Whatever the season, Florida remains one of the top destinations for U.S. travelers. The sunny stretch of land reaches out into the warm, southern waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The sky ignites with sunsets so brilliant even a postcard can't contain them.
Off the coast lie the Florida Keys, an archipelago of coral cay islands teeming with wildlife, lush vegetation, and water that looks blue enough to paint with. Despite being the flattest state in America, nature lovers will feel at home exploring these breathtaking parks and unique nature preserves located in the Florida Keys.
9 Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Key West
History flows through the limestone and granite corridors of Fort Zachary, a preserved Civil War-era structure on the southern tip of Key West. The former fort now contains an extensive collection of cannons, and visitors can walk the barracks to see what it was like for soldiers living during the Civil War. The park is also home to a gorgeous beach ideal for snorkeling, bird-watching, and picnicking beneath the bright blue sky.
8 Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park
The dense tropical flora at Dagny Johnson Hammock State Park will have travelers questioning what continent they're on. Regions of the park contain a high density of West Indian hardwood hammocks, forests formed by seeds penetrating exposed, dried-out coral reefs. These ecosystems were once more common in the Keys but have since been lost to development, making the park an extraordinary place. Butterflies sunbathe atop colorful flowers, and birds sing songs from high in the trees. Though many Key West-bound folks make it a point to see coral reefs during their stay, many miss this quiet paradise and its unique offerings.
7 The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, Key Largo
It's always inspiring to meet teams of humans dedicated to leaving the planet a better place and working on behalf of animals who would not make it without intervention. The Florida Keys Wild Bird Center started when Laura Quinn developed a passion for helping her feathered friends heal from injury, displacement, and illness. The property contains several species of non-releasable wild birds and other native wildlife. The beautiful enclosures keep the animals safe and are surrounded by the rich vegetation they would see if they could survive on their own in the wild.
6 Dry Tortugas National Park
For a proper dose of surf, sun, and history, travelers should make their way to Dry Tortugas National Park by boat or seaplane. Historic 19th-century Fort Jefferson sits atop the island, surrounded by a moat and decorated with vibrant green lawns, palm trees, and coral reefs. Guests can stay dry by walking the cobbled moat wall and admiring the life beneath the surface of the crystal clear water, but seeing the best of the park means getting wet. Opportunities for snorkeling and scuba diving abound, and visitors are guaranteed to witness underwater sanctuaries teeming with colorful marine flora and fauna.
5 Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory
The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory will stir nostalgic feelings of childhood wonder in anyone who steps foot into the greenhouse. Hundreds of butterflies flutter freely in the tropical oasis, weaving in and out of waterfalls, dewy leaves, and blossoming flowers. The garden is also home to turtles, flamingoes, and other birds. The experience typically takes less than an hour to enjoy, making it the ideal way to fill a vacation day with a bit of magic.
4 John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo
It should come as no surprise that there is as much (if not more) beauty beneath the surface of Key West's crystalline waters as there is on dry land. While letting go and submerging oneself into the unknown can be a daunting task, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park makes taking the plunge easy. Every year, thousands of visitors strap on their goggles and snorkeling masks to explore the treasures lingering in the reef systems. For a bit of a drier experience, visitors can rent paddleboards, kayaks, or canoes and cruise atop miles of stunning mangrove wilderness trails.
3 The Key West Nature Preserve
In the heart of densely urbanized Key West is a slice of solitude waiting to be discovered by travelers looking for a healthy dose of peace and quiet. Though small in size, the Key West Nature Preserve provides plenty of natural scenery. A trail twists through untouched mangrove forests home to anoles, iguanas, frogs, and snakes. Wooden decks overlook thriving wetlands and provide easy access to a quiet beachfront perfect for an afternoon of relaxation.
2 Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key
There is yet another gorgeous beachside sanctuary in the Florida Keys. Bahia Hondo State Park is on the less-visited Big Pine Key, providing travelers with the opportunity to absorb the benefits of nature in a more secluded setting. The gorgeous beach is perfect for combing, filled with shells and colorful rocks buried in the sands. Once again, the warm, sparkling waters are great for swimming and snorkeling. A walk across the bridge will provide visitors with an unforgettably brilliant, open-water sunset.
1 Biscayne National Park
Biscayne National Park is one of the most popular diving spots in the United States, and for a good reason. Over 90% of the protected land is underwater, and the abundance of sunny days makes it the perfect spot to explore life beneath the surface. The reefs contain marine life weaving through reefs and shipwrecks, while various crustaceans take refuge in the shoreline swamps and extensive mangrove forests. Several archaeological sites have uncovered artifacts dating back thousands of years, highlighting the history of the native people who called the park home long ago.