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Orlando's Great Outdoors: Bike, Paddle & Stroll



Orlando residents enjoy outdoor activities year-round; it’s just one of the reasons so many northerners come here to escape the frigid grip of winter. Hiking season never really goes away, it just gets hotter and more humid. When that happens, many of us hit one of the local springs – Rock Springs at beautiful Kelly Park is a nice one for beginners. Beautiful hiking trails and a pale, blue-green fissure that’s crisp, cool and rife for a lazy float downstream. You may even want to hit nearby Mount Dora for a bit of antiquing, as well. 

Already a fan of the stand-up paddleboard craze? If not, you’re in luck – the pros at Paddleboard Orlando are experts when it comes to beginner training, and their excursions might lead you across one of our lovely urban lakes, through mansion-lined canals or into clear, blue water where the manatees do their underwater grazing.  Whether you dig zip lining in our subtropical canopies or just enjoying the sunset on a vast, idyllic (albeit alligator-inhabited) lake, Orlando has more than enough outdoor pursuits to satisfy hardcore athletes, average-Joe joggers or folks who just prefer scarfing their doughnuts out in the fresh air on occasion.


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Showcase of Citrus
Photo courtesy of A.D. Thompson


Owned by fourth generation citrus farmers, Showcase of Citrus is one of those classic "only in Florida" activities you have to do at least once (or, like the locals, you can come back again and again). This farm is home to 13 varieties of oranges alone â€" not counting the lemons, limes, tangerines and outstanding ruby red grapefruit. Pick 'em yourself or, if you're feeling lazy, grab a bag from the country store and mosey, but you might want to check out the Monster Truck Eco Tour while you're here. Watch for gators in the canals as you pick, and enjoy a frozen OJ before you leave!

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The scent of citrus blossoms would be reason enough, but you haven't lived until you've eaten a tree-fresh red navel warmed by the sun.

A.D.'s expert tip: CALL AHEAD. The website lists what's available for picking at different times of year (if anything, there is a slow season), but ring them to be sure there's fruit to pick before heading out.

Read more about Showcase of Citrus →


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Apopka/Winter Garden
Kelly Park


Dip your toes into the headwaters of Rock Springs Run, a true Floridian oasis amid Kelly Park's lush, green landscape and immediately the oppressive subtropical clime is replaced by goosebumps and a bit of a chill. Water courses into this natural spring from a crevice at the bottom at a brisk 68 degrees and if you're lucky enough to have the space to yourself and the sun is just right, you can see just about to the bottom. In places, the water here is an unearthly beautiful crystal blue. Kelly Park has camping and hiking and a swimming hole at the end of the creek's run, but the No. 1 activity here is a lazy, winding float trip �" about three-quarters of a mile and roughly 30 minutes if you don't stop �" to its culmination. Bring your own tube or rent one from a number of vendors outside the park.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: If you've never had the pleasure of a natural spring experience, Rock Springs is ideal. Too timid to tube? Try a post-hike toe dip.

A.D.'s expert tip: Try to visit this park after warm weather hits but before school is out for summer when both spring and swimming hole are inundated with throngs of happy campers.

Read more about Kelly Park →


Sure, the Orlando area has miles of off-road trails, but it's got it's fair share of paved paths, as well. The Urban Bike Trail â€" an easy pedal (roughly 2.5 miles; five if you do an out-and-back) runs from Ivanhoe Village, meandering amid scenery that mixes old-school Florida urban with verdant, park-like settings to Mead Botanical Garden in Winter Park. The path, which is open to walkers and joggers, as well, runs along an old rail route once called the "Dinky Line" and takes riders past urban lakes with wildlife-viewing opportunities with options to stop at one of Loch Haven Park's art- or science venues for a cultural infusion. Great exercise and a whole new way to see the city.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Relatively short and packed with cultural and natural goodies, the Orlando Urban Trail (or "OUT") is family-friendly with lots of fun stops along the way.

A.D.'s expert tip: Begin and end your trip at the Ivanhoe Village end of the trail so you can eat, drink, shop and stroll when you're through. Picturesque Gaston Edwards Park makes a nice pitstop, as well.

Read more about Orlando Urban Bike Trail →


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Orlando Watersports Complex


Wakeboarding? Yes. And on top of all that exciting lake-borne action, those looking for something a little more whimsical (or folks with tots in tow) can partake in OWC's Aquapark, a LEGO-inspired flotilla of climbing obstacles, slides and more that will wear you - and more importantly, your kids - out! No special skills are required, life jackets keep things super safe, and hours of fun are virtually guaranteed. Climbing towers, monkey bars, and multiple slides await, along with other challenging floats you'll want to conquer again and again. Most activities here require some form of waiver and are booked according to time increments. The minimum age for the Aquapark is 6 and reservations are definitely recommended.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The OWC complex has high-adrenaline wakeboarding for the adventurous, and the unique lure of the Aquapark, which is fun for all ages!

A.D.'s expert tip: Save time on visit day and fill out your waiver-related paperwork online when you book.

Read more about Orlando Watersports Complex →




Welcome to Lake Jesup, a vast mirror of a lake (except on windy days) with the dubious distinction of having more alligators than any other lake in the ENTIRE STATE OF FLORIDA. Let that sink in a minute while we tell you about Black Hammock Adventures. A decidedly old-Florida attraction that's part wildlife exhibit, part airboat- and pontoon-ride purveyor and part restaurant/bar with one of the most impressive sunset-viewing locations in Central Florida. Airboat rides depart daily, pontoons â€" slower, more stable, very relaxing â€" go out for weekend sunset cruises. Call the office for details. Pop into the Lazy Gator bar before or after your outing. Or the Black Hammock Restaurant (helmed by a former Executive Chef at Epcot's Chefs de France). Or both. It's friendly. It's local. And if you dig fried gator tail, it's the best in town. Live music every weekend.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Sunset cruises + kitschy gift shop + tiki bar + fried gator tail = Black Hammock Adventures in the top 10.

