Florida Travel Itinerary: Where to Find Part One
If you are looking for a high-energy Florida travel itinerary that incorporates nature, history, and modern entertainment, this is the Florida road trip planner you are looking for. However, this is Part Two! You can find the first three days in the Part One of the Florida Itinerary.
Day Four: Dry Tortugas National Park
(1) Expedition Dry Tortugas
Dry Tortugas National Park consists of a large, hexagonal fortress built on a small key that is still home to a unique ecosystem of low-lying plants and a vibrant assemblage of birds. Visitors can either spend a day on the island, or pay for a camping permit. I went for the day trip option, as I had a packed schedule, but camping on Dry Tortugas will give you the chance to experience the isolated little island at night.
In either case, visiting Dry Tortugas has an massive fort, swimming in the tropical waters surrounding the island, and hiking. All of these will give you the chance to explore a place that is really unlike any other in the world so it is a must-have for any Florida travel itinerary.
All the Amazing Things to Do in Dry Tortugas
The fort of Dry Tortugas was built by the United States, making its architecture very rare in the Caribbean region. While the building has not been used by the armed forced for decades, the fort has been maintained by the National Park Service. This means that you can safely explore all the little nooks and crannies of the building, and if you want to know more you can join a free walking tour. There is also an informational museum.
For swimming and snorkeling, the waters near Dry Tortugas are fairly shallow and warm. There are many beautiful fish in this area, and you can also explore along the edges of the fort, which creates a unique underwater experience.
In terms of hiking, you will need to check what areas of the island are open on the dates that you are visiting. There are times of the year when trails are closed in order to protect the birds that nest here. Much of the walking will be along the beach. While there isn’t a ton of distance to travel, this will allow you to take your time and enjoy all of the beautiful plants and listen for birds as they fly overhead. The trails aren’t strenuous, although they do lack shade, so be sure to bring some water and a good hat along.
Getting to Dry Tortugas
There is really a little something for everyone on Dry Tortugas, so it is a magical place. That being said, you will NEED reservations ahead of time in order to visit. It is also not cheap to spend that day in this park. In fact, I paid around $175 back in 2016 when I visited.
In order to learn more and make your reservations, visit the Dry Tortugas Ferry website. The boat will leave from Key West in the morning around 7:30a.
Here are all the key locations in Key West:
Parking: 300 Grinnell Street
Ticket Booth: 240 Margaret Street
Ferry Terminal: 100 Grinnell Street
(2) Staying in Homestead, FL
The day trip ends around 5pm. I would start working your way back towards the mainland. It will take around 3 hours to get back to Homestead. You will want to stop for dinner along the way. Depending on how you are feeling, you might consider staying somewhere along the way, or pushing towards mainland Florida. Whatever you do, remember not to drive when you are sleepy.
If you are looking for a budget-friendly place to stay in Homestead, check out the Hoosville Hostel.
20 SW 2nd AVE Florida City, Florida 33034
Day Five: Running from Mosquitoes in the Everglades
The Everglades National Park has to be one of the most famous natural spots in all of Florida, and for good reason. This is a spectacular ecosystem that can be found no where else in the United States, and it’s likely that it will be far more interesting than you’ve imagined it being. It wouldn’t be a Florida travel itinerary without this spot and for good reason.
Before I went, I imagined that the Everglades would be a large swamp. Not to say that I wasn’t excited about this. I think that cypress and mangrove forests are really amazing and beautiful things, especially when coming from a desert.
What I wasn’t expecting, however, was the grassland sea with its islands of forests, and the sheer variety of landscapes. The Everglades is a place of spectacular biodiversity, and following the national park road and all its trails will give you the chance to get a sense for just how special this place really is.
Cater to Your Travel Style
There are, of course, a variety of ways to explore the Everglades, hikes, paddling, and guided tours all being some options. However, if all you have for the park is a day, exploring via its road system will grant you ready access to some really beautiful places. This style of travel can work for families, people with accessibility needs, and hikers that want to get in a few miles.
