Florida is one of the most popular vacation destinations in the United States — but if you assumed that this sunny state doesn’t have any secret spots, then think again. Tucked away from the well-traveled tourist routes, you can find a wealth of stunning attractions. Best of all, many are situated an easy drive away from most Florida vacation rentals in exciting cities like Miami and Tallahassee. When you’re ready to escape the crowds, check out these hidden gems.
1. Three Sisters Springs, Crystal River
As one of the only places in the United States where you can legally swim with manatees, Three Sisters Springs is well worth the 90-mile drive from Orlando. From late November through late March, manatees frequent the springs, taking advantage of the warm water. Launch a kayak from Kings Bay and paddle into the springs; from there, you can hop out of your boat and swim right next to the gentle creatures. Alternatively, use the boardwalk to watch the animals from above. Stay in Crystal River for the easiest access to the springs.
2. Ichetucknee Springs State Park, Fort White
Float down the shockingly clear Ichetucknee River on an inner tube in Ichetucknee Springs State Park. Rent a tube in the park or bring your own, and watch the dense Florida forest pass by as you ride leisurely on the current. Tubing is available year round, but the routes vary by season to protect the river; check in the park office for details. For vacation rentals, look in Fort White or High Springs.
3. Caladesi Island State Park, Clearwater
Escape the hustle and bustle of Clearwater with a day trip to Caladesi Island State Park. Just a short drive away from the city, this spectacular park feels like a deserted island paradise. Wander sand paths through the palm trees, find yourself a secluded path of beach, or hop in the ocean for a dip. The park is open all year, and it’s a breeze to reach from vacation rentals in Clearwater or Clearwater Beach; be sure to pack a picnic and plenty of water.
4. Leon Sinks Geological Area, Tallahassee
Get far off the typical Florida tourist trail at the Leon Sinks Geological Area south of Tallahassee. Stroll through the forest on an extensive boardwalk system for a fantastic view of the area’s complex system of sinkholes. Afterward, head out into the Apalachicola National Forest on the park’s hiking trail system. Leon Sinks is open year round, and is easy to reach from vacation rentals in Tallahassee or Wakulla Springs.
5. Coral Castle Museum, Miami
When you need a break from South Beach, spend an afternoon at Miami’s fascinating Coral Castle Museum. This sculpture garden contains more than 1100 tons of coral, which was hauled in and carved single-handedly by one man over a period of nearly 30 years. Today, you can stroll through the castle and enjoy the artistic structures up close. The museum is open all year and easy to reach from vacation rentals all over Miami.
6. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, Weeki Wachee
Famous among locals but often overlooked by tourists, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park offers one of the most unusual Florida experiences: a live mermaid show. Most days of the year, you can head to the park auditorium to watch a magical fairy tale unfold in the giant underwater theater. Afterward, kayak down the river, take a dip at the beach, or get a thrill on the park’s water slides. Stay nearby in Weeki Wachee or by the ocean in Hernando Beach.
7. Ravine Gardens State Park, Palatka
Feel like you’ve stepped onto a movie set at Ravine Gardens State Park. Walk through dense foliage and cross suspended bridges high above the ravine floor as azaleas and hanging plants soar around you. This spectacular park is open all year, but the best time to visit is January to March, when the flowers bloom and the area bursts with color. For the best sunset and sunrise views, look for vacation rentals on the St. Johns River in Palatka.
8. Falling Waters State Park, Chipley
Hidden at the top of the Florida panhandle, Falling Waters State Park provides access to one of the most unusual sights in the state: a waterfall in a sinkhole. The water cascades more than 70 feet down the hole, which is just 20 feet wide. A well-placed observation platform at the end of a boardwalk gives you an excellent view of the falls, and a variety of hiking trails take you through the surrounding wilderness. Look for vacation rentals in Chipley or nearby Cottondale to be close to the park, which is open year round.
9. Florida Caverns State Park, Marianna
Walk past stalagmites and under stalactites year-round in Florida Caverns State Park in Marianna in northern Florida. In the park, a fascinating cave system takes you deep under the earth. Take note of the air – the caves are unusual because they are dry rather than wet. Keep an eye out for the other geological formations, including soda straws and flowstones. You can find a variety of vacation rentals in Marianna or nearby Chattahoochee.
10. Blowing Rocks, Tequesta
Situated on a tiny spit of Jupiter Island between the Jupiter River and the ocean, the Blowing Rocks nature preserve features an unexpected stretch of coastline. Here, bizarre rock formations line the sand, creating an otherworldly experience. When the waves hit the rock, geysers of water spray high into the air, giving the area its name. Visit Blowing Rocks any time of year; for the easiest drive, stay in Tequesta or Hobe Sound to the north.
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