What's The Best Water Park In Florida

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Video: Kayaking St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State ParkSt. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park has a kayaking trail that travels though the barrier island and leads to a secluded beach.LAURIE K. BLANDFORD/TCPALM

The Florida Park Service is one of the largest in the U.S. with 175 state parks, trails and historic sites.

The state park system was established in 1935 to take advantage of the Civilian Conservation Corps, a New Deal program designed to provide conservation-related work for unemployed young men during the Great Depression.

Its mission is to provide resource-based recreation while preserving, interpreting and restoring natural and cultural resources. It currently spans nearly 800,000 acres of land and 100 miles of beaches.

State parks have free entry or nominal fees. Many have paid camping options that vary by site.

Here are 10 unique, lesser-known state parks in the Sunshine State.

Bulow Creek

Bulow Creek State Park protects nearly 5,600 acres, including over 1,500 acres of submerged lands. It’s one of the largest remaining stands of southern live oak forest along Florida’s east coast and features the Fairchild Oak, one of the largest live oak trees in the South that’s over 400 years old.

Several trails allow hikers to explore the park and see white-tailed deer, barred owls and raccoons, as well as great blue herons, wood storks, egrets and wood ducks at the Walter Boardman Pond. The 6.8-mile Bulow Woods Trail is the longest and runs from the Fairchild Oak to Bulow Plantation Ruins Historic State Park, the site of a plantation destroyed during the Second Seminole War in 1836.

Bulow Creek has two other neighboring state parks: Tomoka State Park and Addison Blockhouse State Park. It’s also near the Dummett Sugar Mill Ruins, built out of coquina stone and brick but also partially destroyed during the Second Seminole War. -- Laurie K. Blandford, TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers

Devil’s Millhopper Geological

Devil’s Millhopper Geological State Park, a designated National Natural Landmark since 1976, offers visitors the opportunity of a lifetime — to climb down into a sinkhole and make it back out unscathed, though possibly out of breath from its 132 steps.

Despite being located not far from the city of Gainesville’s urban core, the small state park is a hub of wildlife best known for its geologic marvel, the 120-foot-deep sinkhole that is 500 feet wide at its top. Sinkholes are common in Florida, but few have exposed over 100 feet of rock layers like Devil’s Millhopper. Its geology dates to the upper Eocene Ocala Limestone rock at its deepest part, which was deposited in a warm, shallow marine environment over 34 million years ago.

For nature lovers, the state park also has a rim trail over a half-mile long, moving water and abundant greenery, almost like a small rainforest. It’s home to species like the fox sparrow, gray treefrog and golden-banded skipper butterfly. -- Danielle Ivanov, The Gainesville Sun

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve

Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park — the largest state park in Florida at 120 square miles — offers the opportunity to see the full moon rise above the prairie. Just west of Copeland in Southwest Florida and a 45-minute drive from Naples, it allows motorists to drive through the park along an 11-mile unpaved gravel road or pedestrians to stroll a 2,000-foot boardwalk.

It’s referred to it as “the Amazon of North America.” Nature lovers find a sensory feast of creatures, including owls, alligators, Florida panthers, wood storks, black bears, fox squirrels, roseate spoonbills, osprey, ducks, the Everglades mink, white-tailed deer and other species.

Popular tram tours through the park fill up fast because they offer a more in-depth experience, including the moonlight prairie tour in the late fall and winter when the temperatures and insects decrease.

The Fakahatchee was made famous a few decades ago by the Susan Orlean book “The Orchid Thief” and the 2002 film “Adaptation” starring Meryl Streep and Nicolas Cage. -- Dave Osborn, Naples Daily News

Take a trip: Moonlit tour reveals wonders of Fakahatchee Strand

Falling Waters

Falling Waters State Park, located 4 miles south of downtown Chipley between Pensacola and Tallahassee, is home to Florida’s highest waterfall at 73 feet. It’s a serene stop only a few miles south of Interstate 10.

The Sink Hole Trail boardwalk, lined with huge trees and fern-covered sinkholes, lead people to Falling Waters Sink, a 100-foot-deep, 20-foot-wide cylindrical pit into which a small stream flows to the bottom. The water’s final destination is unknown as it disappears into the park’s network of caves.

The park’s seepage slope houses biologically diverse species, including carnivorous pitcher plants and terrestrial orchids. The park’s cave system provides habitat for various bats and crickets. The butterfly garden has native and migrating butterflies. -- Laurie K. Blandford, TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers

Florida Caverns

Florida Caverns State Park in North Florida is the only state park with public cave tours of its stalactites, stalagmites, flowstones, draperies and other fragile cave-drip formations.

About 38 million years ago, sea levels were higher and the southeastern coastal plain of the U.S. was submerged. Shells, coral and sediments on the sea floor hardened into limestone as sea levels fell. During the past million years, acidic groundwater dissolved crevices just below the surface, creating cave passages.

Chisel marks made by 1930s-era Civilian Conservation Corps workers can be seen between the large, underground rooms. They enlarged the cave passageways by hand so people could stand upright during the guided tours, and they also built the park’s visitor center.

