Scenic shady boardwalk at John Chestnut Park - Palm Harbor, Florida

The Tampa Bay area is home to countless beautiful parks and preserves. The temperate yearly climate gives you plenty of opportunities to walk, enjoy nature, and observe wildlife far away from the beach and mall crowds. Although the summer season can be a bit hot and muggy, you just have to time your walks accordingly (morning or evening) and be well prepared (plenty of water, loose light clothing). Summer has its’ advantages, namely less crowds.

All of the parks mentioned below offer easy several miles of easy hiking trails suitable for beginners, and a few offer more intermediate, longer trails for the experienced hiker. As you walk along, you will be surrounded by beautiful natural Florida landscapes, and if you are lucky may even cross paths with some interesting wildlife.

Take a look at these 8 beautiful parks and be sure to recommend a few of your own!

1. Myakka River State Park

Beautiful views at Myakka River State Park - Sarasota, Florida

This gorgeous, enormous park found in Florida’s beautiful Sarasota allows you to take a step back in time to “the real Florida.” One of Florida’s oldest and largest state parks, Myakka is the ideal park to visit for a relaxing weekend afternoon.

There are endless activities within this park: alligator airboat rides, hiking and biking trails, a birdwalk trail, an observation tower and canopy walk, camping sites, and wildlife watching opportunities. Alligators are commonly seen, especially in the cooler winter months (they do not like the extreme heat!). The Gator Gal airboat ride is a blast with plenty of alligator sightings┬áduring the 1 hour cruise. Be sure to bring your camera – there are endless beautiful landscape and wildlife photo opportunities everywhere you turn at Myakka. Update: A pontoon ride has replaced the airboat tour.

Tip: Arrive early to bypass the heat and crowds.

Birdwalk at Myakka River State Park - Sarasota, Florida
Pretty views along the scenic drive at Myakka River State Park - Sarasota, Florida
Airboat gator ride at Myakka River State Park - Sarasota, Florida

2. Weedon Island Preserve

Pond views at Weedon Island Preserve - St. Petersburg, Florida

This quaint oasis in St. Petersburg offers several miles of hiking trails, boardwalks, and an observation tower. Wildlife spotting opportunities are numerous with various birds, armadillos, gopher tortoises and deer commonly seen on the trails and in the ponds.

Trail at Weedon Island Preserve - St. Petersburg, Florida
Armadillo at Weedon Island Preserve - St. Petersburg, Florida
Group of deer at Weedon Island Preserve - St. Petersburg, Florida
Bird in the swamps at Weedon Island Preserve - St. Petersburg, Florida

Weedon Island offers a peaceful setting which is just perfect for bird watchers. Herons and Egrets can be found throughout the park. In addition, armadillos and gopher tortoises can often be spotted right on the trails. The boardwalks offer a nice view of the mangrove forests and saltwater ponds. Bring your camera with for the walk up to the 45 ft. tall observation tower – the views are incredible!

Observation tower at Weedon Island Preserve in St. Petersburg, Florida
Views from observation tower at Weedon Island Preserve - St. Petersburg, Florida