Discover the Sunshine State’s captivating wildlife in the diverse landscapes. From pristine beaches to lush Florida wildlife preserves, we unveil the best places to watch diverse flora and fauna in their natural habitat.
Dive into crystal-clear springs, explore mangroves, and venture through vibrant ecosystems to encounter manatees, dolphins, exotic birds, and more. Head on a journey that goes beyond tourist spots, providing insights into ethical wildlife spotting and fostering a deeper appreciation for Florida’s rich biodiversity.
Hope you find this handy guide on where to see wildlife in Florida ethically.
Discover where to See Wildlife in Florida
Bird watching in Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge – Sanibel Island FL
J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge, located on Sanibel Island, is a haven for birdwatching enthusiasts! In the 5200 acres that make up Ding Darling, you will discover a vibrant paradise that 245 bird species call home. Visitors can spend hours exploring the area and growing their birdwatching lists. You have opportunities to witness the majestic activities of roseate spoonbills, green herons, snowy egrets, and more, all in their natural habitat.
Immerse yourself in a thriving ecosystem, which is a testament to the refuge’s dedication to preserving the delicate balance of nature. While there are many things to do at Ding Darling, the best way to explore is by walking or biking the trails. Plan your visit to Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge, where captivating wildlife encounters await.
Roseate Spoonbill at Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge | © Melanie of The World Travel Girl
Eco-tour by Kayak – Key West FL
The southern Florida Keys is abundant with unique wildlife and a fun way to learn and experience it is with the reputable eco-adventure outfitter Lazy Dog Adventures. Lazy Dog operates paddle eco-tours between Key West and Stock Island on Cow Creek, which connects the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean.
On a Lazy Dog Adventure eco-tour, you will see sharks, turtles, tropical birds, and other marine life. Perhaps even dolphins, manatees, alligators, and crocodiles. You do not even know nurse sharks are hiding in the sand below you until the guide points them out. Exciting and frightening at the same time.
A highlight for most is paddling through several mangrove tunnels. With the group tucked away deep in the mangroves, your Lazy Dog guide will identify and describe the surrounding fauna and flora and even pass around jellyfish and other living marine creatures to delicately handle.
Eco-tour, Key West FL | © Charles from McCool Travel
Bird spotting in Weedon Island Preserve – St. Petersburg FL
Weedon Island Preserve is a top place to see birds and wildlife in Florida. Located close to St Petersburg, you can stroll along the trails and boardwalks or get out on the water in a kayak to get up close to nature.
Out in the open water, bottlenose dolphins can be found playing, mullet jumping and brown pelicans darting down. Glide into the mangrove tunnels to discover an abundance of wading birds fishing including white ibis, herons (tricoloured and yellow-crowned night), and egrets (snowy and great). A variety of mangrove crabs scamper along the roots and even sightings of the red marsh snake.
Weedon Island is a true delight for nature lovers. Kayaking with ECOmersion makes it a more sustainable experience as they donate a percentage of all profits to local and national groups, organise beach clean-ups, and aim for net zero emissions by 2025.
Tricolored Heron, Weedon Island | © Vanessa of She Wanders Miles
Find bobcats in Kelly Park Rock Springs – Apopka FL
Kelly Park Rock Springs is a protected natural park featuring a stunning free-flowing spring. Located 35 minutes from Orlando, in Apopka, Florida, the springs are an excellent place to see wildlife and enjoy a day in nature. Rock Springs maintains a natural water temperature of 68-72 degrees Fahrenheit all year round.
You have the chance to see numerous animals in their natural habitat including fish, birds, turtles, white-tailed deer, snakes, bobcats, alligators, and even black bears! Some fun activities to do at Rock Springs include tubing down the natural lazy river, hiking along the trails, having a picnic or BBQ, camping, and animal watching. Keep in mind that the park has a limited capacity each day to protect and preserve animal habitats and nature.
