tourists are unaware that Florida also offers the opportunity to get up close and personal with unique and endangered wildlife in their natural habitats. Whether you’re planning your annual family holiday, a couple looking for an adventure or a solo traveller, you are currently missing out on the opportunity of a lifetime. Here we highlight our 10 top reasons to visit Florida for its incredible wildlife.

Florida’s wildlife is everywhere you look, from exotic National Parks and World Heritage sites, to Wildlife attraction centres and even on the public beaches and parks, during your holiday you are bound to stumble across an exotic animal.

Whether you are a wildlife enthusiast, or just an individual seeking to explore the wild side of Florida away from the theme parks and urban metropolises, here we outline some of the best State Parks and wildlife attractions that you should add to your holiday to do list.

1. Everglades National Park

The Everglades National Park should be at the top of every nature lover’s Florida must see list. The park is the largest tropical wetlands in the US and covers 2,500 square miles, 1,542,526 acres. It is hard to imagine that one of the world’s most diverse ecosystems is located just a short drive from a vibrant metropolis like Miami.

Everglades National ParkThis World Heritage site is the ideal destination for families and individuals that love the great outdoors and are seeking a hearty adventure. The Everglades are home to a diverse range of animals, including alligators, crocodiles, turtles, otters, numerous species of birds and the famous Florida panther. The Everglades park can be enjoyed on foot, on the Anhinga Trail - a mile long raised boardwalk through the marsh, as well as Shark Valley a walking trail where you can get up close to birds and alligators in their natural habitat.

Everglades National ParkThe top things to do in the Everglades for nature lovers include; bird watching, boating - most of the park in only accessible by water therefore boating brings you closer to the park’s wild wonders, fishing, hiking and camping. Although canoeing and kayaking through the Everglades is one of our favourite ways to experience all that the National Park has to offer. It gives you the chance to silently glide along the waterways that can give you nature lover’s an amazing vantage point on all the wildlife in its natural habitat.

If you’re searching for an unforgettable experience the Backcountry Cowboy Outfitters offer guided kayaking tours of the Everglades, day trips are available but for the more adventurous wildlife lovers they offer Overnight Adventure Trips.

2. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

The state of Florida has plenty to offer those nature lovers who love to dive, or simply admire from above vibrant marine life and coral reefs. Boasting more shipwrecks than many countries the ‘Sunshine state’ has it all. There are incredible diving opportunities all over the state, however in our opinion the Florida Keys is home to simply breathtaking marine life, with living tropical coral reefs and an abundance of shipwrecks.

John Pennekamp Coral ReefThe 120 mile Florida Keys islands are home to the only living-coral barrier reef in the entire of the United States, the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo is the main tourist attraction. The park encompasses approximately seventy square miles, and is teeming with marine life with over six hundred and fifty species of fish and forty coral varieties. For a wildlife lover this park is paradise boasting coral-encrusted shipwrecks, beautiful white sandy beaches, natural coral formations and an abundance of fish.

The natural beauty of this state park can be observed and enjoyed in a variety of forms, many head to the water to get a closer look and truly experience the reef and its marine life. However glass bottom boat tours are extremely popular with those who aren’t strong swimmers, as well as canoeing and kayaking, the crystal clear waters and breathtaking scenery can be enjoyed above and below the water.

John Penne KampKey Largo is home to a variety of impressive hotels, the majority of which are in a prime waterfront location. The Cheeca Lodge & Spa is a luxurious retreat that rests on one of the most beautiful and secluded private beaches in Florida. This stunning hotel is the perfect accommodation to return to after a day exploring the wonders that John Peenekamp Coral Reef State Park has to offer.

3. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

This National Wildlife Refuge is home to around 500 different species of wildlife, including alligators, bald eagles, turtles, bobcats, roseate spoonbills and manatees. The Park is located near Cape Canaveral, about a one hour drive from the world famous Orlando. The refuge was established in 1963, after NASA acquired 140,000 acres of land to build a launch complex and other facilities, now known as the Kennedy Space Centre, however a lot of the land was left unused. Due to the nature of the area being highly secure, public access is monitored and controlled therefore the wildlife is relatively undisturbed and protected.

Merritt IslandThe sanctuary is accessible by car, foot and boat, it offers beautiful scenic views with an abundance of wildlife that you can get up close to on one of the several walking trails. The Refuge is famous for its bird watching, as the birds are beautiful and plentiful. For those driving around the sanctuary, Black Point Wildlife Drive is a must see, the 7 mile route winds through the marshes and flatwood environments.

