HAL SCOTT REGIONAL PRE-SERVE AND PARK Out in east Orange County, near the intersection of State Road 528 and Dallas Boulevard on a chunk of land owned by the St. Johns River Water Management District, is this 8,400-acre wetland that's seldom completely wet. What you'll find instead of a swamp, usually, are four- and six-mile trails through pine flatwoods and oak-shaded campsites near the Econlockhatchee River that make for an easy overnight camp-out. The west side of the park is accessible only when the river is low. (Entrance is on Dallas Boulevard, two miles north of State Road 528, St. Johns River Water Management District; 407-897-4311;

GENEVA WILDERNESS A short hike from the entrance to a secluded pond makes this a kid-friendly walk in the woods. Bonus points for the full latrines along the way. Overnight camping is for groups only, but there's a nature center and a chapel (!?) on the property. Horses, bikes and hikers share the same trails, so watch your step. According to a source from the Florida Trail Association, a side trail opposite the Ed Yarborough Nature Center boasts terrestrial orchids in November. (3501 N. County Road 426, Geneva;

LYONIA PRESERVE Right behind the Deltona Regional Library is a 400-acre tract that serves a glimpse of what much of this part of Florida used to look like, prior to being converted to strip malls and suburbs. The scrub ecosystem (also found in the Ocala National Forest) supports a surprising variety of plants and animals, including the endangered Florida scrub jay. The preserve is open during daylight hours. Pick up a trail guide at the library. (2150 Eustace Ave., Deltona;

LITTLE BIG ECON STATE FOREST In case you're out of touch with native nature, there's a 1,400-mile trail in Florida that begins down south in Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades and runs, unbroken, all the way to the Panhandle. We've hiked a few miles of the south end, and the prospect of 1,390 more was daunting, to say the least. Maybe it's better to start with a taste of the Florida Trail, and for that, this 5,048-acre forest is perfect. The trail (look for the orange blazes) runs alongside the Econlockhatchee River. In the forest, there are also facilities for biking, canoeing and horseback riding. (County Road 426, 3.3 miles east of Oviedo;

LAKE PROCTOR WILDERNESS AREA Six miles total of wandering trails through flatwoods, sand hills and oak hammocks, plus a scenic lookout over the still waters of Lake Proctor make this 475-acre preserve a quiet and often overlooked destination. That's why we like it. (920 W. State Road 46, Geneva;

OCALA NATIONAL FOREST At 383,573 acres, this is a place big enough to get lost in and then some. The opportunities are endless: hiking the Florida Trail, camping, primitive camping, swimming in the springs, paddling, horseback riding, ATV and motorcycle trails, etc. Join the Rainbow People for their annual freakout/spongefest if you want (they reputedly like to trade sex for cigs and other supplies). Or see if you can find the rumored camp where a bunch of World War II vets are holed up. (Searching for the vets you'll no doubt come across a lot of homeless people who live in the forest full time; however, the feds are trying to crack down on that.) Watch the trees for wild monkeys, the water for alligators, the ground for snakes and the woods for hairless black bears. (Located 60 miles northwest of Orlando, north of Eustis; maps available at Pittman Visitor Center, 45621 State Road 19, Altoona; 352-669-7495;

WATER ECONLOCKHATCHEE RIVER CANOE TRAIL This lesser-known jewel is part of Florida's statewide system of greenways and trails. The so-designated portion runs 19 miles through uninhabited country, from the bridge over County Road 419 about halfway between Chuluota and Oviedo to the State Road 46 bridge east of Geneva. Along the way you'll find hardwood forests, high sandy banks and sandbars for camping. (

WEKIVA RIVER/ROCK SPRINGS RUN CANOE TRAIL This is the watery connector between Rock Springs Run State Preserve and Wekiwa Springs State Park, and probably one of the most scenic paddling trips in Central Florida. The entire route is 27 miles, but there are numerous access points along the way. Expect a mixture of swift and placid currents, pine flatwoods and swamps, tributaries and lagoons for taking a break. You may even spot a black bear if you're lucky. (King's Landing Canoe Rental, 5722 Baptist Camp Road, Apopka; 407-886-0859;

ESTERO BAY It's a stretch to say that this spot is in Central Florida, being near Fort Myers and all, but if saltwater paddling sounds like fun, this is an excellent choice. The best part is starting at the Koreshan State Historic Site in Estero, which is a park sitting on the site of an abandoned freaky-deaky utopian community founded in the late 1800s by a guy who thought he was immortal. He also thought the earth was at the center of the universe, which was a giant hollow sphere, and that women made better rulers than men. Lunatic! Membership in the commune dwindled after the founder died, oddly enough. Paddlers start in a tiny stream that runs beside the historic site and continue out into Estero Bay. On the way, enjoy views of white-sand beaches and Calusa villages. (

OKLAWAHA RIVER The entire river runs 110 miles, south to north, beginning in Lake County near Mount Dora and ending with the confluence of the St. Johns River near Palatka. But there's no need to run down the entire thing. A particularly nice slice can be found between Ray Wayside Park and Gores Landing, near Silver Springs. Paddle past high limestone bluffs, through dense tree canopies and small sand beaches on the trip northward. As you near Gores Landing, look for an island that's home to a troop of rhesus monkeys, said to be descended from monkeys released on the island by a Silver Springs concessionaire in the 1930s. If one appears, keep in mind that they bite. (Ray Wayside Park, State Road 40, west of Delk's Bluff Bridge;

TURNBULL CREEK Paddling utopia in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. Start in an open marsh. As you paddle northwest, the vegetation closes in until all that's left is a tunnel. Squeeze through the tunnel to find a lush, heavily canopied swamp. Keep going and end up in a glassy, tranquil pond ringed by cypress trees. As a bonus, there's the benefit of being in a wildlife refuge home to more than 330 species of birds. (US 1, south of Oak Hill, in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge;

ALEXANDER SPRINGS There are many wonderful springs in the Ocala National Forest, and this is one of the nicer ones, with no moss-covered concrete. It also has a park that is, unfortunately, run by a private concessionaire that tends to be overzealous in enforcement of petty rules. Screw 'em. There's no need to go into the park to get to the springs. Instead, head east on State Road 445 and drive right past the park entrance. In about a mile or so, there's a bridge over the Alexander Springs run. Pull off on the access road on either side of the bridge, drop in the canoe or kayak and start paddling north. After approximately two miles, the springs themselves appear, right beside the Alexander Springs park. Be sure to wave. (Alexander Springs, Ocala National Forest, State Road 445, five miles east of US 19, Altoona;

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