#10. Blue Spring State Park, Orange City; 523, 235 Visitors: With more than half a million visitors yearly, Blue Spring State Park starts out our list at number 10. This is home to the largest spring on the St. Johns River and a favorite winter spot for hundreds of manatees. The manatees draw huge crowds in the cooler months, while the cool, clear spring is a summer paradise for us humans.
#9. Bahia Honda State Park, Big Pine Key; 535,578 Visitors: If you want to camp or rent a cabin in the Florida Keys, this is where you want to be. Beautiful beaches, amazing views, and all the amenities for the perfect Keys experience. Plan well ahead, as this park sells out months in advance.
#8. Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine; 548,678 Visitors: Anchoring the southeast corner of America’s oldest city, even the name of this state park is enchanting. More than 4 miles of pristine beachfront run south from St. Augustine Inlet and the mouth of the Matanzas River. See Florida much the same way as the first Spaniards did.
#7. Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne; 714,865 Visitors: Covering the southern tip of Key Biscayne in Miami’s Biscayne Bay Aquatic Preserve, this state park is home to one of Dr. Beach’s Top 10 Beaches and the oldest standing structure in Miami-Dade County, the historic lighthouse built in 1825.
#6. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Key Largo; 718,303 Visitors: This is America’s first underwater park, designated to showcase 70 square nautical miles of the world’s 3rd largest coral reef. Experience this Florida gem by paddling, snorkeling, scuba, or glass-bottom boat…but place this park on your must-do list.
#5. Lovers Key State Park, Fort Myers Beach; 754,692 Visitors: More than 3/4 of a million people swarmed this barrier island, enjoying the award-winning beach, as well as the hiking, biking, wildlife viewing, paddling, photography…well, you get the idea. PS – Visitors are not required to be lovers…although it doesn’t hurt.
#4. St. Andrews State Park, Panama City Beach; 770,298 Visitors: This panhandle paradise boasts emerald gulf waters and sugar-white sand, along with all the amenities for a wide variety of beachy fun. You have the Gulf of Mexico on one side with St. Andrew Bay and Grand Lagoon on the other, providing rich biodiversity.
#3. Sebastian Inlet State Park, Melbourne Beach; 781,518 Visitors: Legendary salt water fishing and top gun surfing competitions attract visitors from around the globe to this state park. Sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Indian River Lagoon, this prime piece of real estate offers incredible biodiversity. In fact, the Indian River Lagoon is the most biodiverse estuary in North America.
#2. Gasparilla Island State Park, Boca Grande; 823,526 Visitors: Perhaps this parks namesake, the legendary dread pirate Jose Gaspar (Gasparilla), draws this huge attendance. Or the restored historical Port Boca Grande Lighthouse. Fishing and shelling are popular activities, as well as snorkeling, swimming, and pretending to be a pirate. 😉
#1. Honeymoon Island State Park, Dunedin; 1,134,509 Visitors: Florida is for lovers! With well over a million visitors annually, Honeymoon Island is the undisputed champion. Within easy reach of the greater Tampa Bay area, this island paradise offers a quick get away. As far as the number of relationships kindled or rekindled here goes, nobody’s saying. 😉
Did you notice what all these parks have in common? Water. In fact, they all offer some of the best salt water experiences in the world, except Blue Spring, which is the only freshwater site to make the Top 10 list. Clearly, most people are drawn to Florida’s spectacular waters and all the activities they offer. How about you?
Reference: Florida State Parks Annual Attendance PDF chart for FY 2010-2011.