Merritt Island Refuge Park is the ideal destination if you are seeking to explore a beautiful natural ecosystem and observe animals in their natural habitat. Head to Merritt Island to experience a nature lover’s haven, and Florida the way it was before modern civilization took over.

Merritt IslandIf you’re looking for accommodation in close proximity to Merritt Island, Cocoa Beach is nearby providing both affordable and luxurious hotels and resorts. Our choice is the International Palms Resort that just a few steps away from the beautiful white sands and turquoise waters of Cocoa Beach.

4. Manatee Springs State Park

Manatee Springs is one of Florida’s largest springs, and a National Natural Landmark. Situated in northern Florida six miles west of Chiefland and two and a half hours northwest of Orlando. The spring itself is about twenty five feet deep and seventy five feet across, it also averages 117 million gallons of water daily.

Manatee SpringsThe spring is a source of life for many species of fish, reptiles, mammals and birds. During the winter months the spring is also home to manatees, that seek warmer waters. With deep turquoise water arriving from a sparkling freshwater river and unique wildlife, it is easy to see why this State Park is a must see for nature lovers and tourists alike.

Although the park is located far afield, it is definitely worth a visit. The spring and cave are popular for swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking and fishing. Although if visitors wish to stay on dry land there is an elevated boardwalk that follows the 1,200 foot spring run that meanders through towering tupelo and cypress trees to eventually join the Suwannee River.

5. Myakka River State Park

Situated just outside of Sarasota, Myakka River State Park is famous for its diverse wildlife and untouched landscape. This state park is one of the oldest and largest, Myakka River protects one of the ‘Sunshine’ state’s most diverse natural areas. The park offers visitors the chance to experience an almost mysterious atmosphere with a complex mixture of wildlife set in this part forest, part jungle, part wetlands ecosystem.

Myakka RiverThe park is highly regarded as one of the best places to observe alligators in their natural setting, as well as being coined a ‘birdwatchers paradise’. The park is home to some of the rarest birds that can only be seen in Florida, for example the Roseate Spoonbill. There are also many species of fish, reptiles and mammals to admire in this wonderful park.

Myakka River State Park offers visitors a diverse range of activities to keep every nature lover busy. The boardwalk that stretches out over the Upper Myakka Lake gives visitors the perfect opportunity to view the wildlife, as well as the Canopy Walkway that extends into the treetops giving a birds-eye view of the park and fantastic views of the forest canopy. The parks river and two lakes provide ample opportunities for visitors to enjoy canoeing, kayaking, fishing and boating. The spectacular water system is a kayaker’s paradise and a magical setting to observe alligators in the wild. For those who prefer hiking, walking and biking there are plenty of trails for you to explore amongst the forest and wetlands - although ensure that you keep an eye out for gators.

Myakka RiverIf you’re looking for accommodation near to the Myakka River State Park there are a selection of hotels situated in Sarasota. The Ritz-Carlton Sarasota offers the wildlife adventurers a luxury retreat beyond the nature of the State Park. The resort is set in eleven acres of beautiful gardens and in a prime beachfront location. The Sandcastle Resort at Lido Beach, is our favourite family hotel resting on 600ft of private sandy beach, featuring two heated swimming pools and an assortment of activities.

6. Gatorland

Regarded as one of Kissimmee’s most memorable tourist attractions,Gatorland is also coined as the ‘alligator capital of the world’. The park provides tourists with access to Florida’s exciting wildlife in a more controlled and entertainment-oriented setting. Gatorland’s 110 tropical acres of land is home to thousands of alligators, crocodiles, birds and snakes, providing visitors and nature lovers with plenty to see at a safe distance.

Gatorland is a great destination for families seeking out the best of Florida’s wildlife, here you can learn all about the alligators from knowledgeable and entertaining staff, feed the gators, attend up close encounters and observe interesting wildlife exhibits. It is the perfect day out for the younger wildlife enthusiasts.

GatorlandIf you’re seeking more of a thrill at Gatorland the ‘Gator Night Shine’ is for you. This after dark experience sees you walk along wooden boardwalks through the park with only a torch and the sounds of the animals and reptiles at night all around.

Gatorland is located in Kissimmee, one of Florida’s hot spots of holiday villas. So why not snap up a Kissimmee villa yourself and enjoy a home-away-from-home experience whilst exploring the excitement Gatorland has to offer.

7. Dolphin Plus in Key Largo

Travel to the Florida Keys if you’re dream holiday includes swimming with dolphins in their natural habitat. Key Largo is the perfect destination to swim with some of the worlds friendliest and smartest marine mammals, with the clear, turquoise water and warm weather the location to admire and experience this exceptional wildlife is what dreams are made of.

