From the Panhandle to the Keys: A Road Trip Through Florida’s Natural Wonders
We all know that the normal 9 to 5 can start to feel a little mundane after a while. If you’re looking to shake up your routine, we suggest hitting the open road and exploring some of the sunshine state’s natural wonders, ranging all the way from the Panhandle to the Keys. For visitors who haven’t spent much time traversing the coasts of Florida, we’ve created the ultimate road trip for you and your go-to travel buddies to follow so you can take a well-planned walk on the wild side. Keep reading to learn about some of our favorite outdoor spots in a state with no shortage or natural beauty.
Starting Point: Pensacola Beach, Pensacola, FL
Also referred to as the western gate to the sunshine state, Pensacola is nestled along the famously gorgeous waters of the Gulf Coast. We’re starting our journey at this hidden gem so you can experience the emerald waters and snow-white sand that has made Pensacola a must-go for those in the know. While not as well-known as nearby beaches Destin or Panama City, it has all of the natural beauty with less tourists to compete with for prime beach blanket real estate.
If you’re looking for an adventure, you can travel a few miles down from the beach ball water tower and explore Fort Pickens. Once a military fort built to protect the shoreline, it’s now a historic landmark with endless tunnels and trails for you to explore.
Things move a bit slower here, making it the perfect spot for you to ease into the vacation mindset.
Stop 1: Florida Caverns State Park, Marianna, FL
As we move east and inland, you’ll stumble across the unique wonder that is the Florida Caverns. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you see the aqua blue water of Blue Hole Spring and the Chipola River, perfect for canoeing, boating and fishing. Between hiking, fishing, biking, picnicking, golfing and more there is plenty activities to keep you busy above ground.
However, there is more than meets the eye to this already gorgeous landscape — right beneath your feet lives the caverns, air-filled caves with dazzling rock formations that draw visitors from across the nation. From Memorial Day to Labor Day, park goers can go on a guided cave tour to experience the almost otherworldly caverns.
Stop 2: Washington Oaks State Park, Palm Coast, FL
Now we begin to move down the peninsula and travel to a new coastline for our next stop — Washington Oaks State Park. Located on the East Coast, this state park offers iconic beachfront views and stunning formal gardens that will leave you with no question about why Florida was named after the Spanish word for “flower-covered.” Stretch your legs as you stroll alongside the Atlantic Ocean and take advantage of the ancient rock formations as you go beachcombing and tidepool exploring.
If you want to take an authentic souvenir home with you, the park offers First Friday Garden and History walks along with Second Saturday Plant Sales monthly so you can have your own piece of the famous gardens.
Stop 3: Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park, Okeechobee, FL
Our next stop are the seemingly endless grasslands of the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. This preserve protects the largest tract of dry prairie in Florida, which acts as a home to various rare, endangered animals that you can’t find anywhere else. Animal enthusiasts can catch a glimpse and snap a picture of almost mythical animals such as the grasshopper sparrow, crested caracara and burrowing owl.
There’s plenty of beauty to see at eye-level, but if you stick around long enough, you’ll see the sky come to life with a breathtaking display of stars and the trail of the Milky Way. As the first Florida state park designated as a Dark Sky Park, this land’s lack of light pollution gives visitors an unmatched view of the constellations. While Florida parks close at sunset, there are a few ways visitors can stick around a little longer — you can reserve a campsite, reserve an astronomy pad site, or, if you are a Florida State Parks Family Annual Pass Holder, you can sign up for an after-hours permit.
Stop 4: Everglades National Park, Homestead, FL
It’s hard to talk about Florida’s natural wonders without mentioning our most notable wilderness area — the Everglades. At the Everglades National Park, the largest subtropical wilderness in the U.S., visitors can catch sight of a few of the locals, such as the American Crocodile, the manatee, and the elusive Florida Panther. In fact, the Everglades are the only place on earth where you can find alligators and crocodiles coexisting in the same environment.
While you may not want to go for a swim in these waters, the 1.5 million acres of swampy wetlands give visitors plenty of opportunities to explore this diverse ecosystem and travel among the mangroves. Every year, nearly a million people from around the world make their way to South Florida to immerse themselves in the mystery that has always floated around these swamplands.
Stop 5: John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo, FL
Our arrival at John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park means we’re nearing the end of our journey through Florida’s most stunning sights and natural wonders, but don’t worry — there’s still plenty to see. Grab your goggles and favorite suit, because we’re diving deep for this next stop. At the first undersea state park in the U.S., guests can enjoy the 70 nautical square miles of reef and undersea sights on a glass-bottom boat tour, or they get a little closer to the action by scuba diving or snorkeling. There is also kayaking, canoeing, fishing in permitted areas, picnicking, swimming, and pretty much anything an outdoor enthusiast could hope for at this noteworthy road trip stop.
Destination: Key West
We’ve officially reached the end of our journey as we arrive at the southernmost point in Florida. Take a well-deserved break in Key West, known for its dazzling waters and jaw-dropping beaches that almost instantly put you at ease as you forget about monthly reports or middle school bake sales.
Florida is home to many well-known natural wonders and a hidden gems that may require you to look beneath the surface to discover their beauty. No matter where to travel to on your next excursion, you’re sure to find something that will take your breath away. Follow our road trip or take a trip off the beaten path and see what the sunshine state has to offer.