Orlando Outdoors & Ecotourism
Eco-travel is on the rise, and here in the heart of Florida — a state named for flowers and sunshine — Orlando’s natural beauty serves as the perfect counterbalance to our signature theme park fun.
Ecotours, natural springs, airboat rides, birding, nature trails, fishing, kayaking and lots of thrills are some of the many options for exploring Orlando’s great outdoors, both in Orange County and in neighboring regions. Whether peacefully paddling through spring-fed lakes or hang-gliding 2,000 feet above orange groves, you can dive into a variety of lush ecosystems, all within driving distance of our tourism district.
Wildlife & Birding in Orlando
As migration patterns send scores of wildlife south in colder weather, Orlando’s moderate climate becomes a popular haven for birds and those who love to watch them. Photographers and birders find their paradise here among areas like Lake Apopka, a magnet for nesting and migrating birds lured by the lake’s acres of undeveloped shoreline.
In fact, more than 360 different species of birds — including bald eagles, great blue herons, snowy egrets and anhingas — have been identified in the Lake Apopka North Shore area, more than any inland site in Florida. Accordingly, true bird-lovers and wildlife fans won’t want to miss the Lake Apopka Wildlife Festival and Birdapalooza, which is held each winter and offers free birding and nature tours, live entertainment, and vendors for food and Florida-made artisan goods.
A favorite of birders and photographers is the Gatorland Bird Rookery, where more than 20 different species of nesting, foraging and roosting birds thrive. From early February through June, photographers and birding enthusiasts can enter the park at 7:30 a.m. on select days for some of the best-possible access to wildlife via Gatorland’s Photographers Pass.
Learn more: Discount Tickets to Gatorland
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is another good resource for wildlife viewing sites, with 17 highlighted in the Orlando area alone. For a guided bird-watching tour with a local expert, Central Florida Nature Adventures offers expeditions near the Orlando area, where Florida scrub-jays, limpkins and purple gallinules might be spotted, among other species.
Kayaking in Orlando
Tranquil and enchanting, Orlando’s many opportunities for kayaking and canoeing are not to be missed. Visitors can opt to stay at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes or the JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes for guided canoe or kayak tours of Shingle Creek, known as the Headwaters of the Florida Everglades. Several other Orlando-area resorts offer kayaking excursions, too.
Want to take a guided kayak tour around an animal exhibit? Brevard Zoo, about an hour east of Orlando, is the only zoo in the U.S. where you can do it. You can also enjoy kayaking on numerous waterways and natural springs throughout the Orlando area.
Springs Near Orlando
Crystal-clear waters make for perfect scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming and fishing — not to mention manatee encounters — and visitors can find all four at several pristine natural springs less than an hour’s drive from Orlando.
In Apopka, about 30 minutes from downtown Orlando, Wekiwa Springs State Park (pronounced “Wekiva”) offers just about everything nature-lovers could want, from trails and canoe rentals to untouched wild vistas and family-friendly play areas. Camping is also available here. Closer to Orlando’s core, Kelly Park features a free-flowing natural spring and Rock Springs; a clear, swift creek.
Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, approximately 50 minutes from downtown Orlando, is famous for its annual influx of manatees. Blue Spring is especially popular in the colder months but offers beauty and adventure year-round.
About an hour from downtown Orlando, De Leon Springs State Park combines all the beauty of natural Florida springs with a historic and delicious addition: the popular Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House, operating in a 100-year-old replica of the original 1830s sugar mill and famous for the option to cook your own pancakes at the table.
Orlando Nature Trails & Parks
For hiking, bicycling and other outdoor activities, Orlando’s many nature parks and preserves offer a treasure trove of wildlife for you to explore. Fans of a good bike ride will love the West Orange Trail, featuring 20.8 paved miles with restroom, picnic and playground facilities, stretching from Winter Garden to Apopka in the north. Didn’t bring a bicycle with you? No problem: You can rent one from West Orange Trail Bikes & Blades Co., who will even deliver to your hotel for a nominal fee.
Learn more: Public Parks in Orlando
Similarly, at The Nature Conservancy’s Disney Wilderness Preserve, you can walk through 12,000 acres of protected natural habitat to see conservation in action.
Outdoor Thrills in Orlando
Orlando’s natural flora and fauna offer a relaxing escape for some guests, but some crave a wilder ride. For them, Revolution Off Road invites guests to take the wheel of an all-terrain Hummer, Jeep, dune buggy or high-speed rally car for a few hours of pulse-pounding, off-road fun.
For up-high excitement, Gatorland’s Screamin’ Gator Zip Line will carry you over gators along 1,200 feet of high-flying adventure, at heights reaching 56 feet and speeds of nearly 30 mph. Or, head to Forever Florida — Explore the Wild! for the only zip-line roller coaster in the United States. Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park and Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Garden’s ZOOm Air Adventure Park also offer zip-lining opportunities for all ages. You can even go up — way up — at Wallaby Ranch Hang Gliding Flight Park.
Learn more: Discount Tickets to Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park
Orlando Airboat Tours
A classic Florida experience, airboat rides offer dazzling views and an up-close look at native fauna as you glide across tranquil wetlands at up to 50 mph. Try Airboat Rides at Midway for an aquatic wildlife adventure, Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures for a VIP swamp excursion, Kissimmee Swamp Tours to go deep into Florida’s natural bounty, Spirit of the Swamp Airboat Rides for small and private tours, and Wild Florida for airboat rides and an amazing wildlife park that’s included in the ticket price.
Learn more: Discount Tickets to Boggy Creek and Wild Florida