Explore the Best State Parks in Central Florida for Your Next Outdoor Adventure

Florida is full of state parks—175 of them to be exact—and more than 40 of them are in Central Florida. So how do you choose the best ones? 

When visiting Central Florida, explore beyond the touristy areas and see what the Sunshine State is all about. Our state parks are the best way to do that. I will help you narrow down your choices with some of my favorites in the area. Some are refreshing springs with swimming and tubing, while others are best for hiking and paddling. And if you love to camp, I’ve got you covered there, too. 

I grew up in Central Florida and am now raising my family here. Whenever I can, I visit a state park, sometimes to revisit one from my childhood and other times to explore new places. My favorite thing is to go with my family at different times of the year and notice how the parks look; it’s almost like visiting for the first time.

Keep reading to learn more about my favorite Central Florida State Parks, which I’m sure you will love. 

Table of Contents

Blue Spring State Park

Blue Spring State Park is a beautiful park that offers a wealth of activities for all, whether you’re there for a day trip or an extended stay. It’s accessible and friendly to wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers. 

Located at 2100 W. French Ave., Orange City, FL, Blue Spring State Park is famous for its clear, 72°F waters and as a winter refuge for Florida manatees. Just 41 miles north of Orlando and 38 miles southwest of Daytona Beach, it’s a beloved spot for both locals and tourists.

My own childhood was filled with visits to Blue Spring State Park with my parents—it was a budget-friendly outing close to home. Now, as a parent myself, I love bringing my family here. We’ve enjoyed everything from day trips and educational field trips to camping in tents and RVs, creating memories that last a lifetime.

One of the park’s highlights is the 1.3-mile boardwalk that offers unobstructed views of the spring run and accommodates all mobility needs. Hiking trails of various lengths and terrains provide another way to explore the park’s beauty. The park is also great for spotting Florida wildlife, including manatees, alligators, and birds, especially from the boardwalk. 

This is how cold 72°F spring water is.

Kids will love the playground near picnic tables, restrooms, and a snack shop. 

Visiting the 1872-built Thursby House is a must for history buffs. Its interpretive displays and historically accurate kitchen offer a peek into the past. 

Family picnics are a breeze, with numerous tables and open grassy spaces for spreading a blanket. If you prefer convenience, the Blue Spring Canteen has snacks and meals.  

Camping options range from tent and RV campsites to cozy cabins, complete with all the amenities for a comfortable stay. 

Although swimming, tubing, and paddling (in the spring run) are currently closed, boat tours offer a fantastic way to experience the park’s waterways. You can also paddle the St. Johns River, The Lagoon, and other routes

De Leon Springs State Park

De Leon Springs State Park is a very pretty park with a rich history and opportunities to explore the spring, hike trails, have a picnic, or spot wildlife. There’s something for everyone. Plus, the park is wheelchair-, walker-, and stroller-friendly! 

I grew up visiting De Leon Springs with my family and on school trips, and now I bring my own family here. We’ve enjoyed many day visits, homeschool field trips, and birthday parties.

Located at 601 Ponce De Leon Blvd., De Leon Springs, FL, De Leon Springs is just 47 miles north of Orlando and 28 miles west of Daytona Beach. 

View of the swimming area and swimmers at De Leon Springs State Park on a hot and sunny June Day.
View of the swim area at De Leon Springs

Its fascinating history dates back to the Mayaca Indians, Seminole Indians, and European settlers. Legend has it that Ponce de Leon searched for the Fountain of Youth here, although there’s no evidence of his visit. 

The park’s inviting 72°F waters are perfect for cooling off during hot Florida summers. The park has accessible walkways and boardwalks, making it easy for everyone to explore the spring, sugar mill, visitor center, fishing pier, and docks.

De Leon Springs offers two main trails: a 0.5-mile nature trail and the 4.2-mile Wild Persimmon Trail. The nature trail is accessible and leads to “Old Methuselah,” a 500-year-old bald cypress

Wildlife spotting is a favorite activity, with opportunities to see manatees, alligators, snake birds, and turtles. 

The Fountain of Youth and an interpretive sign at De Leon Springs State Park in De Leon Springs, Florida.

The spring pool is excellent for swimming and snorkeling. Those interested in paddling can rent kayaks, canoes, and paddleboards from De Leon Springs Adventures. Don’t miss the daily Fountain of Youth Boat Tour or fishing at the spring run and pier. 

For a unique dining experience, visit the Old Sugar Mill Pancake House to cook your own pancakes. 

Whether you’re picnicking, playing volleyball, or exploring the visitor center, De Leon Springs State Park promises an unforgettable adventure!

Wekiwa Springs State Park

Wekiwa Springs, or Wekiva Springs, is a beloved destination in Central Florida. The springs have long been a cherished spot for visitors—it’s Orange County’s longest-running tourist attraction. Its name, “Wekiwa,” comes from the Creek language, meaning “spring.” 