Kelly Park Rock Springs FL | © Carrie of the Daydream Drifters
Explore on the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive – Apopka FL
The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is located right in the heart of Central Florida. This nature lover’s paradise winds through an 11-mile route around Lake Apopka, allowing visitors to witness this diverse ecosystem first-hand.
This free scenic drive offers a unique opportunity to observe and appreciate the region’s rich biodiversity. As you navigate the one-way dirt road, you’ll encounter a myriad of wildlife, including alligators basking along the water’s edge, wading birds exploring the shoreline, and vibrant butterflies dancing through the air.
The drive is complemented by strategically placed observation areas allowing visitors to pause, absorb the natural beauty, and capture breathtaking photographs. Birdwatchers in particular will be captivated by the over 350 documented bird species that call this area home.
Whether you’re an avid wildlife enthusiast or a casual nature observer, the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive promises a serene escape into Florida’s unspoiled wilderness. See what “true Florida” is all about!
Alligator on Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive | © Erin of The Simple Salty Life
Kayaking in Emerald Cut at Kings Landing – Apopka FL
While there might be several springs in the state of Florida, Kayaking in Emerald Cut at Kings Landing is centrally located and one of the best things to do near Orlando. It is one of the most relaxing ethical wildlife experiences in Florida to choose from, as you can float around the springs and spot animals like turtles, birds, otters, and if you’re lucky, alligators too!
There are a few options for kayaking at Kings Landing. A great option is the 8.5 mile river run, it will take about 4.5-5 hours from start to finish then you’ll hop on a shuttle to get back to your car. That option is about $50-60. Alternatively, you can do an out-and-back kayak and just go to Emerald Cut, the most beautiful part for $30-50 for the day.
If you go with a guide, they can point out the beautiful wildlife, as they have much more experience spotting them here. Oftentimes, they can even take you to the spots where the alligators like to hang out. You’ll always stay at a safe distance for both you and the animals.
Emerald in Cut at Kings Landing | © Adam and Kathryn of Adventures of A+K
Bird spotting in Boyd Hill Nature Preserve – St. Petersburg FL
Boyd Hill Preserve is a 245-acre haven for wildlife in the heart of St Petersburg Florida. This lesser-known place to see wildlife in Florida should not be overlooked.
The preserve features a distinct variety of ecosystems from sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, willow marsh, swamp woodlands, and lake shore. Wander around the 6 miles of trails or take a bike tour with a knowledgeable guide to catch a glimpse of the diverse range of fauna from native and migrating birds, reptiles, mammals, and over 60 varieties of butterflies.
Watch out for the alligators lurking below the lily pads, and moorhens jumping along the top. Find the anhingas ready to fish, cormorants drying their wings, and osprey nests high in the trees. They also have a Bird of Prey Program offering sanctuary to injured or unreleasable birds. Boyd Hill Preserve is a birdwatchers paradise!
Moorhen at Boyd Hill | © Vanessa of She Wanders Miles
Snorkelling for sting rays – Destin FL
A Florida getaway offers travelers the chance to enjoy vibrant and enchanting wildlife. Visitors can explore state parks and see a wide array of birds or head down to the Everglades to witness both alligators and crocodiles living side by side.
But one of the most interactive and ethical ways to best enjoy the wildlife in Florida is through snorkeling and diving. Snorkeling in Destin Florida is top-notch. This panhandle coastal town offers many different places to explore the world below the water’s surface.
Crab Island and Henderson Beach State Park are excellent places for young snorkelers to kick around and explore. While more advanced swimmers might enjoy taking in the sea life at the artificial SWARA Reefs.
Remember Destin when you’re looking for an ethical and fun way to enjoy schools of fish, sea turtles, octopuses, and even sting rays!
Henderson Beach, Destin FL | © Candace of Exploring the Gulf
See ospreys on Honeymoon Island State Park – Dunedin FL
Honeymoon Island State Park, located off the coast of Dunedin, is a great place to spot wildlife including bald eagles, osprey, herons, and owls.
