Orlando Outdoors & Ecotourism
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. Immerse yourself in our great outdoors with ecotours, natural springs, birding, nature trails, fishing, kayaking, airboat rides and lots of unforgettable thrills.
Discover: Ecotourism Attractions in Orlando
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 districts. Get out there and experience it all 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. 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 March through May, photographers and birding enthusiasts can enter the park at 7 a.m. on select days for some of the best-possible access to wildlife via the Gatorland Photographers Pass.
No matter when you’ll be in town, you can see exotic birds in person at Gatorland’s Parrot Playground, Emu Enclosure, Flamingo Island and free-flight Very Merry Aviary, all of which are included with park admission. Still more up-close bird encounters await at Discovery Cove®, an all-inclusive tropical day resort where you can interact with all manner of wildlife.
Save on discount tickets: Gatorland
Photographers and birders also find 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 North Shore Birding Festival, which is held each winter and offers free birding and nature tours.
The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail is another good resource for wildlife viewing sites, with 17 highlighted in the Orlando area alone.
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 with an assist from innovative standalone operators such as Adventures in Florida, Epic Paddle Adventures, and Get Up and Go Kayaking.
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.
Discover: Natural Springs Near Orlando
In Apopka, about 40 minutes from our main tourism districts, 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 a clear, swift creek, Rock Springs.
Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, approximately an hour from our tourism districts, is famous for its annual influx of manatees. Blue Spring is especially popular in the colder months but offers beauty and adventure year-round.
A little more than an hour from our tourism districts, 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 operates in a 100-year-old replica of the original 1830s sugar mill and is famous for the option to cook your own pancakes at the table.
Orlando’s many nature parks and preserves offer a treasure trove of wildlife for you to explore, including hiking, bicycling and other outdoor activities. For starters, numerous resorts feature trails and reserves that are ideal for walking, biking and other activities.
Fans of a good bike ride will also 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.
Discover: Public Parks in Orlando
Many other ecotourism activities can be enjoyed while in the Winter Garden area. About 20 minutes south, the Tibet-Butler Preserve features 438 acres of pristine wilderness that include many bodies of water in the Butler Chain of Lakes, officially recognized by the state as Outstanding Florida Waters. Open 363 days per year, excluding only Christmas and Christmas Eve, the Tibet-Butler Preserve also boasts four miles of trails and seven ecosystems with hiking, walking, youth programs, wildlife sightings and many other reasons to visit.
Split Oak Forest Wildlife and Environmental Area is another local nature preserve worth visiting. Named for a spectacular, 200-year-old live oak tree that survived after being split down the middle, Split Oak features a mixture of trails and unpaved roads through diverse wildlife habitats, including the 5.3-mile North/South Trail. It’s about 35 minutes east of our tourism districts.
Orlando’s natural flora and fauna offer a relaxing escape for some travelers, but others crave a wilder ride. Revolution Adventures invites them 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.
Even more offroad fun awaits at Tank America — the only place in Florida where you can drive an actual tank without joining the military. Take control of an FV433 and conquer a half-mile of rugged Florida terrain.
Discover: Things to Do at Tank America
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. Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park and Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Seminole Aerial Adventures also offer zip-lining opportunities for all ages. You can even go up — way up — at Wallaby Ranch Hang Gliding Flight Park.
Discover: Orlando Zip Lines
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 Boggy Creek Airboat Adventures (get discount tickets) for a VIP swamp excursion, Wild Florida (get discount tickets) for airboat rides and an amazing wildlife park that’s included in the ticket price, or go deep into Florida’s natural bounty with Spirit of the Swamp Airboat Rides for small and private tours.
Or, become the captain with a helping hand from Luxe Rentals, which is open daily as long as the sun is out. Whether you want to take the family on a thrilling jet ski ride or have a relaxed date night on a sunset cruise, they are ready to help make your dreams come true. What’s more, skilled instructors will be with you on the water to ensure your safety and comfort.
With so many miles of pristine waterways in Orlando, anglers of all ages can look forward to casting lines while they’re here. Some of the best is available at Walt Disney World® Fishing, where guided catch-and-release outings invite you to experience bass fishing at its finest, all year round. Several of our resorts also offer fishing opportunities, including Rosen Shingle Creek, The Ritz-Carlton Orlando and JW Marriott Orlando, Grande Lakes, and others.