In order to plan your day, I would suggest picking up a map of the park on the way in, and stopping by the visitor center to ask the rangers a few questions. As for me, I drove all the way in and worked my way back to the entrance, stopping on the way to hike and explore.
Pick what suits your style of exploration.
One thing that I wish I had known when I arrived was that the mosquitoes in the Everglades are far more vicious than I have ever experienced. Bug spray doesn’t do a thing to them! Your best bet is actually to wear some clothing that will keep them away. That being said, I found the areas closer to the beach to be worse than those further in. Make yourself more comfortable and just go prepared to be attacked by these crazy little insects.
Florida Road Trip Planner Essential Information:
Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center: 40001 State Road 9336
Homestead, FL 33034
Visitor Center Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Entrance Fee: $30 per vehicle
Plan on staying in Homstead for one more night.
Day Six: Urban Adventures in Miami
Only the most die-hard nature fans would be ok missing Miami on their Florida travel itinerary, so I had to include it here.
Miami is a beautiful city and it’s a place where many Caribbean cultures have come together in the mixing bowl of the US. It’s a great place to eat delicious food, explore the culture of mainland Caribbean, and experience a tropical city.
All that being said, I think you would be best served tailoring your day in Miami for your specific interests. It’s a big city, so it won’t be hard to do. If you need some ideas, check out our Seeing Miami on Two Never Ending Layovers for a few places that I like in the city.
One attraction that I have not been able to visit in Miami yet is Vizcaya. It honestly looks like one of the coolest gardens out there, so if you can make a stop, do so! They are closed on Tuesdays, and they are open 9:30a-4:30a. As of 2019, their admissions price is $22 for adults.
Day Seven: Discover Big Cypress National Preserve
Even if you think that you’ve gotten enough time in the cypress forests in Everglades, you really shouldn’t miss Big Cypress National Preserve on your Florida travel itinerary.
In order to get to the park, take the 41 west, and make your first stop Shark Valley. This is technically still part of Everglades National Park, but it’s disconnected from the main section of the park, and it makes sense to visit it while taking the day to explore Big Cypress. At Shark Valley you can take a tram into the park and explore in that way. It can get a little busy in this area, however, so I would suggest getting there early and you might also consider getting your tickets early as well.
After you are done at Shark Valley you can continue down the 41. Along the way, you may see some roadside airboat tours. If this is something that you’ve thought about doing before, this is the place to do it! Just do a little research beforehand, you can compare prices and ratings and pick your favorite option.
If you have any time left after all that, check out the Oasis Visitor Center to learn more about the hiking trails in the Big Cypress. You can access the Florida National Scenic trail from this visitor center, which is a great way to explore the park on-foot. I also really enjoyed the short walk at Kirby Storter Park; there were some perfect views of the cypress trees from there.
Florida Road Trip Planner Essential Information:
Oasis Visitor Center: 52105 Tamiami Trail East
Ochopee, Florida 34141
Visitor Center Hours: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Entrance Fee: Free
(2) Stay in Fort Myers
Make your way north as far as you can. Fort Myers is a great half way point between Homestead and Tampa, and it’s a large enough metro areas to have some options for you.
Day Eight: Whirlwind Tampa
(1) Sanibel Island
Since you stayed the night in Fort Myers, you would really be missing out if you didn’t visit Sanibel island in the morning of your eighth day of this Florida travel itinerary. If you are really feeling energetic, drive out to the island in time for sunrise and you can get some amazing pictures of the lighthouse and the islands beautiful beaches.
If you pack your breakfast with you, it would also be a lovely experience to enjoy a quiet morning on the coast there.
It’s about 2.5-3 hours from Fort Myers to Tampa, however, so if you’d like to spend a little time experiencing the city, make sure to leave in time.
(2a) Busch Gardens
Busch Gardens is one of the biggest names in Tampa, and it’s not particularly cheap at $100+ a ticket when you buy at the door (you can save some money by purchasing online). If you are planning on going there, make sure that you have enough time to get your money’s worth!
