Experience the wild, natural side of Orlando

Roam if you want to

Paddling on Rock Springs Run.
Paddling on Rock Springs Run. Photo by Guy Bryant/Shutterstock

The first thing you'll hear from friends after you move to Florida: "You must go to the beach every day!" Well ... Orlando is land-locked, though you can hit the ocean with roughly an hour's drive, if you need that saltwater fix. But you never have to venture far from your door if it's just some nature you need: paddling through the water, hiking through palmetto scrub, biking, fishing or getting dirty with your dogs; all are easy to find in Orlando.

Lake Eola Park
512 E. Washington St., orlando.gov
The center of downtown Orlando life, Lake Eola Park hosts farmers markets, cultural fairs, foot races, white swans, black swans and more, along with a .9-mile walkway that orbits the signature fountain in the middle of the lake.

Mead Botanical Garden
300 S. Denning Drive, Winter Park, meadgarden.org
A garden oasis with bike paths and a picnic area bursting with natural fauna and wildlife. Take a hike near forested wetlands, and if you're quiet enough, hear the hawks and wading birds.

Greenwood Urban Wetlands
1411 Greenwood St., orlando.gov
Surrounded by beautiful cypress trees, Greenwood Urban Wetlands' 19 acres is a sight to behold all year round. The wetlands adjoin Greenwood Cemetery, a can't-miss piece of old Orlando.

Dickson Azalea Park
100 Rosearden Drive, orlando.gov
Along with neighboring Langford Park, Dickson Azalea provides a shady oasis just outside of downtown. Bridges, pavilions and walkways crawl around and over the stream that trickles through the leafy park.

Barnett Park
4801 W. Colonial Drive, orangecountyfl.net
The crown jewel of Orange County's parks department can be overlooked because it can't be seen from Colonial Drive. But it boasts a BMX track, a fitness center, a dog park, softball fields and more, making it an essential location for any outdoors enthusiast.

Blue Jacket Park
2501 General Rees Ave., orlando.gov
Blue Jacket Park was once the Orlando Naval Training Center, the home of service personnel known as "Blue Jackets." Today, its 75 acres have been designated a historic site that's popular for hosting baseball, soccer and softball games, and events like weddings.

Central Park
251 S. Park Ave., Winter Park, cityofwinterpark.org
You're smack-dab in the middle of Winter Park's downtown shopping district and you want to experience a little nature, so you cross the street and are immediately surrounded by fountains, landscaped plants and the oak tree canopies of Central Park.

Harry P. Leu Gardens
1920 N. Forest Ave., leugardens.org
These historic gardens nestled in Audubon Park boast a spectacular collection of native and exotic flora, including a rose garden, a butterfly garden and the largest documented camellia collection in Eastern North America.

Lake Killarney
115 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park
Catch a glimpse of a crane swooping down on a fish, a lazy alligator or a racing shell full of crew members from nearby Rollins College.

Cady Way Trail
821 Herndon Ave., orangecountyfl.net
This 7.2-mile paved path, popular with bicyclists and stroller-pushing moms alike, connects Orlando and Winter Park and the Cross Seminole Trail in Seminole County.

Orlando Urban Trail
The nearly 3-mile-long trail near downtown Orlando is a hidden pocket of peace and scenic quiet cutting through the heart of metro Orlando.

Little Big Econ State Forest
C.R. 419 at Econlockhatchee River Bridge, Oviedo
The Little Big Econ River is as rich in biodiversity as it is in history. The area has seen much human activity (cattle ranches, a portion of the old Florida East Coast Railway). Now it's available as a wildlife refuge.

Wekiwa Springs State Park
1800 Wekiwa Circle, Apopka, floridastateparks.org
You can canoe or kayak here (rentals are available), but this park also has 13 miles of pristine, wooded hiking, biking and horseback-riding trails. This park is very popular, particularly in summer. When the parking lot fills, the park entrance closes. Get there early.

Blue Spring State Park
2100 W. French Ave., Orange City, floridastateparks.org
Blue Spring is notable both for the gorgeous spring run and the chance to have close encounters with manatees. The park is a designated manatee refuge (they're drawn to the temperate 70-degree waters) during the winter.

Rock Springs Run at Kelly Park
400 E. Kelly Park Road, Apopka, 407-254-1902, ocfl.net
The locals like to keep a secret of this bubbly spring where you can hang out in the water, rent floats and tube down the spring run. Like Wekiwa, this place fills up quickly during the summer, so plan accordingly.

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