Dolphin plus in Key Largo offers visitors a variety of interactions with the Dolphins, natural swims - a truly natural encounter and the chance to swim and snorkel with dolphins, shallow water swims - this is a waist deep interaction allowing visitors to stand comfortably to enjoy the experience (perfect for younger children or those weak swimmers) as well as the kiss a dolphin experience - where your dream to kiss this majestic animal can really come true.

Dolphin PlusThe Dolphin Plus centre is a great family day out that can put a smile on everyone’s faces. It is an incredible experience in a safe environment, the dolphin trainers are caring and educational and give you the perfect opportunity to interact with the dolphins in a welcoming atmosphere.

Key Largo is the largest and most northern of all the Florida Keys it is home to a variety of hotels and condos to suit every familys needs. Ocean Pointe Suites are the perfect base from which to relax and enjoy the beachside surroundings, as well as being located near to the Dolphin plus centre itself.

8. Crystal River Preserve State Park, Florida

Crystal River, is a city on Florida’s Gulf Coast, and at the heart of the Nature Coast of Florida. The city and its surroundings are regarded as a place of exceptional natural beauty, the forests, springs, islands and backwaters of Crystal River Preserve are cherished by nature lovers across the world.

Crystal RiverCrystal River is well known for being one of the only places in Florida that manatees flock to in winter year on year, to bask in the balmy 72 degree natural springs. Three Sisters Springs is one of the most famous gathering places for manatees, comprised of three natural springs that feed the Crystal River.

Visitors to the Three Sister Springs are given the opportunity to swim, snorkel or kayak in the bright turquoise water to admire and experience these gentle giants in their natural habitat. It is a truly unique experience to swim amongst these gentle and curious creatures in a paradise setting. For those nature lovers seeking natural beauty that would rather stay on dry land, you can experience all the joys the springs have to offer from a boardwalk above. Visitors can hike or cycle along trails of boardwalk as well as observe the wildlife and nature from above.

Crystal RiverCrystal River is a truly magical place, and if you’ve never been up close with manatees this is a must do as it is one of the greatest experiences you will ever have.

Clearwater is only a short drive down the Gulf Coast from Crystal River, it is also the ideal location to relax and unwind on one of the sugar-white sand beaches. Sandpearl Resort is situated on 700ft of white sand, the beach gives a sensation of beauty, peace and relaxation. It is hoped that guests will find time to appreciate mother nature at its finest.

9. St Marks National Wildlife Refuge - Monarch Butterfly Migration

St Mark’s National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for migratory birds and butterflies as they escape the cold weather in the north during the winter months. It runs about 43 miles along the Gulf Coast of northwest Florida. The refuge includes marshland, islands, creeks and several river estuaries, it is also home to a variety of plant and animal species.

St Marks National ParkThe month of October is perhaps the parks most visited month due to the annual arrival of the migratory Monarch butterfly. Each year thousands of these butterflied stop in St Marks Wildlife Refuge to collect nectar from flowering plants before they continue their journey on to Mexico. Fall is the prime time for nature lovers to observe the butterflies and experience the iconic orange insects fluttering around the park and surrounding areas. The yearly Monarch Festival at the refuge is a memorable experience for nature lovers and a great day out for families to witness one of the most delicate and beautiful migrations in the world. Visit the park and watch the majestic orange butterflies take to the sky.

10. Disney Animal Kingdom

What would our top 10 reasons to visit Florida for its wildlife be if we didnt include Disney’s magical Animal Kingdom. It provides visitors with the ability to spend a day or two exploring the largest of the Disney theme parks, offering the chance to encounter exotic animals that the rest of Florida does not offer.

Animal KingdomThe park is comprised of entertainment and attractions that will satisfy nature lovers of all ages, and is home to some of the planet’s most endangered and exotic creatures from tigers and elephants to sharks and rhinos. Disneys Animal Kingdom represents several different continents, their respective cultures, animals and environments. It is the perfect location for a family day out, filled with fun, wonder and adventure. Spend the day exploring the attractions, shows and fascinating variety of two hundred and fifty animal species.

There are countless reasons for Wildlife enthusiasts to visit and Love Florida. We’ve provided you with our top 10 reasons to Love Florida for its diverse and beautiful Wildlife, from the chance to encounter alligators and crocodiles in the Everglades to swimming with Manatees at Manatee Springs National Park, now its your chance to explore the ‘Sunshine State’s truly wild side!

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