(2b) Manatee Viewing Center and Downtown
If you’re looking to spend a little less cash, I would really suggest checking out the Manatee Viewing Center. It’s free and if you stick around for a while, you might get lucky enough to see a manatee in the wild. At the very least, you will learn a few things about the natural world of Tampa in the butterfly gardens and the nature trail.
Spend the evening in downtown Tampa, where you can grab some tasty food and check out a few local shops.
(3) Stay in Tampa
Since you’ve already driven a fair amount, spend the night in Tampa. Gram’s Place BnB/Hostel is a great, affordable option (813-221-0596; 3109 N. Ola ave, Tampa, USA).
Day Nine: Disney for Nature Lovers – Animal Kingdom
It takes around 1 hour to drive from Tampa to Disneyworld.
While there is a ton of stuff to do in Orlando, including Disneyworld Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Universal, I would really suggest checking out Animal Kingdom if you are a nature-lover and Disney fan. This park is especially great if you come from the West Coast or else where in the world, because there is no other park like this one.
I love the atmosphere in the park. There are also animals in the park, which I really enjoy, particularly because Disney also supports a considerable amount of conservation globally through their foundation.
Animal Kingdom is also home to my all-time favorite ride! Flight of Passage. If you’ve ever dreamed of riding a dragon or flying, this will be your favorite ride too! The only catch is that getting onto Flight of Passage can be a little difficult, because the lines get exceptionally long. I would suggest that if you want to give this a go, buy your tickets months ahead of time and then reserve a fast pass as soon as you can. You can also just try to get to the park right when it opens and then immediately go with the crowd to wait for the ride when the line is shortest.
Whichever park you end up visiting, however, expect to pay $100+ for a ticket. Even Universal is quite expensive these days. That being said, it’s hardly a Florida travel itinerary if you miss out on the wonders of Orlando entirely.
To get the most out of you ticket, spend the night in Orlando so that you don’t have anywhere else to drive tonight.
Day Ten: The Kennedy Space Center and Back to Jacksonville
(1) Drive over to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex
This is about a 1 hour drive from Orlando.
(2) The Kennedy Space Center
I have an entire post lamenting that I nearly missed the Kennedy Space Center on my road trip to Florida; I honestly had no idea how cool and emotional my trip there would be. That being said, I now believe that this place is an essential element to ANY Florida travel itinerary. It is not only a fun experience with rides and immersive shows, but it’s a great place to learn about space science and delve into the history of NASA.
As of 2019, it is $57 for an adult ticket at the Kennnedy Space Center, and you will need to pay to park as well. It’s well worth the money, in my opinion, although the park can be a little confusing. Be sure to take the bus out to see the launch bays and to see the historic Apollo ship, which has been preserved in all its massive glory among memorabilia from the successful and disastrous missions that all shared that name.
Back at the main base, you should definitely not miss the shuttle. I absolutely love those ships and seeing one retired and cared for there was really special. If you enjoy rides, you can also give the shuttle launch experience a try. Otherwise, this part of the park is a very immersive museum with space shuttle exhibits and a big slide that delights both adults and kids alike.
(3) Take Courtney Parkway North
If you have time after the Kennedy Space Center, I would highly suggest taking a little detour up Courtney Parkway. This road will take you north along a narrow spit between Mosquito Lagoon and Indian River. I thoroughly enjoyed the views, and I stopped by a manatee viewing area where I got to see those very special animals frolicking in the wild. It was amazing.
(4) Continue up to Jacksonville
Drive back up to Jacksonville, which is about 2 hours from the Kennedy Space Center. This is the last day of our Florida travel itinerary! Tomorrow you will fly home, feeling as though you thoroughly explored the Sunshine State… at least enough to know a little bit about all the amazing things that this state has to offer.
This itinerary is only meant to be a travel planning tool. You should adjust this to be as safe as possible, and to fit your energy level.
Remember, your safety is your own responsibility.
You should never drive when you are tired.
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