The swimming area with swimmers and surrounding tree cover at Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka, Florida.
The swim area at Wekiwa Springs State Park

Conveniently located just 30 minutes north of Orlando and about an hour southwest of Daytona Beach, this natural haven at 1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka, FL, offers a perfect escape from city life.

Wekiwa Springs feeds into the scenic Wekiwa River, surrounded by lush tropical hammocks. The constant 72°F spring water is ideal for a refreshing swim, and the park offers canoe and kayak rentals for paddling enthusiasts. You can get paddle details on my Central Florida paddling blog. While scuba diving isn’t permitted, you can still enjoy various other water activities. 

The park has accessible features, including a chair lift and ramp for spring entry, accessible campsites, and an interpretive pavilion. It’s always a good idea to call ahead to check on accessibility or ask for special accommodations.

The park has 25 miles of trails, ideal for hikers of all levels. 

  • The Wet-to-Dry Trail is a short 0.4-mile loop that crosses a charming boardwalk and footbridge over the spring swim area. 
  • For a longer trek, the 6-mile Orange Trail offers a dog-friendly route through forested areas with occasional sun exposure. It is part of the Florida Trail. 
  • The 12.5-mile White Trail, also dog-friendly, can get muddy but is rich in wildlife and sandy terrain. 
  • The Mill Creek Loop Trail is a 3.6-mile loop through dunes and flatland ecosystems, showcasing palmettos and wildlife. 

Whether hiking, biking, or camping (with options ranging from primitive to RV sites), Wekiwa Springs promises an unforgettable outdoor experience. Just arrive early, especially during summer, holidays, and weekends, as the park can fill up quickly!

Silver Springs State Park

Silver Springs State Park is a standout beauty in Florida, famous for its iconic glass-bottom boats. From the 1930s to the 1980s, this park was a hot spot for filming movies and TV shows. With more than 30 springs to explore, it’s a paddler’s paradise. The St. Johns River Water Management District site has fascinating information for those interested in the science behind these natural wonders. 

Situated just outside Ocala National Forest, Silver Springs is only a 90-minute drive from Orlando and Daytona Beach, making it perfect for a day trip. The address is 5656 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Silver Springs, FL. 

Boat dock for the glass bottom boats at Silver Springs State Park in Silver Springs, Florida.
Glass bottom boats docked at Silver Springs State Park

The glass-bottom boat tour is a must-do and is fully accessible—we took the tour with our kids and my mother-in-law, and everyone loved it. 

Numerous routes are available for paddlers, including a short 1.1-mile loop we enjoyed. My blog post has more information about paddling Silver Spring.

Hiking is available, but check the website for trail conditions. The park is also accessible, with overnight accommodations, a museum, an education center, and paved sidewalks along the Silver River. Various gardens, such as the Camellia Garden and Osceola Garden, offer lovely, leisurely strolls.

Wildlife abounds here, from manatees and alligators to turtles and water birds. Alligators are both a pro and a con—exciting to see but a bit nerve-wracking when you stumble upon them. And yes, there are monkeys! Just keep a safe distance, as they are known for flinging poo. 

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, posing with wings at Silver Springs State Park in Silver Springs, Florida.
Make sure to take your photo with the Silver Springs Wings!

Silver Springs can get crowded and often reaches capacity during peak times, so plan accordingly. Swimming is prohibited, so cooling off isn’t an option. 

Be sure to visit the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center for a small additional fee. 

The park also has 59 campsites across two campgrounds, primitive camping, and even a wedding venue—we saw a wedding happening during one of our visits. 

Silver Springs offers an array of activities for everyone, making it a must-visit destination in Florida.

Bulow Creek State Park

Bulow Creek State Park, 3351 Old Dixie Highway, Ormond Beach, FL, is a relatively unknown park just 60 minutes northeast of Orlando and 35 minutes south of Daytona Beach. Best of all, it’s free to enter

With 5,600 acres, including 1,500 submerged, Bulow Creek State Park is home to one of the largest stands of southern live oaks, including the majestic 600-year-old Fairchild Oak. This ancient oak is an impressive natural landmark and a popular spot for couples to tie the knot.

Father, kids, and German Shepherd posing with the trailhead sign for Fairchild Oak Hiking Trail at Bulow Creek State Park in Ormond Beach, Florida.

For hiking enthusiasts, Bulow Creek offers the Wahlin Trail, a short 0.3-mile loop that leads to the Fairchild Oak. Although we skipped this one, it’s known for its short boardwalk and the soothing sounds of water flowing under the bridge. 

