When researching for travel tips to Orlando, the vast majority of information you'll find relates to the bazillion theme parks in the area. Most people visiting Orlando are there to do just that, but what if you need a break from mice and wizards?
I recommend staying at any one of the many fantastic hotels near the theme parks in Orlando since you'll still want to be close to all the theme park action. I need to escape from time to time for a little fresh air and green, and I'm pleased to tell you that Orlando has a lot to offer in this department. Here are seven places that you can visit to feed your inner nature lover.
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University of Central Florida Arboretum
Located on the University of Central Florida campus, this 80-acre arboretum has hundreds of plant species in eight collections arranged by geographical area or ecosystems. Visitors can walk, jog, or bike around the 9-acre lake or simply sit at a picnic table and enjoy the open space. If you want to learn something about Florida's exotic species, grab a map and take a self-guided tour or schedule a group tour with one of the school's trained botanists.
Lake Eola Park
When you don't have a lot of time, Lake Eola Park is the perfect solution. A downtown Orlando oasis, Lake Eola Park is an easy spot to get to for a little bit of fresh air. There's a 1-mile path around the lake that you can use to get in a quick walk or jog, or you can rent a paddleboat. There are beautiful swans at the lake, so don't forget to stop and take a look. On Sundays, there's a farmers market where you can buy supplies for an outdoor picnic.
When it gets warm in Orlando, Kelly Park is a great place to get in the water and cool off just 20 miles from town. The springs are naturally 70 degrees, which I think is perfect for swimming or tubing. Water-related activities aren't the only thing you can do in this 248-acre park. You can also camp, hike, and rock climb. The many species of trees provide excellent shade for an afternoon nap as well.
Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve
This 440-acre preserve close to Disney World is an outdoor dream. There are unpaved hiking trails, a raised walkway ending with an overlook, a nature center, a butterfly garden, and a picnic area. You'll get an opportunity to see birds, alligators, turtles, and even a bobcat. Best of all, visiting this preserve is absolutely free.
Harry P. Leu Gardens
If you're a fan of flowers, then the Harry P. Leu Gardens is the spot for you. This 50-acre spot situated at Lake Ivanhoe has more than 1,000 rose bushes, which bloom from April to January, and an amazing collection of camellias, which bloom from November to March. Don't forget to check out the citrus grove or the butterfly garden. The 200-year-old oaks along the paths provide lovely shade as you tiptoe through the tulips.
Orlando Wetlands Park
While Donald is a classic, bird watchers visiting Orlando are in for a real treat when they visit the 1,650-acre Orlando Wetlands Park. With more than 20 miles of roads and woodland trails to wander, this park has plenty of spots to relax, hike, bike, or try your hand at some nature photography.
If you want to see more of the park quickly, you can take a tram ride for a guided tour, where you'll get to see plenty of alligators, too. The park used to be closed in the winter from November 15 through January 31, but now it's open year-round.
Green Mountain Byway
Green Mountain Overlook and Trailhead is located along a scenic byway and offers a view of Sugarloaf Mountain, the highest point in all of Florida. You get great views of Lake Apopka, but for more of a workout, there's a trail that goes from the overlook to the lake. It's 6 miles round trip, so be prepared.
There are actually more than 20 miles of hiking and biking trails in the area. For light hikers, there's a gravel trail and raised boardwalk that empties onto a nice overlook. If you're a cyclist, the route through the scenic byway between the towns of Mount Dora and Winter Garden is very popular.
If you're looking to escape the environment inside the crowded amusement parks, the great outdoors is waiting for you in Orlando!
How about you? Have you ever visited any of these parks in the Orlando area? Have any additional spots to add? Do tell!
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