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Top spots for family camping

Some of the best of nature's playgrounds are right in our Florida back yards. From fishing to hiking and snorkeling, campgrounds all over the state offer great amenities for family trips. Here's a rundown. (To reserve campsites at state parks, visit www.reserveamerica.com.)

• FORT DE SOTO PARK, PINELLAS COUNTY

County park with 238-site, full-service campground that seems to have been created with families in mind. Amenities include picnic tables, grills, fresh water, electricity, washers, dryers, sanitary disposal stations, modern restrooms, showers, play areas and a camp store. The park has

more than 7 miles of waterfront recreation, including two fishing piers, nature trails, paved bike trail and a canoe trail. Campsites, $30 to $35. 727-582-2267; www.pinellascounty.org/park/05_Ft_DeSoto.htm.

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• BAHIA HONDA STATE PARK, FLORIDA KEYS

In the shadow of an iconic Flagler railroad bridge, Bahia Honda's sandy beaches, shallow-water snorkeling and abundance of shore birds have earned it a spot among America's best beaches. The Sand and Sea Nature Center boasts a small marine aquarium, nature video and environmental activities. Campsites, $31.50. 305-872-2353; www.floridastateparks.org/bahiahonda/.

MYAKKA RIVER STATE PARK, SARASOTA

One of Florida's oldest and largest state parks. The Myakka River, designated as a Florida Wild and Scenic River, flows through the heart of the 58-square-mile wilderness playground. Tour the lake on one of the world's largest airboats or take to the treetops on the canopy walkway. There's also excellent fishing, canoeing, kayaking, bike riding and bird-watching. The park has cabins and backcountry sites as well as a full-service family campground. Campsites, $22. 941-361-6511; www.floridastateparks.org/MyakkaRiver.

• LAKE KISSIMMEE STATE PARK, LAKE WALES

Return to the time when ''cracker'' cowboys ruled the Florida scrub land. No trip is complete without a visit to the park's 1876-era cow camp. Not much has changed since then; you'll see white-tailed deer, bald eagles, sandhill cranes and wild turkeys. Anglers can catch bass on lakes Kissimmee, Tiger and Rosalie. There are also 13 miles of hiking trails, six of which are open to equestrians. The full-service campground is one of the best places in Florida for stargazing. Campsites, $17. 863- 696-1112; www.floridastateparks.org/lakekissimmee.

• ANASTASIA STATE PARK, ST. AUGUSTINE

A rare gem, whose preserved beach and surrounding wetlands look much as they must have 500 years ago when the Spanish explorers first made landfall. Besides great surfing, fishing, canoeing and kayaking, the park has an archaeological site where coquina rock was mined to create the nearby Castillo de San Marcos National Monument, the oldest Spanish fortress in America. Explore the dunes and stunted oak hammocks via the nature trail or paddle Salt Run, a tidal salt marsh, in a canoe or kayak. Campsites, $23. 904-461- 2033; www.floridastateparks.org/anastasia.

• TOMOKA STATE PARK, ORMOND BEACH

Once home to a thriving American Indian community, this is a water lover's paradise -- think fish-filled lagoons -- and a great place to watch birds, with more than 160 species. In the river, you can catch red drum, sheepshead, spotted sea trout, snook and tarpon. Visitors can also take a hike on the half-mile nature trail through a hardwood hammock that was once an indigo field for an 18th century British landowner. Campsites, $20. 386-676-4050; www.floridastateparks.org/tomoka.

• BLUE SPRING STATE PARK, ORANGE CITY

Site of the largest spring on the St. Johns River, this area was once inhabited by American Indians, and in 1766, was home to botanist John Bartram. The spring's gin-clear 73-degree water is a haven for swimmers, snorkelers, scuba divers. In winter months, it's a refuge for the West Indian Manatee, which means the spring is closed Nov. 15 through March 1. But visitors can still fish, boat and canoe the St. Johns. Camping, $20. 386-775-3663; www.floridastateparks.org/bluespring.

SILVER RIVER STATE PARK, OCALA

Next door to the Silver Springs and Wild Waters theme parks, home of the famous glass-bottom boat tours. You can spend your first day at this classic Florida tourist attraction and then head out on your own to paddle the Silver River. The state park also has a pioneer cracker village and the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center, which is open on weekends and holidays. You can also hike or ride one of the park's many nature trails. Camping, $21. 352-236-2121; www.floridastateparks.org/silverriver.

PAYNES PRAIRIE PRESERVE STATE PARK, MICANOPY

Valued for both nature and history; in 1774, botanist John Bartram wrote a detailed description of this region and called it the ''great Alachua Savannah.'' Park activities include hiking, bird-watching, fishing, picnicking and bicycling. Climb the 50-foot-high observation tower to see a wide array of wildlife, including alligators, bison and wild horses. You can also pick from eight trails for hiking, horseback riding and biking. Camping, $15. 352-466-3397; www.floridastateparks.org/paynesprairie.

JAY B. STARKEY WILDERNESS PARK, NEW PORT RICHEY

More than 8,300 acres of forest, with bike, hiking and horse trails. Stop by the Environmental Education Center and see artifacts from a 19th century ''Cracker'' homestead that was discovered, excavated and is now maintained by a local Boy Scout Explorer post. Camping, $10. 727- 834-3247; www.swfwmd.state.fl.us (click on recreation).


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