Ecotours, natural springs, airboat rides, birding, nature trails, fishing, kayaking, and lots of thrills await in the heart of Florida.
Photos by Stephen DeVries
While sand, sun, theme parks, and nightlife are certainly available in abundance, travelers are increasingly interested in incorporating sustainability and conservation into their travel plans. Ecotourism is on the rise, and the natural beauty of central Florida makes it the perfect destination for exploring the great outdoors. Natural springs, boat rides, nature trails, and horseback riding are just some of the many options for exploring central Florida.
Canoeing Wekiva River
Just minutes outside of Orlando lies one of Florida’s best-kept secrets—Wekiwa Springs State Park. Spend the day paddling along the River’s 16 miles and observing alligators, manatees, wading birds, and maybe even a black bear in the centuries-old oak trees lining the banks. With seven destinations along the River, you can plan to spend a couple of hours or all day.
Disney Wilderness Preserve
With trails ranging from half a mile to six miles, the Preserve is the perfect place to see nature as it’s meant to be seen. Located near Kissimmee, it covers 11,500 acres and is home to more than 1,000 species of plants and animals.
Located 45 minutes north of Tampa on 47 acres of rolling countryside, the Giraffe Ranch offers up close and hands-on safari expeditions. Visitors can feed giraffes, pet camels, and get personal with rhinos, Brazilian tapirs, and pygmy hippos. Learn about these animals and the ongoing conservation efforts of the Ranch.
Lake Meadow Naturals
Visit the working farm at Lake Meadow Naturals to learn firsthand how food is produced. Swing by the Farm Market at the end of your visit to take home fresh eggs, honey, produce, marmalade and preserves, and humanely raised natural meats.
Located in Winter Park, patrons of Prato can enjoy Italian cuisine on the year-round patio. Modern techniques and seasonal ingredients make for the perfect dinner destination after a long day of hiking or horseback riding.
Premier Boat Tours
Cruise along what has been called “the most beautiful mile of water in the world,” as the two-hour pontoon-boat tour glides along Dora Canal. Captains and crew share stories and local knowledge as passengers keep their eyes open for bald eagles, herons, turtles, and alligators.
Rock Springs Run Trail Rides
Ideal for all levels of riders, Rock Springs Run State Reserve offers guided horseback riding every day of the year. Riders can experience the 14,000-acre park via nine miles of trails with excursions that last one, one and a half, two, or three hours.
Tasting Room Orlando
Eco-travel doesn’t have to mean roughing it. When your travel plans take you to Orlando, be sure to stop at this trendy wine bar and cocktail lounge.
West Orange Trail
With 22 miles of asphalt, concrete, and dirt trails, visitors can enjoy walking, hiking, biking, in-line skating, fishing, and horseback riding on one of Florida’s most popular rail trails. The trail is spotted with eateries, visitor stations, and even a butterfly garden.