How to use your library card to get into Florida State Parks
I’m sure you’ve seen the headline by now. You can use your public library card to get into a Florida State Park. But you should know, the headline alone is a bit misleading. You cannot just show up at a park with a library card and expect to get in. Let me explain how you can use your library card to get into Florida State Parks this summer!
What is the Real Florida Reader?
Florida State Parks teamed up with the Division of Library and Information Services to create a program called the Real Florida Reader. The joint venture is designed to get Florida families exploring the outdoors and their local libraries.
Your library card is your pass to adventure this summer! 🔖📚🤸♀️ We’re partnering with the @FLSecofState, @FLLibDev & local libraries throughout the state to offer #RealFloridaReader day passes so you can continue your learning adventure while exploring new places. 📕🌳 (1/4) pic.twitter.com/Jqi8iRGk6n
— Florida State Parks (@FLStateParks) May 31, 2022
How does it work?
You have to visit your local library and “check out” the Real Florida Reader Day Pass. This will give you free day use admission to most Florida State Parks. It’ll work a lot like checking out a book. Each location may have a limited number of passes available for checkout. If you get one, you’ll have to return it to the same location.
For Orange County Specifically
A library customer service representative told me that in order to obtain a Real Florida Park Pass in Orange County, you need to follow this process:
- Place a pick-up request either by phone or in person. Let them know which location you would like to pick it up at.
- The pass gets checked out to your account and sent to your chosen location. A staff member will call you when it is ready for pickup.
- You need to plan this in advance, as the request takes about 24-48 hours to fill.
- The item checks out for 14 days and cannot be renewed.
- There is a limited supply so if they’re all checked out, you’ll have to try another day.
Great, I got a pass. Where should I go?
Florida is home to 175 state parks. That’s a lot of land to explore! My family is currently working on visiting ALL of them. There are beaches, swamps, hammocks, historical landmarks, springs, trails — something for everyone to do and see. Living in Central Florida is a great home base for experiencing all of it. Here are a few of my favorite state parks within two hours of Orlando.
Wekiwa Springs State Park – 24 mins from Orlando
Basically any park with “springs” in the name is a surefire gateway to summertime fun. Wekiwa Springs is the closest state park to downtown Orlando. You have to arrive early (like seriously early – get there before the sun rises if you want a guaranteed parking spot when the gates open), but it is worth it. Bring a mask & snorkel to swim in the spring head pool, a picnic basket and blanket to rest on the grassy shore, a camera to explore the park trails (we saw a bear once!), and plenty of bug spray & sunscreen.
In addition to swimming and hiking, kayaking is a popular activity at Wekiwa Springs. You can rent a kayak at the park and explore the surrounding run and river.
Oh, and yes, there are gators in the water (always in Florida). But as long as you stay in the spring head pool, you are probably ok!
Lake Louisa State Park – 34 mins from Orlando
If you’re taking advantage of the Florida Reader Day Pass, that means you’re visiting in the summer. Try to pick a day with a slight breeze or cloud cover to visit this state park full of rolling hills (yes, hills near Orlando) and picturesque lakes. Rent a kayak to paddle the waters, bring binoculars for bird watching, and wear good sneakers to hike the trails. My favorite activity at this park is a simple picnic (there are picnic tables scattered throughout the park) combined with a family bike ride.
You can also bring a swimsuit because there is a swimming area at Lake Louisa, but heed the alligator warning sign before making the decision to dive in. There is also a playground for the kids to enjoy.
Blue Spring State Park – 39 mins from Orlando
This park is best known as the place where hundreds of manatees gather during the winter cold fronts. But during the summer, it is a place to cool off in the refreshing spring water. Like most of the springs, you can expect the park to reach capacity in the summer months. Bring a tube and float down the small spring run over and over again. This is also another great destination for a family picnic.
Hontoon Island – 50 mins from Orlando
This is one of the lesser-known state parks in the Orlando area. Personally, that’s why I like it so much! I also like that it is only accessible by boat. You can take a ferry for a nominal fee over to the island where there is a playground and hiking area. Definitely bring bug spray for this one!
DeLeon Springs State Park- 51 mins from Orlando
One word – pancakes! Seriously, pancakes are this state park’s claim to fame. You can start your morning carb-loading at the Old Spanish Sugar Mill restaurant where you make your own pancakes over a griddle built into the table. A server brings out the pancake mix and you select your toppings (chocolate chips for the win)! After breakfast, rent a kayak and paddle down the beautiful water away from the spring head. There is also a swimming area at DeLeon Springs. In years past it has not been nearly as busy as some of its more popular neighbors (ie: Wekiwa).
Tomoka State Park – 60 mins from Orlando
Time for a history lesson. Which Native American population lived in the Daytona Beach area 1200 years ago? If you don’t know the answer to that question, you should check out this park. Tomoka State Park is the site of an ancient Native American village known as Nocoroco. Use your imagination and take yourself to an ancient time as you paddle the same waterways the natives used.
By the way, the area surrounding this park is gorgeous with large oak canopies. I highly recommend hiking or driving between Tomoka State Park and the nearby Bulow Creek State Park. The scenery will transform you to the Florida of yesteryear.
Washington Oaks State Park – 80 mins from Orlando
Head north another 15-20 mins on A1A from Tomoka State Park and you’ll find yourself in one of the coolest pieces of Old Florida around. Washington Oaks State Park features manicured gardens on the river. There’s a gorgeous 200-year-old oak tree shading the path in the gardens. It’s a peaceful location for a stroll, but of course kids want something more exciting. For that, you need to cross the street to the second half of the park along the Atlantic coast. The beach is lined with unique coquina rock formations that my kids enjoy climbing on. Afterwards, feel free to dip your toes in the water and play in the sand before heading home.
Lake Kissimmee State Park – 90 mins from Orlando
This one, admittedly, is better explored early in the morning or later in the evening. It gets HOT. But this beautiful park is exceptional for families and shouldn’t be missed. There is a large playground right next to a wildlife viewing tower that you can climb to watch the deer graze in the fields in the evening. There are also shady trails to hike where you might get a glimpse of a bald eagle.
The best part of this park though is the living history demonstrations of an 1876-era Florida settlers cow camp. Florida is the original cowboy country and you can learn all about it at Lake Kissimmee State Park.
Sebastian Inlet State Park – 90 mins from Orlando
There’s no shortage of good beaches in Central Florida, but this is one of my favorites for families with little kids. You can fish, surf, build sand castles, walk along the jetty, or swim at one of two beaches. In addition to the Atlantic beach, there’s also a smaller cove with shallow water and little to no waves that is perfect for toddlers and smaller children.