In addition to bird watching, you may be able to see a gopher tortoise or an armadillo on your nature walk or a dolphin from the beach.
Visitors can walk along the nature path on their own or take a guided tour. Birds are often seen along this walk and large nests can be seen in the trees.
There are 3 beaches on Honeymoon Island: Main Beach, North Beach, and Pet Beach. You can see fish in the clear water and sometimes dolphins can be seen as they jump out of the water.
Those who want can rent kayaks or bicycles to explore the island and spot wildlife.
Honeymoon Island Osprey Trail | © Lanie of Make More Adventures
Birdwatchers Paradise in Fort de Sota Park – Pinellas County FL
Situated on Mullet Key in western Florida, Fort De Soto Park spans over 1,100 acres of unsettled natural beauty. Fort De Soto is a must-visit destination for kayaking enthusiasts. Here, you can paddle through mangrove tunnels observing beautiful marine life and interesting birds.
In these waters you will see dolphins playing, stingrays gracefully gliding, and alligators sunbathing. Fort De Soto Park is also a great place for birdwatchers, with herons, pelicans, and ospreys all around. They even have wild bright green parakeets flying around!
Conservation initiatives in the park include habitat restoration, wildlife preservation, and educational programs. The park focuses on maintaining the delicate balance of its diverse ecosystems, which include beach habitats, mangrove forests, and seagrass beds.
Fort De Soto Park is a great place to see what locals call “the real Florida” or what Florida could have looked like before it was densely settled.
Fort de Soto Florida | © Amanda of Life Has Its Perks
Watch seabirds in Dry Tortuga National Park FL
The islands of Dry Tortugas National Park, located about 70 miles west of Key West, are a prime destination for ethical bird watching. The park is key during bird migration, serving as a critical resting place for birds traveling across the Gulf of Mexico.
Plan to take a day trip out to Dry Tortugas from Key West. This remote area, accessible only by boat or seaplane, offers a unique opportunity to observe nearly 300 bird species in their natural habitat.
The park protects a large population of seabirds, including terns, frigatebirds, and brown pelicans. These birds live much of their lives soaring over the open ocean, so there aren’t many chances to see them in the US. Visit during the spring migration for the best experience.
The Dry Tortugas play a vital role in conservation efforts, with initiatives to protect these migratory birds and their habitats. The park’s commitment to conservation and status as a key migratory waypoint make it an exceptional destination for an ethical birdwatching experience in Florida.
Dry Tortugas National Park | © Samantha of PA On Pause
Mangrove snorkelling in Key Biscayne National Park – Florida Keys FL
Biscayne National Park offers fantastic full-day and half-day snorkeling tours. As a national park where 95% of the area is water, renting a boat or joining a guided tour is required to explore the region. Biscayne National Park protects coral reefs, undeveloped islands, and mangroves, with the overarching goal of creating marine reserves where fishing is off-limits.
NPS leaders take you on guided eco-adventures to distinct snorkeling zones. They are knowledgeable about the best wildlife viewing areas while remaining respectful and anti-destructive. Snorkel in the mangroves for a chance to see crabs and shallow-water fish. Then, head out to the deeper sea for a snorkeling session in Biscayne National Park’s protected reef to see dolphins, rays, sea turtles, and tropical fish. If you are lucky, you may even spot a green moray eel, which can grow up to 8 feet long.
Biscayne National Park | © Daniella of Sampler Platter Travel
Alligator Spotting in Everglades National Park FL
While alligators can be found in Florida’s cities and pretty much anywhere in the State, it can’t be disputed that the best place to see these amazing creatures is in their natural habitat.
Everglades National Park is one of the best places in the world for seeing gators, and it’s easily accessible as you can take an airboat ride through the flooded grasslands. An airboat ride is fun in itself but having the opportunity to see alligators makes it even more fun.