A.D.'s expert tip: The gator population of Lake Jesup is not an urban legend. Even if you're just coming to the Lazy Gator for a beer: leave your dog home!

Read more about Black Hammock Adventures →




This local outfitter runs tours throughout Central Florida, even out to Merritt Island, but in-town excursions through the Winter Park chain of lakes take intrepid explorers straight through the majestic landscape and history of this lovely little town. They're happy to give you an escort, but with the handy map they are happy to provide: it's wholly unnecessary, allowing you and partners in paddling to slip unencumbered through the waterways, guided by easy-to-read, hand-drawn maps. Navigate through lush foliage, beneath towering cypress and past the area's magnificent estates on a two-and-a-half-hour journey. Tours of the Little Econlockhatchee and other excursions are available, as well. Call or check the website for details.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: With Peace of Mind's beginner-level routes and easy-to-read maps, paddlers can happily navigate without guides but if you're looking for a tour, they're delighted to accommodate.

A.D.'s expert tip: Never paddled? Fear not. Peace of Mind's experts will make you so comfortable you may well decide to go it without guidance.

Read more about Peace of Mind Kayak Tours →




Looking for a different view of the City Beautiful? Paddleboard Orlando will give you waterborne perspective â€" vertically! And they're pros when it comes to first-time SUP'ers. Offering beginner lessons and peaceful, fun excursions on a wide array of Orlando's lakes and canals â€" you can sign up for manatee or moonlight paddles, group or private lessons, even nighttime bioluminescence outings. No equipment or experience necessary. Orlando Paddleboard is a passionate operation; they want to get you as hooked on SUP'ing as they are. Private parties and corporate events are available, as well. Paddleboarding is a unique way to experience the aquatic terrain, flora and fauna of Central Florida â€" definitely worth a try!

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Diverse outings and beginner-friendly instruction make Paddleboard Orlando ideal for pros and novices. Try it!

A.D.'s expert tip: Remember to apply plenty of sunscreen, since the sun reflects off the surface of the water.

Read more about Paddleboard Orlando →




Explore Florida's natural beauty at Wekiwa Springs State Park. Hike through wild, diverse ecosystems, paddle the famous Wekiva River, or camp beneath the stars. Wekiwa Springs offers nature lovers the opportunity to experience a part of Florida that is all too quickly vanishing â€" and just minutes from the theme park area. Bring your camera, because wild turkey, black bear, deer, and many species of birds call this park home. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent and guided tours are available.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: With so much gorgeous terrain and so many different activities available, Wekiwa Springs State Park offers something for every level of "outdoors-person."

A.D.'s expert tip: Leashed pets are welcome on the trails, so bring Fido along for the hike.

Read more about Wekiwa Springs State Park →




Locals are always talking up how cosmopolitan Orlando is. We're not denying it, but just outside the city sits acres of wetland wilderness so loaded down with wildlife - alligators, bald eagles, wading birds and more - you may spot more animals that at the zoo. Of course, you'll need an expert guide and Wild Willy's won't disappoint. Tours are exciting (if you've never glided over the seas of grass before, you're in for a treat) and uber-educational. Photo-ops with the "on-staff" gators are available, as well. Florida nature is unlike any other, it's well worth a quick side-trip from the parks (and close by, too).

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Too often Orlando visitors don't explore the wildlife outside the animal-themed attractions. Wild Willy's will show you a side of Florida you may never have seen.

A.D.'s expert tip: Wear a hat, but hang onto it! Their 500-horsepower, six-passenger airboats really know how to fly!

Read more about Wild Willy's Airboat Tours →


Wekiva Island


Wekiva Island is equal parts charming and unexpected, a "wildlife" oasis of sorts that sits a stone's throw from a commercial stretch of Wekiva Springs Road. It's a slice of natural Florida that can be taken two-fold. On one hand, this venue is a springboard to all things river. Canoes and kayaks are available for rent, in which one can explore and observe native flora and fauna (birds, gators, deer, otters, you name it) in pristine surroundings. On the other, you'll experience Florida locals in their natural element, as well, as they belly up for eats and drinks (wine and beer) at the on-site bar, the Tooting Otter. Food is served on weekends. The vibe is exceedingly relaxed. Patrons enjoy swimming, sunbathing, volleyball, horseshoes and a communal fire pit. There is often live music. "River-banas" are available for rent to make your day more comfortable. Each comes with shade, seating, a cooler and a private parking spot.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: A truly unique, inland Florida experience, Wekiva Island combines active river pursuits with the vibe of a beach bar/resort.

A.D.'s expert tip: Kayaks rent out early, particularly on weekends, so come early. You're also welcome to bring your own. Wekiva Island's laid-back atmosphere is landlocked Margaritaville, not lakeside Ritz-Carlton. Expect things to be very casual and, on summer weekends, crowded.

Read more about Wekiva Island →


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Meet A.D. Thompson

Amy Drew has spent nearly three decades as a professional writer and roughly half her life as a Floridian. The words, she has found, come easier with bare feet and rum.

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