Canaveral National Seashore includes the largest natural beach on the east coast of Florida. Covering 57,661 acres and encompassing 24 miles of shoreline in Volusia and Brevard Counties, the seashore harbors more sea turtle nests annually than any other national park. During turtle nesting season (May to October), look for yellow stakes in the sand marking the seashore’s approximately 6,000 threatened and endangered sea turtle nests. The same pristine setting that draws the turtles here each year attracts beachgoers looking for an authentic, Old Florida experience: sand, surf, sky, and no development except for the boardwalks over the sand dunes. Access the seashore from the northern Apollo entrance at New Smyrna Beach or the southern Playalinda entrance in Titusville. Best Bet: Among other ranger-led programs are guided Turtle Watch tours in June and July. For reservations, call +1 386 428 3384, ext. 223, beginning on May 15. Inside Tip: Come early to beat the crowds, and bring provisions. No food or drinking water is available at the beaches; restrooms are available.
When to Go: The seashore operates daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Apollo Visitor Center in New Smyrna Beach is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Must Dos: Enjoy the sun and surf on pristine beaches. Swim, fish, surf, and comb for shells, sea beans, and sea glass. Hike a short self-guided trail to an ancient Native American shell mound or through a lush coastal hammock. Go boating (airboats are prohibited) or fishing (license required). To backcountry camp, make reservations by calling the Visitor Information Center at +1 386 428 3384, ext. 0.
Fun Fact: Created by Congress in 1975, the Canaveral National Seashore was set aside as land to provide an undeveloped buffer to protect the security of NASA aerospace facilities at Cape Canaveral. The area had been a U.S. missile-testing site since 1950, and NASA started operations there in 1958.
Wildlife is abundant at Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge near De Leon Springs but many animals at the refuge are shy, nocturnal, and rarely observed by visitors. Patient birders are rewarded with sightings of some of the 230 species of birds that arrive seasonally. Be on the lookout for hawks (red-shouldered hawk, red-tailed hawk, swallow-tailed kite), shore birds (killdeer, lesser yellowlegs, Wilson's snipe), songbirds (barn swallow, tufted titmouse, Carolina wren), wading birds (white ibis, great egret, great blue heron), and waterfowl (wood duck, ring-necked duck, blue-winged teal). Seven federally listed endangered species inhabit the refuge, including the Florida manatee and gopher tortoise. Best Bet: Click here for information about wildlife-watching by season.
Photograph by Matt Moyer, National Geographic Travel
De Leon Springs State Park
The centerpiece of 625-acre De Leon Springs State Park in De Leon Springs is the spring that gushes 19 million gallons of water per day and fuels the Spring Garden Run. Swim or snorkel in the 72-degree water in the accessible swimming area that can be entered by stairs, wheelchair ramp, or swimmer lift. Rent a kayak, canoe, or paddleboat. Follow the paddling trail to the 22,000-acre Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Go birding on part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Hike 4.2 miles on the Wild Persimmon Hiking Trail. Or walk the 0.5-mile paved Nature Trail to a 600-year-old cypress tree. Tour the Butterfly Garden, featuring approximately 500 plants for local and migrating butterflies and hummingbirds. Best Bet: Take a 50-minute ecotour aboard the M.V. Acuera into the Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge. Inside Tip: Cook your own pancakes at your table at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House, housed in a century-old replica of an 1830s sugar mill.
Photograph by Ron Buskirk, Alamy
Wekiwa Springs State Park
Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka protects another crystal-clear spring. This one pumps an impressive 42 million gallons a day. The 72-degree water gets crowded with swimmers in the summer. For a quieter experience, explore the park’s 13 miles of trails on foot, bike, or horseback. Rent a canoe or kayak from the concessionaire Wekiwa Springs State Park Nature Adventures and paddle along the Wekiva River or Rock Springs Run. Campers can stay overnight in full-facility or primitive sites. Fun Fact: The name Wekiwa comes from the Creek Indians, later called Seminoles, and means “bubbling spring.”