Top Picks For You
Orlando Travel Guide

10 Amazing Outdoor Adventures You Can Have in Orlando

From freshwater springs to wild manatees, Orlando has no shortage of outdoor adventures to offer.

For all the manmade diversions that bring visitors to Orlando, people are often surprised by Central Florida’s sublime natural landscapes that range from old-growth cypress forests and freshwater springs to dense palm hammocks and biking trails that wind for miles past pristine lakes.


1 OF 10

Paddle Through a Cypress Swamp

What’s most surprising about this outdoor adventure near Orlando is how you access it–right off a busy, retail-lined street in Kissimmee. Head out on a guided eco-tour or paddle your own rented kayak, canoe, or standup paddleboard from The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek. The slow-moving waterway flows into an ancient cypress forest shaded with towering trees where alligators, turtles, great blue herons, and egrets might be spotted around every watery bend.

2 OF 10

Take an Airboat Ride Where the Everglades Start

Not everyone needs to experience nature in a flow-through, slow, and serene setting. If you feel the need for speed in swampy surroundings, it hardly gets more thrilling than feeling the wind in your hair on an airboat ride that’s decidedly akin to an Everglades adventure with Marsh Landing Adventures in Kissimmee. Choose hour-long rides or longer trips of up to four hours that include a stop at Makinson Island to picnic and hike. The Florida Everglades actually trace their headwaters to the wetland areas around Kissimmee and you can expect to see all manner of wading birds, raptors, alligators, and turtles as you fly along in the six to nine-person Coast Guard-approved airboats.

3 OF 10

See Manatees at a Gorgeous Florida Spring

Mid-November to March 31 is manatee season in Florida when the gentle, seagrass-munching giants make for Florida’s relatively warm freshwater springs to escape plunging temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Their survival tactic makes for quite the wildlife spectacle at places like Blue Spring State Park, about 35 miles north of Orlando, a first-magnitude spring that pumps out some 44 million gallons of freshwater per day from underground–and where you can view congregating manatees from a boardwalk that winds through the sublime scenery.

4 OF 10

Go for a Refreshing Swim

Florida has some 1,000 freshwater springs scattered like turquoise and sapphire-hued jewels throughout the state’s interior. For the best outdoor adventure at one near Orlando, set your sights on Wekiwa Springs State Park, where the crystal clear swimming hole at the springhead is shaded by a thick tropical hammock of oaks and palms. About 17 miles north of Orlando, this park in the town of Apopka sprawls across 7,000 acres and is the headwater of the Wekiva River. If you want to adventure out from the springhead into the river, where you might spot alligators and turtles in the tannin-rich waters, you can rent canoes and kayaks within the park or from vendors just outside the gates and go it on your own (just remember that what goes downstream must also go up).

5 OF 10

Bike, Stroll, or Blade Along the West Orange Trail

Rent a bike, bring your rollerblades, or set out for a stroll from the cute town of Winter Garden (15 miles west of Orlando) along the West Orange Trail, where 22 miles of paved trail unspool through forests and along the shoreline of Lake Apopka. The rail trail used to support a former railroad line is now one of the Orlando area’s favorite places to spend time exercising in the fresh air and is particularly popular outside of the muggy summer months. You can rent bikes and rollerblades by the hour or all day from West Orange Trail Bikes & Blades, located right along the trail just west of downtown Winter Garden.

6 OF 10

Take to the Skies in a Hot Air Balloon

The quietness of such a thrilling moment makes for quite the contrast when you lift up in a hot air balloon. Bob’s Balloons takes passengers on sunrise hot air balloon rides high above the Orlando treetops from launch sites around Kissimmee and other areas, depending on the day’s most favorable conditions. From a height of about 1,000 feet, you can expect great views of the theme parks, downtown Orlando and Epcot as well as potential wildlife sightings, with deer frequently seen. Flights last about an hour and always finish with the traditional Champagne (or orange juice, if you prefer) toast back on the ground after.

7 OF 10

Cruise the Winter Park Chain of Lakes

Orlando might lack shorelines of the saltwater variety, but when it comes to lakes, Central Florida is absolutely ridden with freshwater beauty. Head just north of downtown Orlando to one of the area’s prettiest towns, Tony Winter Park, for a scenic boat cruise around the Winter Park Chain of Lakes. With room for 18 passengers, pontoon boats with plenty of shade make for a comfortable ride when you head out with Scenic Boat Tour from downtown Winter Park on the affordable, hour-long tours that traverse narrow canals through part of the seven-lake chain, cruising the tranquil waters of Lakes Osceola, Maitland, and Virginia. Just as fun as spotting wildlife along the way is the chance to ogle the parade of multi-million-dollar mansions that hug the lakefront in one of Central Florida’s most expensive zip codes.


8 OF 10

Pedal-Power Your Way Around Lake Eola

Stepping aboard a giant plastic swan pedal boat to power yourself Lake Eola is a kitsch and totally fun rite of passage in downtown Orlando. And when the weather is beautiful, which is often in these parts, it’s particularly pleasant to cruise the shoreline alongside the resident real swans, check out the cormorants gathering on a tiny island in the lake, or get a close-up look at the centerpiece fountain. Plan your visit for a Sunday, when the Orlando Farmer’s Market takes over the southeast end of the lake, and stick around to browse more than 50 vendors selling seasonal produce and handmade goods or just relax in the beer and wine garden with live music.


9 OF 10

Try Clear Kayaking at Rock Springs

Clear kayaking tours with Get up and Go Kayaking give you a view straight into Central Florida’s gin-clear springs without having to actually get wet or don a mask and snorkel. Opt for a private or group tour along Rock Springs Run and the impossibly clear water of Emerald Cut, and all you need to do is peer into the bottom of your clear kayak to see the gently waving grasses and passing fish and turtles. Along the shoreline, keep an eye out for playful otters and sunning alligators. Black bears and white-tailed deer are also at home in the forest canopy here. With the spring-fed wilderness all; around you, this is Central Florida at its wildest and most beautiful.

10 OF 10

Try Full-Moon Night Paddling

About 30 miles (30 minutes) southwest of Orlando in Clermont, Lake Louisa State Park and its three lakes create a natural playground for everything from horseback riding and cycling along miles of paved trails to staying the night in a glamping tent or rustic cabin. Far and away one of the neatest things you can do at the park is plan a full moon paddling trip onto Lake Hammond to listen to the chorus of after-dark Florida wildlife rise on the warm evening air. Single and tandem kayaks are available for these 90-minute trips when the light of the full moon reflecting on the lake’s surface makes for a surprisingly well-lit experience as you paddle between towering cypress trees to a chorus of frogs, crickets and maybe even alligators if they’re feeling vocal and feisty.