If you’re wondering where in Florida to find the most natural beauty, we’ve got the perfect article for you.
With years of experience living in Florida, selling millions in real estate, and exploring every corner of the state, we have a deep understanding of the best natural spots.
In this blog, we are going to discuss the best way to see and experience the most nature for hikers, water lovers, and boaters.
From National Forests to National Parks—we’ve got you covered.
Most Nature in Florida for Hikers
Believe or not, Florida has some amazing forests for hiking.
If you are looking to be near quality hiking areas in Florida, we would suggest Central Florida to North Florida.
South Florida doesn’t have any National Forests and as the further south you travel, the more likely you are to encounter swampy forest land which doesn’t make for great hiking.
On the other hand, Central and Northern Florida have some great forests to hike through.
- Apalachicola National Forest: 632,890 acres
- Ocala National Forest: 387,000 acres
- Osceola National Forest: 266,270 acres
Central Florida Hiking
The Ocala National Forest in Central Florida offers incredible outdoor activities, with over 600 lakes, rivers, and springs, including the pristine Alexander Springs and the picturesque Juniper Prairie Wilderness.
We live in the Orlando area and love that we can travel a little over an hour and experience world-class hiking 387,000 wild acres of forest.
Northern Florida Hiking
Northern Florida has the best hiking in Florida because it’s perfectly positioned to some of Florida’s best National Forests.
Take the Osceola National Forest, for instance – it’s a hidden gem with its peaceful pine flatwoods and intriguing cypress-hardwood swamps.
Then there’s the massive Apalachicola National Forest; it’s a hiker’s paradise with endless wetlands and scenic trails.
Being up north also gives you proximity to nearby Naitonal Forests in other U.S. State’s like he Conecuh National Forest in Alabama right on the border of Florida.
Fun Hikes (runners-up)
The following forests are great for hiking, but they aren’t in the large U.S. National Forest system.
- Bivens Arm Nature Park, Gainesville (North Florida): This park is renowned for its hardwood hammock, a dense forest of oaks, cabbage palms, and other hardwoods, creating a cool, verdant environment for a peaceful hike.
- Hinson Preserve (North Florida): For a rugged hiking experience, this preserve offers trails through river bluffs and steephead ravines, shaped by erosion, resembling mountain hiking.
- Fort Cooper State Park, Inverness (Central Florida): Characterized by gently rolling pine-topped sandhills, this park’s landscape includes forests of oaks and longleaf pine, with expansive views under a sparse forest canopy.
- Blackwater River State Forest (North Florida): Known for its unique eroding clayhills, this forest features dry plant communities, offering a distinctive, dry hiking experience amid beautiful landscapes.
Most Nature in Florida for Swimmers
For avid ocean enthusiasts, the central to southern Atlantic coastline of Florida is a prime destination, particularly renowned for the Florida Coral Reef.
This extensive reef system, one of the most biologically diverse marine ecosystems in the United States, stretches from St. Lucie Inlet to Dry Tortugas National Park in the Florida Keys.
It provides an unparalleled opportunity for snorkeling and scuba diving, with its vibrant coral formations hosting a myriad of marine life including various species of fish, sea turtles, and an array of invertebrates.
The reef’s proximity to the Gulf Stream also brings in larger marine creatures, offering chances to spot migratory species like dolphins and even sharks.
The Florida Reef Quick Facts
- The Reef is Huge: The Florida Reef is the world’s third-largest coral barrier reef, extending about 360 miles from the Dry Tortugas to the St. Lucie Inlet.
- Rich Biodiversity: It hosts over 1,400 species of marine plants and animals, making it a crucial area for marine biodiversity.
The area is not only a haven for divers but also a crucial habitat for marine conservation and research, with numerous protected areas and ongoing studies to preserve its rich biodiversity.
Whether you’re exploring the shallow reefs or diving in deeper waters, the Florida Coral Reef offers a remarkable experience for those deeply passionate about marine life and ocean ecosystems.
Most Nature in Florida for Beach Lovers
If you love beaches like we do, then you will love this section.
And, if Florida is famous for anything, beaches are definitely top of the list.
While Florida has some amazing beaches for lounging and soaking up vitamin D, the Sunshine State has also beaches filled with wildlife for adventure seekers.
One such place is found in the Florida Keys in a city called Marathon at Sombrero Beach.
Sombrero Beach – Marathon, FL (Best beach for total species)
Hawaiinislands.com compiled data on the most wildlife per 10 acres across beaches in America and found Sombrero Beach in the Florida Keys to rank 12th in the United States.
