By CARRIE PINKARD / Staff Writer
If you grew up in Florida you’re probably already dreading the idea of another scorching, mosquito-filled summer, where temperatures reach 105 degrees and alligators roam around like stray cats. Most of you probably already have plans to board up inside sipping lemonade and blasting the AC until school starts again in August. However, for those of you willing to get a little sweaty, the Florida State Parks’ department is offering early bird camping specials from June through September. This article will tell you the top Florida parks to visit so you can have the best wet, hot, Floridian summer of your life.
Caladesi Island State Park, Dunedin, FL
Caladesi Island is one of the few natural islands along the Gulf Coast. It is only accessible by ferry from Honeymoon Island State Park. This park has beautiful white sand beaches and a three- mile kayak trail through the mangroves. Land lovers can also hike through a three-mile trail and enjoy food at the snack bar.
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Spring Hill, Florida
You were promised a wet, hot, Floridian summer if you read this article, and what’s hotter than mermaids?! That’s right, Weeki Wachee offers mermaid shows daily at 11 am and 3pm. After watching Ariel and friends you can get wet by sliding down a flume ride into Weeki Wachee Springs. This park also offers a river boat cruise, animal shows, and a sandy beach area for picnics.
Oleta River State Park, Miami, Florida
This is the park for all of you in Miami who secretly hate nature but want pictures of you camping for social media. Oleta River State park is Florida’s largest urban park. It consists of air conditioned cabins, a 1200 foot sandy beach, and miles of off- road biking trails. You can also see Miami buildings peeking over the trees so you can feel comfort in knowing the city isn’t too far away.
Topsail Hill Preserve State Park, Santa Rosa Beach, FL
This park consists of three rare coastal dune lakes and 3.2 miles of beaches Break out your fishing poles and catch some sweet bass, pinfish and catfish. 22 tent sites are available for camping.
Wekiwa Springs State Park, Apopka, FL
Wekiwa springs offers opportunities to heat up or cool down. Start by getting nice and sweaty on 13 miles of trails perfect for hiking, biking, or horseback riding. After your workout, plunge into the 72 degree spring for a cool swim. Canoeing and kayaking are available along the Wekiva river. Snorkeling is also encouraged in Wekiwa Springs. Animal lovers keep your eyes peeled, you may encounter Florida black bears, white tailed deer, bobcats, turkeys, and all kinds of birds.
Florida Caverns State Park, Tallahassee, FL
If you’re tired of beaches and water by this point, take a trip to the panhandle to take a cave tour of Florida Caverns State Park. The cave tours are half a mile in length and last approximately 45 minutes. After your cave tour you can practice your swing on the parks nine-hole golf course. Our president spends every other weekend golfing in Florida, so why shouldn’t you?
Hillsbourough River State Park, Thonotosassa, FL
The only park on this list where I can 100% guarantee you will see an alligator if you walk the trails near the river. Gators AND Seminoles are represented in this park with Fort Foster, a reconstructed for from the Second Seminole War. This park has awesome trails and a swimming pool open 9-5pm.
Koreshan State Historic Site, Estero, Florida
History buffs may enjoy this park as it’s the original site of the Koreshan Unity colony. Cyrus Reed Teed brought his followers here in 1894 to build what he called the “New Jereuselum” for his faith, Koreshanity. 11 of the original buildings still stand at this park, as well as Victorian Gardens. Apart from the Koreshan-anigans, the park also features hiking, fishing, kayaking, and camping.
Rainbow Springs State Park, Dunnellon, FL
Tubing is a very popular activity at Rainbow Springs park. You can rent a tube and then complete a two-hour tubing adventure where you start and end at the same location. This park also features beautiful waterfalls, a butterfly garden, and azalea gardens that bloom in the Spring.
Falling Waters State Park, Chipley, FL
Ignore TLC’s advice and chase Florida’s largest waterfall at Falling Water’s State Park! The waterfall falls into Falling Waters Sinkhole which is 100 feet deep and 20 feet wide.
As you can see, there is a LOT to do in Florida if you can brave the outdoors. Don’t be afraid to get out there and enjoy our weird yet beautiful state this summer. There’s a park for nearly every interest from hikers to bikers to bird watchers to history lovers to girls who always wanted to be mermaids. If you book a 3-day visit to a Florida State Park during the month of April, you will get your 4th night free. You can find more information on the Florida State Parks website. Closing advice to you on enjoying a wet, hot, Floridian summer: stock up on SPF 45, stay hydrated, and beware of Florida Man.