Florida Guide > State Parks
Central Florida’s State Parks
Despite Florida having over 160 State Parks they are not nearly as well known, to the average traveller, as the National Parks such as the Everglades or the ever-popular theme parks of Orlando. However the Florida State Parks cover approximately 700, 000 acres plus over a hundred miles of sandy beaches, which is the equivalent of three of England’s National Parks, Exmoor, Dartmoor and the Peak District, combined.
Situated approximately 30 mile north east of Orlando and 2 miles west of Orange City is Blue Springs State Park. Named after the largest spring to feed the St Johns River this park is home, during the winter months, to up to 200 manatees. The constant temperature of the waters from the spring attracts manatees away from the cooler waters of the main river and it is a wonderful sight to view the manatees, both old and young, as they wallow around in the spring run, blowing out air as they surface before sinking down into the clear waters again. There are plenty of picnic benches and barbeques available, although weekends can be busy.
Slightly less popular is Hontoon Island, just across the St Johns River. The island can only be reached by electric ferry and, while bikes can be taken across, no cars are allowed. Native Americans inhabited the area for thousands of years and evidence is still to be seen as you stroll along the many pathways that crisscross the park. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent if you wish to embark on a self-guided tour of the waterways and inlets of Hontoon Island.
Less than 20 miles north of Blue Springs is the De Leon Springs State Park. Once renowned as a winter resort where visitors were promised, “a fountain of youth impregnated with a deliciously healthy combination of soda and sulphur' , the park is still popular with swimmers and is home to the 4-mile Wild Persimmon Trail. The trail takes you through flood plain forest, abandoned agricultural fields and ‘oak hammocks’, offering glimpses of deer, turkey and even occasionally Florida Black bears. At the park’s Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant you can have lunch and even make your own pancakes if you so wish.
Although the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park shares its name with the popular short-term rental district associated with Orlando, the park is some 80 miles south of the hotels and villas visited by so many vacationers. At weekends the park runs twice daily buggy tours of what is the largest example of Florida Dry Prairie. These tours take you to portions of the Preserve that could otherwise not be reached, and last for 2 ½ hours. During the tour you are likely to see alligators, white-tail deer, wild turkey and a varied array of birds. As seating is strictly limited advance booking of the tours is essential. The park is situated approximately 25 miles north of the City of Okeechobee.
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