On top of alligators, you can spot lots of birdlife, including Bald Eagles, and some other small animals such as turtles and snakes.
The Everglades Day Safari is certified by the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism and provides an educational but fun experience while you keep your eyes peeled for any alligators. You can leave from Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Myers, and Naples so it’s really convenient too.
Alligator in the Everglades | Josh of A Backpacker’s World
Wildlife spotting in Wakulla Springs State Park– Wakulla County FL
Just 25 minutes south of Tallahassee, is Wakulla Springs State Park. This park has the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world and also happens to be one of the best places near Florida’s capital for spotting wildlife.
The best way to see wildlife at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park is by taking a boat tour. The tours are an additional $8 per person but take you through the spring and into the swampy surroundings. Fun Fact: the 1941 Tarzan and 1954 Creature from the Black Lagoon were filmed here!
The boat guides will point out alligators, snakes, and a plethora of native birds while you boat around the cypress trees. If you’re lucky, you’ll even spot some manatees!
They’ve also introduced a new boat with a hybrid-electric engine called ‘The Blue Heron’ as part of a green initiative. The near-silent propulsion that it has will help enhance wildlife viewing on your tour.
Wakulla Springs | © Ashley of Jetset Jansen
Scuba diving at Key Largo FL
If you want to see some of Florida’s famed marine life, Key Largo scuba diving should be at the top of your bucket list. Florida is home to the third largest coral reef on the planet and the only living coral reef in the continental United States.
Key Largo offers several excellent spots to explore this colorful underwater world, including the Florida Marine Sanctuary and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Here, you can see hundreds of different species of tropical fish, including manta rays and stingrays; several species of sharks, including Caribbean reef and bull sharks; and five of the world’s seven species of sea turtles.
Even if you’re not a certified diver, tour operators will teach you the fundamentals of diving in the morning and take you out onto the reef for two dives in the afternoon. Alternatively, if you don’t have time for that, several snorkeling tours will allow you to observe Florida’s incredible wildlife from above.
Scuba Diving, Key Largo | © Jessica of Uprooted Traveler
Kayaking in Tavernier – Key Largo FL
Located in the Keys, Tavernier is a bit of a hidden gem in Florida that has a lot to offer to animal lovers.
To truly immerse yourself in the wildlife, consider booking a guided kayak tour in the mangroves. The adventure commences in Tavernier, near Key Largo, where your guide awaits to provide you with a kayak before heading off to the sea and reaching the mangrove tunnels.
The guides are incredibly passionate about the local ecosystem, sharing extensive knowledge about the surrounding plants and animals. They expertly lead you to prime locations for observing crabs, birds, and, if you are lucky, encounters with manatees, turtles, and dolphins.
Demonstrating utmost respect, the guides refrain from touching or disrupting the animals’ routines while ensuring you witness their natural behaviors.
Jellyfish in Tavernier | © Pauline of Beeloved City
Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve – Fort Myers FL
The Six is an 11-mile wetland with fresh flowing freshwater in Fort Myers. The preserve is over 3,500 acres and is a very important ecosystem in Florida. When visiting, you get to walk along an elevated boardwalk over the water and among the Cypress Trees.
One of the main selling points of the preserve is the abundance of wildlife that you can spot there. You can spot animals such as alligators, turtles, and otters depending on what time of year you visit.
Birdwatchers love the array of feathered friends at 6 Mile Cypress Slough, catching sight of herons, egrets, woodpeckers, warblers, and red-shouldered hawks. Birds use this area as a migrating rest stop. Make sure to also check out the beautiful butterfly garden! It’s the perfect spot for a picnic and enjoy the views.
The 6 Mile Cypress Slough became a preserve in 1976 and, through consistent efforts, provides education, deters flooding, refills wells, and protects wildlife and the health of the Gulf of Mexico.