Sombrero Beach is a great place for families and explorers alike.
- Accessible: Picturesque sandy beach with full handicap accessibility, making it ideal for all visitors.
- Family-Friendly Amenities: The beach features shady picnic pavilions, volleyball courts, restrooms, and showers, perfect for a family day out.
- Turtle Nesting Site: From April to October, it serves as an important nesting beach for Loggerhead Turtles, with certain areas limited during nesting season to protect the turtles.
- Easy Access and Hours: Open daily from 7:00 AM to dusk, Sombrero Beach is easily accessible by driving south on Sombrero Beach Road to the end.
St. Pete’s Beach (Best beach for wildlife spotted)
Living in Clermont, FL, allows us a quick drive to great beaches on the Gulf Coast. I often find myself drawn to St. Pete’s Beach, and it’s not just for the sun and sand, but also the wildlife.
According to a study by HawaiianIslands.com, this beach is a paradise for nature lovers like me, and here’s why:
- Rich in Marine Life: It’s ranked fourth in the U.S. for wildlife diversity, with 366 unique species of birds, fish, marine mammals, and more, as per HawaiianIslands.com’s research.
- Conservation and Protection: The city’s ordinances protect vital wildlife, including endangered black skimmers and nesting sea turtles.
- Manatees and Dolphins: The waters here are a frolicking ground for playful manatees and dolphins, offering an unforgettable experience for visitors.
- A Birdwatching Haven: Home to egrets, herons, pelicans, and more, it’s a top spot for birdwatchers.
The research from HawaiianIslands.com, which combed through crowd-sourced data, found that St. Pete’s beach ranked 2nd for marine life spotted, 4th for reptile sightings, and 5th for bird watching, and 4th place for total wildlife sightings in the country.
Personal Note: Our Favorite Beach
We’ve been to dozens of beaches across Florida and personally find the best mix of nature and leisure is in and around Gulf Coast side of Florida between South Tampa and Siesta Key.
We found ourselves going back to Siesta Key again and again.
The sprawling beach, beautiful water, family-friendly amenities nearby such as great parking and restaurants, and incredible sunsets make it a perfect day trip for us from Orlando.
I was thrilled to find out that Siesta Beach on Siesta Key snagged the No. 2 spot among the Top 10 Beaches in the U.S.!
It’s a favorite of mine, and it’s so close to making it globally, ranking No. 11 on Tripadvisor’s list of Top 10 Beaches in the World for 2023.
It’s just another reason for me to be proud of this beautiful Sarasota County beach.
Most Nature in Florida for Boaters
We thought long and hard about what would be the best boating experience for nature lovers and we both agree that one place stands above all: The Everglades National Park.
Sure there are incredible lakes in Florida, beautiful river systems, and of course—ocean adventures surrounding our beautiful state—but the Everglades is so unique because it combines wetlands, lakes, and rivers all in one place.
Not only are the Everglades a national treasure, but the best way to experience nature up close in Florida is by boating through the park.
Let’s dive into some fascinating facts about the Everglades, all while keeping it chatty and easy to digest:
- Size: The Everglades National Park spans an impressive 1.5 million acres, making it the third-largest national park in the contiguous United States.
- Wildlife: There are over 360 bird species, about 300 fish species, and more than 40 mammal species around. Not to mention, it’s home to the famous American alligator and the endangered American crocodile.
- Boating Adventures: Gliding through the water, you could see manatees swimming by, dolphins playing in the distance, and if you’re into fishing, tarpon and snook might just be your catch of the day.
- Safety First: 1/3 of the park is navigateable by boat, but there are challenging areas to navigate in such a wild and untouched terrain—experienced boating experience highly recommended.
Boating in the Everglades is like stepping into another world, a wild, untouched paradise. It’s not just about seeing nature; it’s about being a part of it, even if just for a few hours. Trust us, it’s an experience you won’t forget!
Wrapping up this adventure through Florida’s natural wonders, it’s clear that whether you’re hiking through lush forests, diving into the depths of coral reefs, or cruising the Everglades, Florida is a nature lover’s dream.
From the sprawling acres of the Apalachicola and Ocala National Forests to the vibrant marine life of the Florida Reef and the protected wildlife at Sombrero Beach and St. Pete’s Beach, there’s an abundance of natural beauty to be discovered.
And for us, living in Orlando, these treasures are just a drive away, offering endless opportunities to immerse ourselves in nature.