When it comes to our homeschool, field trips are the backbone. There is nothing quite like a completely hands-on learning experience. Books and videos are great when you can’t be there in person, but there is no better teacher than life itself.
That’s why we make it a priority to stop in every possible education spot we can find! On a recent visit to Florida for a homeschool convention, we hit the road to the South Florida national parks.
Ready, Set, Go—South Florida National Parks With Kids
Alligators, manatees, and turtles—oh my! South Florida is a dream destination for wildlife lovers. You’ll learn about diverse habitats and ecosystems that will blow your mind. Did you know that South Florida is home to THREE National Parks? The Everglades is the most well-known, but you’ll also love Biscayne and the Dry Tortugas. PLUS, once you’re down there, you can’t miss Pennekamp State Park.
I’m going to tell you all of our favorite stops in South Florida, but first, you’ll want to download this awesome printable pack. Teaching your kids about the ecosystems, animals, and history you expect to see will give them a framework to better absorb the information when they get to learn it in person! Plus, you’ll love the daily travel log!
Our Top Tips for Visiting South Florida National Parks With Kids
We drove into South Florida from Orlando because we were here for a conference. Driving is the frugal way to go, and I think Florida is full of fun stops along the way like Crystal River, Rainbow Springs, and of course, Buc-ee’s in Daytona.
But, it takes forever to drive from north to south in Florida, so keep that in mind when planning. If you’re going to fly in, consider flying to Naples and renting a car. That way, you can see all the South Florida parks and not pay the higher prices from Miami. We stayed at Home2 Suites Naples 1-75 Pine Ridge Road on the way down. It was a perfect spot for an early morning airboat tour.
Everglades National Park With Kids
Our first official day started in the Everglades. We took this epic airboat ride out of Everglades City. The company is a Christian family-owned company and one of the few that has headsets so you can talk to each other.
I’m not going to lie—this airboat ride is not for the faint at heart. It was the first one my kids were old enough to remember, but having grown up in Florida, I’ve been many times. This ride was different. We were flying through the mangrove forest! My teens couldn’t stop talking about it.
We drove about 40 minutes from the airboat ride to the Shark Valley entrance of Everglades National Park. There are 3 different entrances, but this is the best in our opinion. Of course, we got our national park passport stamp at the visitor’s center first and learned about everything we’d see. We considered biking the path, but it was June and 150 degrees outside (OK, I’m exaggerating . . . a little.) There is a tram tour you can take, but you need to book tickets in advance. Do it!
Since we didn’t have tickets and it was so hot, we did the short loop, and in just that time, we saw a baby alligator, a few teenage-sized gators, turtles, and tons of birds. There is NO shade at this park, so work that into your plan. The tram is definitely the way to go!
Plan to bring hats, sunscreen, and bug spray when you come. You’ll need them all year-round, but especially in the summer months.
Because we had been to the Everglades many times, we kept moving pretty quickly. But you can easily spend a day exploring this park’s different visitor centers and trails. I highly recommend a boat tour, even if you don’t like the fast-paced airboats.
Biscayne National Park With Kids
The drive to Biscayne National Park is about one hour from Shark Valley, and it’s a BEAUTIFUL drive. Biscayne is a really unique park in that 95% of the national park is water! You can go on a number of tours to snorkel or view the lighthouse, but the weather was not in our favor for either. Instead, we asked lots of questions in the visitor center, played with the hands-on exhibits, and got our passport stamp. Then we headed out to the boardwalk for a beautiful walk.
Because the weather wasn’t great, our visibility wasn’t either, but we did see some fun fish and a few little creatures in the rocks.
Our journey continued south to Key Largo with a stop at Robert Is Here Fruit Stand and Farm. This is a must-do on the journey to the Keys. I’d say it lives up to the hype. We had fresh fruit smoothies, bought some fruit, and even saw two giant tortoises mating in the petting zoo out back. (Just another day in science class! Ha!)
After a pretty full day, it was finally time to head to the hotel. We stayed at Hilton Curio in Key Largo, which I highly recommend. There was so much for the kids to explore, from hammocks to lizards to paddleboards. The kids had an incredible time.
Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park With Kids
Admittedly not a national park, John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park still wins some time on this list because of its incredible learning opportunities. We chose to kayak so the kids could get up close and personal with the mangrove ecosystem. The water is relatively clear, so you can see some pretty fun animals.
Somehow I didn’t get any pictures of wildlife, but we saw manatees, plenty of fish, a gator, and some pretty large lizards. The mangrove loop is really long and finishes off on the ocean side, so be ready for some tougher paddling on that side.
Wear lots of sunscreen and a hat. Kayaks aren’t fast, so this was a HOT tour in the afternoon.
The drive from Key Largo to Key West is about 2 hours without traffic (and there often is traffic.) But you won’t even feel the time because there are plenty of fun stops AND it’s absolutely beautiful.
You can stop at Bahia Honda State Beach, search for Key deer, visit the Turtle Hospital, and our personal favorite, stop at Robbie’s in Islamorada. If this place looks like a tourist trap, it totally is. But it’s the best ever. You can feed tarpon, and you must. It was thrilling. There is shopping and, of course, a great restaurant. It’s worth the hype.
Key West With Kids
I wouldn’t say that Key West is known for its family-friendly atmosphere, but there are many great things to do here besides the national parks we came for. There are places to learn history, geography, ecology, zoology, and pretty much everything in between. Some of our favorites were:
- The Hemingway Home and Museum
- Key West Shipwreck Museum
- Sunset dolphin cruise Not only did we see a ton of dolphins, but our guide was full of history, geography, and more.
- Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park
- Boca Chita Lighthouse
One tip for making the most of the island with little people is to rent a golf cart. We LOVED having the ability to hop in and ride up and down the streets, but note that you have to park legally, and parking isn’t easy in Key West.
Dry Tortugas National Park With Kids
I don’t want to play favorites, but our trip to South Florida was largely centered around this one park: Dry Tortugas National Park. It’s been a bucket list item for years, and it was well worth the effort. First, you should know that there are only two ways to get there: boat and seaplane. Because the trip is so long, you won’t find tours, but there are some private sailboat charters. I’ve been told the seaplane is epic, but the price tag didn’t fit our family size, so we went with the ferry. It’s not cheap, and it’s not short. The ride over is 3 hours, and you should be prepared if you get sea sick.
There was a guide on the boat giving facts, history, geography, and all kinds of things pretty much the whole way there. (Most of us slept in silence on the way back!)
The ferry provides snorkeling equipment, but you’ll want to bring towels, a change of clothes, sun protection, and a hat. Once you get off the boat, you are free to explore! We started with Fort Jefferson, learned about the island’s history, and got our passport stamp. That part was probably an hour and a half of our time on the island.
Then we headed down to the beach to snorkel. The best snorkeling was right up against the fort wall. It was easy enough, but the water is too deep to touch the bottom. It would have been nice to have a floatation device to help hold you up. If you are snorkeling with younger children, I’d definitely bring one along.
Be sure you wear sun-protective clothing and reef-safe sunscreen (apply every hour). The sun is very close down here, and you’ll get a sunburn easily. If you take the ferry, though, you won’t have terribly long. We snorkeled and played on the beach for about two hours before we headed back to change and get ready to return home.
South Florida National Park Printables
One of the most important parts of taking your kids on epic field trips is making sure they learn about what they plan to see. There is nothing cooler than a sea turtle floating by in the ocean unless, of course, you have no idea what you are really seeing! Take the time to help your kids learn a little before you go. We’ve made it super easy with our South Florida Adventure Guide. It’s a printable pack you can download and print before you go. You can even keep a little journal as you travel.
Through practical tools & Bible-based resources, Kim Sorgius is dedicated to helping your family GROW in faith so you can be Not Consumed by life’s struggles. Author of popular kid’s devotional Bible studies and practical homeschooling tools, Kim has a master’s degree in education and curriculum design coupled with over 2 decades of experience working with kids and teens. Above all, her most treasured job is mother and homeschool teacher of four amazing kiddos.