Six Mile Cypress Preserve | © Samantha of FInd Love and Travel
Canoeing along Hillsborough River – Thonotosassa FL
One of the best places to see Florida wildlife in a natural environment is on a canoe trip on the Hillsborough River. Located near Thonotosassa, 12 miles north of Tampa, Hillsborough River State Park is a chance to see the “real Florida”.
A paddling trip on the Hillsborough River is packed with continuous wildlife viewing. You will see alligators sunning between the roots of cypress trees, white ibis roosting in the trees, deer and wild hogs splashing through the swamp, and turtles and otters popping in and out of the water. The majestic bald cypress trees along the river are covered in Spanish moss.
Canoe rentals, shuttle, and trip planning advice are available from outfitters in the Hillsborough River State Park. You can go out for an hour or choose a full day of paddling.
White Ibis | Karen of Outdoor Adventure Sampler
Explore Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary – Naples FL
Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is one of Florida’s best ethical wildlife experiences. Located in Naples, one of the best small beach towns in Florida, this experience allows you to see a variety of unique flora and fauna in their natural habitat.
The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary spans over 13,000 acres of wetlands, and you’ll explore the sanctuary on an easy 2.25-mile boardwalk trail that takes you through different habitats such as pine flatwoods, marshes, wet prairies, and the largest old growth Bald Cypress forest in North America.
Along the way, keep an eye out for some of the 200+ species of birds that call the sanctuary their home, including Great Egrets, White Ibises, herons, and more. Alligators and other animals like turtles, snakes, frogs, anoles, butterflies, and more are also common sightings.
If you’re lucky, you might even see the elusive “Super” ghost orchid, one of the rarest and most sought-after orchids worldwide that only blooms for a few weeks each year.
Established in 1954, Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is dedicated to preserving and restoring the natural habitats of the Western Everglades, providing a haven for wildlife and maintaining biodiversity in the region.
Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary | © Disha Discovers
Explore Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge – Tampa Bay FL
Egmont Key State Park is located in the mouth of Tampa Bay, just off the coast of St. Pete Beach, Florida.
This state park is unique as it is only accessible by ferry from nearby Fort de Soto County Park or by private boat. The island is co-run between the Florida State Parks system and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure that there is an appropriate balance between visitors and the animals using the National Wildlife Refuge here.
While about 1/3 of the island is used as a bird sanctuary, you’ll find many other types of animals here, too. You can’t enter the 97 acres dedicated to the bird sanctuary, as this would interfere with the delicate mating and nesting seasons.
However, you will be able to do plenty of bird spotting elsewhere on the island as more than 60,000 birds call this place home. Keep a lookout for roseate spoonbills, egrets, pelicans, gulls, and more as you go about your Egmont Key adventures.
You’ll also find dozens of gopher tortoises that roam the island, especially near the historic lighthouse and gun batteries towards the northern end of the island.
As with any wildlife encounter, give them plenty of room to go about their normal routines and don’t feed them.
Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge | © Natalie of Camping Kiddos
See Dolphins along the Big Bend FL
One of the most immersive ethical wildlife experiences in Florida is to hop on a boat for a few days and explore the Big Bend of Florida! The Big Bend is the area along the Gulf of Mexico, from Apalachicola to Tarpon Springs. There are many fun stops to make along the way and plenty of wildlife to spot!
If you don’t already have a boat then there are plenty of options for boat rentals all along the coast depending on where you want to start. The trip takes about 4 days if you want to have ample time to explore and enjoy the journey, but you can certainly do it over a week or longer if you prefer!
Along the way, expect to see plenty of birds, and if you pay attention you’ll be able to spot dolphins! Make stops along the route at Carrabelle, Dog Island, Steinhatchee, Cedar Key, and Crystal River. Once you get to Crystal River, be sure to hop into your dinghy and head to the springs where you can see the manatees! They’re such sweet gentle creatures, and you can get up close and personal with them here!
