Trekking across theme park parking lots is enough fresh air for many Florida travelers, but you’re not just any traveler, are you? If you want a real dose of nature during your Orlando vacation, the available options and the city’s temperate climate won’t let you down. Just grab a sun hat and get ready for a little Florida fun.
Don’t be surprised if peacocks greet you when you arrive at Forever Florida, a 4,700-acre ranch and nature preserve that features Florida scrub, swamp, and trees. Ranch hands on horseback keep an eye on the grounds and the wildlife, while you can take in the sights on a horseback tour.
To see and learn about Orlando’s Spanish moss, alligators, wild turkeys, and even the elusive panthers, take a Nature Coach Tour. A covered, oversized, open-sided, bus-like contraption slowly travels over land and water while a knowledgeable guide shares info about everything you see.
If the idea of a slow, scenic tour is too tame for your adventurous spirit, opt for some zip lining instead. You get a mini eco-tour on the way to a clutch of seven zip line experiences within the reserve. The pros gear you up for the glide above the tree canopy — as high as 68 feet above the ground in places. Can’t imagine what the experience is like? It’s the definition of thrilling.
Ride, Baby, Ride
If the temp is about 70 with a gentle breeze, it’s a typical fall-winter-spring day — the best times to travel to Orlando. Drive to Winter Garden’s historic Plant Street, rent bicycles at WheelWorks, and start pedaling. The quaint commercial strip known as West Orange Trail features 22 miles of paved roads that meander through woods, past playgrounds and a nature preserve, beside suburban neighborhoods, and right into South Lake Trail — with 12-plus miles of its own — at the western end. The area is ideal for cycling, dog-walking, jogging, and in-line skating, and you’re sure to encounter plenty of friendly locals on weekends.
Hit the “Rowed,” Jack
Pull into a parking space at Wekiwa Springs State Park, and prepare to leave the concrete jungle behind. Families grill burgers beside picnic tables shaded by grand oaks, children climb trees, and adventurers kayak and canoe up and down the Wekiva River (unlike the park name, it’s spelled with a “v”). This lush green spot is one of several gateways to what might as well be called a paddling trail. Rent a boat and head out to see nature at its finest.
Or Let a Motor Do the Work
If rowing a boat isn’t your thing, head to picturesque Mount Dora to explore the Harris Chain of Lakes on a CatBoat Tour. After settling into a spiffy, two-seat CraigCat, you play follow the leader through canals, around waterfront neighborhoods, and into the center of a lake. Using a walkie-talkie-type gadget, the leader explains everything you see as you zoom — or crawl — by native birds, water-bound trees, sun-bathing turtles, and more.
If this sounds exhausting, don’t sweat it. Simply take one of Premier Boat Tours’ two-hour guided trips around the same waters on a tourist pontoon.
Do the Funky Monkey
Maybe you’d rather be up high in the trees instead of down on the water. In that case, reserve your spot at Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park. At this family-run facility, you can challenge yourself on ropes courses located up to 50 feet above ground in a verdant pine forest. The four adult trails and two kid trails (for ages 7 and up) offer the perfect amount of adventure for outdoorsmen.
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