The Fairchild Oak Hiking Trail is over 6 miles long, but you can turn back anytime. We visited in February and found the trail quite muddy, with some sections completely impassable due to flooding. Despite this, the hike was beautiful. It started underwhelming but became increasingly interesting. If you make it to the end, you’ll be rewarded with the sight of the Bulow Plantation ruins.

Bulow Creek is terrific for a family picnic, with tables available or plenty of clear spaces to put out a blanket. 

Wildlife is abundant, and you might spot deer, owls, raccoons, egrets, ducks, herons, and other wading birds. 

If paddling is your thing, check out the Bulow Creek Canoe Trail on Walter Boardman Lane. It’s picturesque and excellent for fishing. 

View of Bulow Creek from Bulow Creek Bridge along the Fairchild Oak HIking Trail at Bulow Creek State Park in Ormond Beach, Florida.
View from Bulow Creek Bridge

While the trails aren’t accessible, the picnic facilities, restrooms, and interpretive exhibits are. 

Bulow Creek State Park might seem like an unusual addition to your list, but it’s fantastic for a half-day adventure in the woods and offers quiet time in nature.

North Peninsula State Park

North Peninsula State Park, located at 40 Highbridge Road, Ormond by the Sea, FL, is a must-visit spot just 60 minutes north of Orlando and 30 minutes south of Daytona Beach. 

The park offers three miles of coquina sand beaches and coastal marshlands, all for free! The drive to the park is stunning, taking you along a narrow road beside Bulow Creek.

A white bird flying over the water at North Peninsula State Park in Ormond by the Sea, Florida.
A great moment captured while birding at North Peninsula State Park

The 2.5-mile Coastal Strand Trail is a treat for hikers. The trailhead is near the parking lot at Smith Creek Landing. We walked less than half of it during a small homeschool group outing, but lunchtime snuck up on us. 

The trail winds through coastal scrub and maritime hammock, offering plenty of bird-watching opportunities. We spotted a gopher tortoise burrow, though the tortoise was either napping or exploring. 

Keep an eye out for box turtles, ospreys, deer, and, if you’re lucky, a Florida scrub jay or even a bobcat.

In addition to hiking, North Peninsula State Park is ideal for swimming in the Atlantic, picnicking, birding, and shelling. On High Bridge Road, there’s a canoe, kayak, and paddleboard launch along Bulow Creek/Halifax River. 

Gopher tortoise burrow along the Coastal Strand Trail at North Peninsula State Park in Ormond by the Sea, Florida.

From May to September, the beach becomes a nesting ground for loggerhead and green turtles. Fishing or crabbing at Smith Creek Landing is another great activity. 

The park is accessible and features a boardwalk to the beach, picnic tables, and a creek overlook, making it easy for everyone to enjoy. 

Hontoon Island State Park

Hontoon Island State Park, nestled on the St. Johns River, is a delightful escape that is only accessible via water. This 1,650-acre island is surrounded by the St. Johns River, Hontoon Dead River, and Snake Creek, offering a serene and unusual setting.

The park is located at 2309 River Ridge Road, DeLand, FL, just 55 minutes north of Orlando and 45 minutes west of Daytona Beach. 

Due to hurricane damage, the ferry service is currently unavailable, so you’ll need to paddle or boat there. For the latest updates, check the Florida State Parks website or call the ranger station at 386-736-5309.

Photo of a paper map at Hontoon Island State Park in DeLand, Florida.

When my kids were tiny, we visited Hontoon Island often. The short boat ride was always an adventure, and the fact that it was free was a big plus. We’ve even celebrated birthdays there! 

The park features a playground, picnicking areas, paddling opportunities, hiking, biking, and camping. 

All the hiking trails are pet-friendly, making it an excellent spot for the whole family. The Hammock Hiking Nature Trail is a 3-mile round trip that guides hikers to an ancient shell mound and a 300-year-old live oak at Bear Tree Landing. For more exploration, there’s also the Pine Run Trail.

Hontoon Island offers six rustic one-room cabins with: 

  • one picnic table each
  • ceiling fans
  • bunk beds (no linens)
  • one electric outlet
  • screened-in porch with a table and chairs 
  • water
  • grill

There are also 12 primitive tent sites. A community bathhouse serves both campers and cabin guests. 

A dad and his kids playing on the playground at Hontoon Island State Park in DeLand, Florida.
My hubby and the kids playing on the playground.

The island has an intriguing history, with evidence of human habitation dating back over 2,000 years. The visitor center showcases artifacts found on the island. Hontoon Island was a pioneer homestead, boatyard, and center for commercial fishing and cattle ranching. 

Watch for ospreys and wading birds like herons and egrets as you explore this historical and tranquil playground.

Plan Your Visit

I hope you got plenty of information to help you narrow down which Florida State Parks to visit in Central Florida.

If you need a little more help, check out these blog posts:

Are you looking for other cool places to explore that are not state parks? Here are my favorites:

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