See Bottlenose Dolphins in Florida | © Jen and Elliot from Scho & Jo
Best Places to see Manatees in Florida
Snorkelling with Manatees – Crystal River FL
Snorkeling with manatees in Crystal River, Florida, offers a magical encounter with these gentle giants in their natural habitat. Ethical tours prioritise the well-being of the manatees and their environment, ensuring a minimal impact on their behaviour.
As you glide through the crystal-clear waters, you’ll witness the awe-inspiring grace of these marine mammals. Responsible guidelines, such as maintaining a respectful distance and refraining from touching, contribute to the conservation of these endangered creatures.
The Crystal River area provides a unique opportunity to observe manatees responsibly and sustainably, fostering an appreciation for their importance in marine ecosystems. This enriching experience leaves visitors with not just memories but also a heightened awareness of the need to protect and preserve these lovable sea cows and their fragile habitat.
Snorkeling with manatees, Crystal River FL | © Vanessa of She Wanders Miles
Manatee watching at Blue Spring State Park, Orange City FL
One of the best places to see Manatees in Florida, Blue Spring State Park offers the best ethical wildlife experiences. While other Florida Springs offer kayaking and swimming with manatees, Blue Spring State Park acts as Manatee’s refuge as water activities are not allowed in the winter season.
You can see manatees in Blue Spring State Park during winter time from November to March when hundreds of manatees congregate every year to enjoy the warm waters of the spring.
But during the Manatee season, it closes all water activities including swimming, scuba diving, kayaking, etc. The park offers Manatee viewing from the boardwalk during these months. The boardwalk is 0.75 miles long along the St John’s River.
Apart from manatees, you can see lots of fishes including Florida gar, tarpon, redbreast, etc at the Blue Spring. The water is so crystal clear, it’s very easy to spot them from the boardwalk.
Here, at Blue Spring you will also see Manatees with radio tags. The volunteers take care of injured manatees and keep them in observation. Manatees cannot tolerate temperatures below 68 degrees and often they need to rehabilitate from sickness. Blue Spring State Park does this job and releases them back into the water.
During summer months, swimming and kayaking are open but beware of alligators. You can also take a 0.5-mile hike in the park along the St Johns River for the forest views.
Blue Spring State Park | © Mayuri of Fernwehrahee
Manatee Spotting at Emerson Point Preserve, W. Palmetto FL
Kayaking off Emerson Point Preserve is a great way to see manatees in their natural habitat ethically. Manatees frequent these waters, especially during the colder months, because the water temperature is warmer and to eat. Since the bays are shallow, it allows for seagrass to grow abundantly, which is a favorite manatee meal!
It is important to keep in mind that you can only watch the manatees; it is illegal to touch them. Manatees are protected by both state and federal laws, such as the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. These laws prohibit touching, pursuing, or disturbing manatees.
In addition to manatees, you might also get to see various bird species, such as ospreys, pelicans, and herons, as well as other marine life, like dolphins and sea turtles.
The best time to see manatees is during the winter months when the water temperature drops, and manatees seek warmer waters. After your kayaking adventure, head into St. Pete (it’s only 30 minutes away) for a bite to eat — you’ll find a diversity of options, but don’t miss the vegan donuts at Valkyrie!
Manatee spotting at Emerson Point Preserve | © Rebecca of Veggies Abroad
Handy Links To Visit Florida
Here are some useful links for your trip to Florida to help you find tours, and places to stay. These are companies I have used and can recommend with confidence. Remember to discover where to see wildlife in Florida ethically!
Accommodation In Florida
Best hotel deals in Florida USA
Florida Tourist Information
Trip Planning: Need to know for visiting the United States
Travel Insurance for the USA
Remember travel insurance to cover unknown eventualities on your Florida trip. Here are some tried-and-tested travel insurance options to check out;
GET 5% OFF with HeyMondo Travel Insurance
GET 5% OFF with IATI Travel Insurance
REMOTE WORKERS & NOMADS: SafetyWing
PIN FOR YOUR TRIP TO FLORIDA