In early 2012 I had my first encounter with Florida State Parks, and before we had even parked the car I was enchanted. My family rented a condo on Panama City Beach and we chose to spend a day at the closest state park, St. Andrews. Since we were visiting in February, we had the entire place to ourselves aside from a few fisherman and paddle boarders. We gathered shells, walked along the beach, and we were amazed that such a peaceful place was so close to such a busy and populated area of Florida.
In July, I had an opportunity to visit Oscar Scherer State Park when I was in Sarasota. It only confirmed my deep and abiding love for Florida and its 171 parks and historical sites. We were able to canoe down the most calm waters on an absolutely beautiful day, we were taken on a tour of the grounds and learned about everything that is being done to connect open land in Florida as well as revive the endangered Scrub Jay population that only lives in the territory of Oscar Scherer State Park. We saw a bald eagle nest and learned how to tell if an alligator is aggressive. The rangers told us about a camping program they’re hoping to set up soon where all city folk have to do is show up and their campsite will be set up and waiting for them. (There would also be options to have a ranger on hand to help with set up, food or activities.)
Compared to many other popular Florida attractions, entrance fees to the parks are practically free and they’re each unique in their own way. They even have an app, one that finds parks close to you, allows you to search parks by either what you’d like to do or what you’d like to see. Here’s a few photos from the parks I’ve been to—seriously amazing landscape and I’m already planning my trip back down that creek.
Florida State Parks 1 of 13
With over 200 parks to choose from, you will never be bored or without nature when visiting the Sunshine state.
Florida State Park App 2 of 13
The official Florida State Parks Pocket Ranger app allows you to search everything you could possibly need to know about Florida State Parks, for free! (Available on iOS or Android)
Florida State Parks by Category 3 of 13
What are you in the mood for? The Pocket Ranger app lets you search by category.
Florida State Parks by Activity 4 of 13
Let's say there's something more specific you want to do, well then you can search by activity. I'd like to suggest canoeing, it was so relaxing and enjoyable.
St. Andrews Beach 5 of 13
It was a little chilly, but it was also beautiful and we had the entire park to ourselves.
St. Andrew’s State Park Beach 6 of 13
The blue water against the white sand was unlike any I've seen on any other beach, go figure an overcast day would make the beach even more beautiful.
St. Andrews Family Photo 7 of 13
There were rumored to be gators in this water. We didn't see any, but we did see some amazing birds.
St. Andrews Swamps 8 of 13
Can you believe this area was walking distance from the beach in the previous photo?
St. Andrews Pier 9 of 13
Loved this pier, there were people fishing at the end as well as a chance to spot some turtles. (We didn't see any though!)
Oscar Scherer State Park 10 of 13
This was by far my favorite activity from my visit to Sarasota. I never thought canoeing would have been my thing, but it turns out it totally is and I want more. So much more.
Addie’s Private Paddle 11 of 13
Addie wanted to paddle but she was up a creek, literally without a paddle between another girl and me. The ranger was happy to take her out on her own little private paddle when we got back.
Canoeing in Florida 12 of 13
I desperately wish I could have taken better pictures on our hour long canoe trip, unfortunately I had to keep our canoe going and out of the trees.
Oscar Scherer State Park Bridge 13 of 13
We passed under several bridges, reminders that we were so close to society yet surrounded by nature. (Several grocery stores were within a ten minute drive of the park's entrance.)
The park rangers were desperate to let everyone know that the parks are there just waiting for you and your kids, I can promise you as a mom that no matter which park you end up in, you will have a good time together as a family getting out into nature.
Find more of Casey’s writing on her blog moosh in indy or her Babble Voices site Shutterlovely. She’s also available on twitter, facebook, flickr and Instagram. If you can’t find her any of those places? Check the couch, she’s probably taking a nap.