Sometimes it’s those simple backyard adventures that create the best summertime memories. And in our community, our nearby state parks and scenic trails are actually what make up our extended backyard. It doesn’t get much better than that. To help in creating those memories, Lake Mary Life recommends four local nature adventures where you and your family can discover (or rediscover) new paths and perfect places to dip your toes, all within short driving distance.
Sometimes it’s those simple backyard adventures that create the best summertime memories. And in our community, our nearby state parks and scenic trails are actually what make up our extended backyard. It doesn’t get much better than that.
To help in creating those memories, Lake Mary Life recommends four local nature adventures where you and your family can discover (or rediscover) new paths and perfect places to dip your toes, all within short driving distance. So dress comfortably, grab your walking shoes, bathing suits, and sunscreen, and delight in the natural beauty of these amazing backyard spots. You’ll have a blast, and before you know it, you’ll be back home in time for dinner. In this feature, we enjoyed capturing some of our children and families from the area who enjoy these spots just as much as we do.
Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, Apopka
Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, located at 2803 Lust Road in Apopka, is a one-way, 11-mile long, unpaved drive located on more than 20,000 acres on the northern shore of Lake Apopka that begins on Lust Road and ends on Jones Road in Orange County. The drive’s 10-miles-per-hour speed limit requirement makes for about a one-hour drive for you and your family to experience an up-close view of more than 300 species of birds and other wildlife, including alligators, turtles, bobcats, and coyotes. Scenic stopping points, picnic areas and public restroom facilities are available along the drive.
Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is free and open from sunrise to sunset on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. For more information, visit Sjrwmd.com/recreationguide/lakeapopka.
Seminole County Environmental Center, Longwood
Most residents with elementary school-age children are likely familiar with the much-anticipated Mud Walk field trip at the Seminole County Environmental Center. If you grew up in the area, you probably remember going on the Mud Walk yourself. Although the hands-on exhibits inside the building are closed during the summer, the Environmental Center is part of the Spring Hammock Preserve, located on more than 2,000 acres with over a dozen accessible walking trails that are free and open to the public from sun up to sun down. The trails also provide access to Soldier’s Creek and Crow’s Creek.
To access the trails, you can drive and park at the Environmental Center, located at 2985 Osprey Trail in Longwood, or get there by biking the Cross Seminole Trail.
Casey Perales, a teacher on assignment at the Environmental Center during the school year, often brings her family to walk the trails and explore the nearby creeks.
“We see gopher tortoises (which are on the protected species list), red-shouldered hawks, osprey, pileated woodpeckers, and a variety of snakes,” says Casey. “You can also find some of the area’s oldest bald cypress trees and what is considered a second-growth cypress forest.” In addition, the park area attracts several birdwatchers.
Rock Springs at Kelly Park, Apopka
In the dead heat of your Central Florida summer, one dip into our local natural springs will leave you feeling refreshed and re-energized.
Head to Kelly Park in Apopka (north on Rock Springs Road and right on Kelly Park Road) to discover the hidden beauty of Rock Springs. In addition to Kelly Park’s spacious camping areas and seven miles of hiking trails is its crystal-clear spring for tubing and swimming. Bring your own tube (no longer than five feet) or rent one from a vendor for $3 to $5, just outside the park grounds.
Once you’re there, walk up the wooden and paved path to the head of the spring, which can be seen at the bottom side of a large rock, pumping out 26,000 gallons of water each minute. Before carefully navigating your way over the large, flat rocks and settling into your tube, take a moment to check out the sparkling underwater views of rock ledges and freshwater habitats. You’ll pass by two large swimming/snorkeling areas midway through your float, and then continue down the run to an ending point, leading you back up a path to the pool areas or the springhead to take another ride.
Kelly Park is open during the summer from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Park admission is $3 per vehicle for 1-2 people, $5 per vehicle for 3-8 people, and $1 for an additional person, walk-in, motorcycle, or bike. Kelly Park is located at 400 East Kelly Park Road in Apopka.
Wekiwa Springs at Wekiwa Springs State Park, Apopka
Bring a blanket and a picnic lunch, then pick a spot on the large grassy lawn area that almost completely surrounds the cool, natural spring swimming area at Wekiwa Springs State Park, located at 1800 Wekiwa Circle in Apopka. After lunch, float in the cool water or swim, snorkel, and explore underwater around the springheads, rocks, and sandy bottom areas.
Near the swimming area that runs into the Wekiva River, on-site canoe and kayak rentals are available for an additional fee. And further into the park, you can fish at Sand Lake. If you arrive at the park early enough, take a slow and scenic drive or, walk down the tree-canopied roads and trails. You’re guaranteed to spot a few white-tailed deer and wild turkeys.
Wekiwa Springs State Park is open from 8:00 a.m. to sundown. Admission to the park is $6 per vehicle (2-8 people per vehicle), $4 for a single-occupant vehicle, and $2 for pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, and passengers in the vehicle with holder of an Annual Individual Entrance Pass.
If you’re interested in staying longer and checking out even more of what our natural backyards have to offer, both Kelly Park and Wekiwa Springs State Park offer full-facility campgrounds. Both parks fill to capacity quickly during the summer months, so plan to arrive early when the park opens, or later in the afternoon.
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