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Liah McPherson | 07.29.2018

Watersports, wildlife, islands and inland springs. Over 1,300 miles of coastline and more beaches than any other state in the continental U.S. Love the water? Want to take a road trip? Welcome to Florida.

Our trek begins in Florida's panhandle, heading east and then south toward the center of the state. Northwest Florida is renowned for its bayou wilderness, freshwater springs, and glittering Emerald Coast.

Gulf Islands National Seashore

Florida’s westernmost coastline is protected by a pristine chain of undeveloped barrier islands. With 135,000 acres of wilderness, the Gulf Islands National Seashore is a great destination for wildlife viewing, hiking, and enjoying sugar-white beaches. The islands are home to dolphins, sea turtles and many species of birds.  

Henderson Beach State Park

Henderson Beach State Park boasts a beautiful 6,000 feet of coastline with white sand and emerald green water.  The calm Gulf water is perfect for swimming and fishing, and it is quite shallow near shore. One can hike through the dunes on a nature trail to enjoy the local flora and fauna; over 100 species of birds have been recorded in this park. Outfitted with a campground, restrooms and showers, this park is a great place to spend a night on your Florida Road Trip.

Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park

Located on the Choctawhatchee Bay, Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park is a great place to go hiking in Western Florida. Impressive red cedars and old-growth pines grow along the trails, and certain areas are covered with blue green deer moss, giving the forest a fairy tale-esque appearance. The park has a 42-site campground and kayak and canoe rentals for exploring the waterways.

Troy Springs State Park

About 100 miles east of Tallahassee begins Florida’s freshwater springs system. Troy Springs is great for swimmers, floaters, and divers alike, with 72 degree water and a maximum depth of 70 feet. On sunny days, swimmers can see straight to the bottom! Due to its depth, Troy Springs is popular with Freedivers who sometimes train in its depths. Visitors can also hike around the woods and look out over the Suwannee River, where birds, fish, and even manatees can be seen.

Blue Springs Park

Blue Springs is a three vent system connected by shallow, crystal clear waterways that flow into the Santa Fe River. A fourth but separate vent, Johnson Spring, is also on the property. The main “Blue Spring” vent is at a depth of about 20 feet and is below a wooden jumping platform. The rocks leading down to it make for great snorkeling and exploration.

Ginnie Springs

Just down the road from Blue Springs Park is arguably Florida’s most famous freshwater spring system: Ginnie Springs. With four unique springs to explore, this privately owned park is worth the hype. Many visitors choose to float in inner tubes down the Santa Fe River from one spring to the next, and if you’re a certified cave diver, Ginnie Springs has some of the best caverns in the state.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Located closer to the Gulf of Mexico, Homosassa Springs showcases wild manatees from an underwater observatory at the main spring. Additionally, the park houses native Florida wildlife such as flamingos, alligators, crocodiles, bobcats, panthers, black bears, and even a hippo (hippos are not, however, native to Florida). Visitors can take a boat ride, stroll down the ADA-accessible walkway, or simply enjoy viewing some of Earth’s most fascinating animals.

You've reached Central Florida! Be sure to check out Florida Road Trip Part II: Central + South Florida.


Another great place in part of the vast Gulf Islands National Seashore is Fort Pickens. It's across 2 bridges from Pensacola. Good campgrounds, cool fort and other battlements to explore, nice little nature trails, and beautiful beaches to walk along.
Just FYI, there are 6 springs west of Tallahassee. Two of them - Vortex and Morrison - are popular diving spots. Ponce de Leon Springs State Park is a wonderful place for families to go. Only $4/car load entrance fee. Picnic tables, bath houses, and crystal clear water.
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