The park’s bluffs, springs and caves are known as karst terrain. The caves provide habitat for blind cave crayfish, cave salamanders and three species of cave-roosting bats. The park’s wildlife also includes Sherman’s fox squirrels, white-tailed deer, bobwhite quails, bobcats and wild turkeys. -- Laurie K. Blandford, TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers

  • Location: 3345 Caverns Road, Marianna

  • Hours: 8 a.m. until sunset daily; cave tours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Thursday-Monday (closed Tuesday-Wednesday, Thanksgiving, Christmas)

  • Cost: $5 per vehicle for 2-8 people, $4 for single-occupant vehicle, $2 for pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers; cave tours are $10.75 for ages 13 and older, $5 for ages 3-12, free for ages 2 and younger

  • Website: floridastateparks.org/parks-and-trails/florida-caverns-state-park

Hontoon Island

Hontoon Island State Park, a 1,650-acre park in the St. Johns River, is an inland island accessible only by private boat or park ferry. While the St. Johns borders the north and east sides of the island, the Dead River and Snake Creek border the west and south, respectively.

Established in the 1970s, the island got its name from William Hunton, the original owner of the land in the 1860s. Over time, the island’s name changed to Hontoon. But people have been living along the St. Johns River for over 12,000 years. Shell mounds and other artifacts found on the island showed Native Americans once called it home.

The park has 8 miles of hiking trails, such as the popular 3-mile, roundtrip Hammock Hiking Nature Trail to the Indian Shell Mound. Wildlife seen includes turkeys, alligators, deer, otters and multiple species of birds. An owl totem is a replica of the original found on the island and made over 600 years ago by the Timucua tribe. -- Laurie K. Blandford, TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers

O’Leno

The Santa Fe River, which flows through O’Leno State Park, seems to disappear just a short walk from the main parking lot. The river goes underground into the Cody Scarp, a series of limestone caves that carry the water 140 to 180 feet below the surface before it emerges 3 miles away at River Rise Preserve State Park. Catch it when the water levels are high to see the river swirl in a counterclockwise whirlpool as it makes its way underground.

The park’s name came from the town of Leno founded in the mid-1800s along the riverbanks. It originally was named Keno after a popular gambling game, but Colonel Whetstone changed the name when he wanted a post office in 1876. The railroad took people away from the once-industrious town, and everyone moved away by 1896, creating Old Leno, or O’Leno.

The park was developed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and Florida Forest Service, opening in 1940 as one of Florida’s first nine state parks. A suspension bridge built by the corps still stands, and a small museum dedicated to the corps is on park grounds.

The park is popular with hikers, mountain bikers, anglers and campers. It has 11 miles of multi-use trails and connects to another 35 miles of trails at River Rise Preserve. It’s part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail, a network of more than 500 wildlife-viewing areas in the state. -- Tom Szaroleta, Florida Times-Union

St. Lucie Inlet Preserve

St. Lucie Inlet Preserve State Park, a barrier island on Florida’s east coast accessible only by water, features a 4.2-mile kayaking trail through mangrove estuaries and maritime hammocks. It also has an undeveloped, isolated stretch of beach just south of the St. Lucie Inlet.

The park, which opened in 1969, is part of the Great Florida Birding Trail with wading birds and shorebirds, such as great blue herons, brown pelicans, white ibises and purple plovers. During the summer, the island is an important nesting area for loggerhead, leatherback and green turtles.

The park offers guided kayak tours and rentals on select dates. People going on their own should plan according to the tides. If launching at high tide, start the kayaking trail from the south so as not to paddle against the current. If launching at mid-tide, which is about 3 hours before high tide, start from the north. -- Laurie K. Blandford, TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers

Hidden gem: Discover kayaking trail, secluded beach at St. Lucie Inlet Preserve

Torreya

Torreya State Park, west of Tallahassee, is named for an extremely rare species of Torreya tree that grows only on the high bluffs along the Apalachicola River. Forests of hardwood trees provide the best display of fall color found in Florida.

The site, which was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, became a park mostly because of its significant historical associations, including the location of six Confederate gun pits and an antebellum cotton warehouse. The historic Jason Gregory House overlooks the river.

The park is home to over 100 species of birds and a variety of rare and endemic plants and animals, many of which typically are more common farther north. -- Laurie K. Blandford, TCPalm/Treasure Coast Newspapers

Washington Oaks Gardens

Washington Oaks Gardens State Park, along Florida’s east coast, is known for its shoreline of ancient coquina rock formations. Its highlight is the formal gardens with azaleas, camellias and bird of paradise flowers. The 20-acre botanical garden is lined with 200-year-old oak trees covered in Spanish moss, including the Washington Oak.

The park was the site of the former winter home of Owen and Louise Young, which was built in 1938 to face the Matanzas River. They designed the garden, combining native and exotic plants and adding touches from Asia. After he died in 1964, she donated most of the land to the state and specified the gardens must be maintained and expanded. -- Sheldon Gardner, The St. Augustine Record

Laurie K. Blandford is TCPalm's entertainment reporter and columnist dedicated to finding the best things to do on the Treasure Coast. Follow her on Twitter @TCPalmLaurie and Facebook @TCPalmLaurie. Email her at [email protected]. Sign up for her What To Do in 772 weekly newsletter at profile.tcpalm.com/newsletters/manage.

Source : https://www.tcpalm.com/story/entertainment/whattodoin772/2021/11/09/florida-10-unique-lesser-known-state-parks-include-waterfalls-caves/8543385002/

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