I was blown away by the amount of land some Florida counties hold in conservation for us – you, me, the public. Here are the Top 10 Wildest Counties based on the percentage of each county held in conservation according to the Florida Natural Areas Inventory (FNAI). I applaud these leading counties and extend a heartfelt thank you to all the agencies (Federal, State, County, City), NGOs and private landowners involved for preserving our natural areas.
#10 – Brevard: 41% of Brevard County is conservation land, nearly a quarter of a million acres! Not to name-drop, but Canaveral National Seashore, Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, and the Indian River Lagoon all call Brevard County home. There’s also Brevard County EEL properties, River Lakes Conservation Area, Sebastian Inlet State Park, Seminole Ranch Conservation Area, and Three Forks Conservation Area.
#9 – Baker: While Brevard County has more acres of conservation land, Baker County has a higher percentage @ 44%, adding more than 165,000 acres to Florida’s natural lands. Just west of Florida’s largest city, Jacksonville, this county is home to the Osceola National Forest, the John M. Bethea State Forest, and miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail.
#8 — Okaloosa: The first of our counties to have more than 50% of their land in conservation, Okaloosa County gives us more than 317,000 acres, a very respectable 53%. Famous for its Gulf Coast beaches and barrier islands, it’s also home to 3 state parks: Blackwater River State Park, Fred Gannon Rocky Bayou State Park, and Henderson Beach State Park. The Yellow River Wildlife/Water Management Area (including the Yellow River Paddling Trail) and miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail add even more dimensions to this nature haven.
#7 – Broward: Busy, busy Broward County gives us nearly half a million conservation acres, an outstanding 62%. A nice chunk of the Everglades falls within the county (including Water Conservation Area 3A), as well as Hugh Taylor Birch State Park, John U. Lloyd Beach State Park and the many fine natural areas of Broward County Parks & Rec.
#6 – Wakulla: A small county with a big wild side, 63% of Wakulla County is in conservation lands, nearly a quarter of a million acres. Here you’ll find Florida’s largest national forest – Apalachicola National Forest – as well as Bald Point State Park, Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, Ochlockonee River State Park, San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park, and St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge.
#5 – Liberty: Also with 63% of their land in conservation, Liberty County contributes more than 339,000 acres to nature. Just southwest of the state capital – Tallahassee – you’ll find Apalachicola National Forest (the state’s largest), Apalachicola Wildlife Management Area, Apalachicola River Water Management District, Tate’s Hell Wildlife Management Area, and Torreya State Park.
#4 – Miami-Dade: Shocker! I was surprised to find Broward County at 62%, until I saw Miami-Dade County at a staggering 68%! Incredibly, more than 850,000 acres are held in conservation here, including Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Biscayne National Park, Francis S. Taylor Wildlife Management Area, Oleta River State Park, the Southern Glades Wildlife & Environmental Area, and The Barnacle Historic State Park.
#3 – Collier County: Opposite Broward County on the Gulf Coast is Collier County, keeping 68% of their land in conservation, more than 876,000 acres. Talk about name-dropping, this wild county is home to Big Cypress National Preserve, Collier-Seminole State Park, Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Fakahatchee Strand Preserve State Park, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Picayune Strand State Forest/Wildlife Management Area, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
#2 – Franklin County: This small county has a gigantic wild side, a whopping 80% of their land in conservation! Franklin County is home to the Apalachicola National Forest/Wildlife Management Area (Florida’s largest), Dr. Julian G. Bruce St. George Island State Park, St. Vincent National Wildlife Refuge, and Tate’s Hell State Forest/Wildlife Management Area.
#1 – Monroe County: Anchoring the southern tip of Florida, Monroe County is wild enough to be primal. Are you ready for this? An astounding 96% of this county is in conservation! 96%. 612,000 acres. Here are the major natural areas to be enjoyed here:
Bahia Honda State Park, Curry Hammock State Park, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, Dry Tortugas National Park, Everglades National Park, Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail, Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park, Indian Key Historic State Park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park, Lignumvitae Key Botanical State Park, Long Key State Park, San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park, and Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park.
Monroe County, you have my utmost respect. And so do the rest of our Top 10 Wildest Counties. This includes all agencies (Federal, State, County, City), NGOs, and private landholders involved. Thank you.
PS – Readers, there are several counties with only 1%, 2%, 3% and 4% of their land in conservation, so the counties listed here have done a truly outstanding job of protecting natural areas for us. This land is your land. I encourage you to get out and enjoy it, lest it all slowly disappears from our lives. See our Where-to-Go and Bucket List for more great places to experience Florida’s Natural Wonders.
PPS — Want to find out how much of your Florida county is in conservation? Here’s the FNAI PDF Acres of Conservation Lands by County.