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Hit the road: Explore Florida’s national parks

Take in the beauty of three Florida national parks all within driving distance from Tampa Bay.

A fort surrounded by cerulean water, a wall, and mangroves

Here’s a peek at Dry Tortugas’ Fort Jefferson.

Photo by Ruggy Bea rLA Photography via Wikimedia Commons

Hankering for a summer national park road trip, without springing for flights to the West Coast or hopping in a camper van? We’re here to help.

Move over Zion and Yosemite... we’re heading to Florida’s very own slices of stunning natural beauty. The Sunshine State boasts three of its own national parks — all within driving distance of Tampa Bay + worth checking off your bucket list.

Everglades National Park

It’s on every Floridian’s bucket list for a reason. Folks tow their bug spray and floppy hats for thousands of miles to take a peek at the largest subtropical wilderness in the United States.

  • Drive time: ~3.5 hours from Tampa
  • Highlights: This is the place to see Florida wildlife like manatees, American crocodiles, and Florida panthers, in their natural habitats. There’s too many eco-adventures to take within the park, from biking and hiking to bird watching and fishing.
  • Try this: Yes, you can drive through the Everglades, but we recommend booking an immersive experience like Captain Mitch’s airboat tour or a boat tour through the mangroves. What’s more, you can even go glamping or stay on a house boat within the park. Check out lodging options. Entrance passes to the park run $20-$35.
Snorkelers take in coral underwater

Make sure to pack your mask to snorkel Biscayne National Park.

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Biscayne National Park

Located just an hour away from Miami, this park is Florida at its finest. Picture this: mangrove-fringed shorelines, peaceful open waters, sunken shipwrecks, colorful coral reefs, and lighthouses.

  • Drive time: ~4.5 hours from Tampa
  • Highlights: Tons of open water for snorkeling, fishing, boating, diving, and paddling. Plus, 500+ species of fish, keys for hiking and camping, and the Maritime Heritage Trail.
  • Try this: Make a reservation for a paddle adventure, snorkeling trip, or heritage trail through the Biscayne National Park Institute. You can also sign up for volunteer marine debris cleanup trips within the park. While the park doesn’t charge entrance fees, you might need to pay docking or camping fees.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Dry Tortugas might be the 9th least visited national park in the US — bringing in about 84,285 visitors per year, according to Outside Magazine — but we’re going to chalk it up to difficulty in getting there.

  • Drive time: ~7.5 hours from Tampa to Key West
  • Highlights: Located 70 miles off the coast of Key West, this 100 square-mile park features bright blue open water, seven small islands, Fort Jefferson, coral reefs, and tons of marine life.
  • Try this: Book a ferry trip to the park on the Yankee Freedom, a seaplane through Key West Seaplane Adventures, or of course, you could take your own boat. An entrance pass to the park is $15.
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