Orlando’s theme parks are certainly no secret to anyone. From the classic family fun of the Walt Disney World Resort to the high-octane thrill of Universal’s Islands of Adventure, there’s no shortage of ways to spend your days. But for those who find themselves in Central Florida and want to steer clear of the rides (or augment the adventure by sampling everything the area has to offer), plenty of natural diversions await in the great outdoors
Since you’re adjacent to the happiest place on earth, why not fly through the air with the greatest of ease—not on a trapeze, exactly, but on a zip line, through the surroundings of your choice? The Screamin’ Gator Zip Line at Gatorland flings you across a swamp filled with gators, while Forever Florida gives you a bird’s eye view of a 4,700-acre wildlife conservation area, complete with black bears, white-tail deer and even the endangered Florida panther. The latter prides itself on being the safest of its kind in the area, thanks to its automatic braking system.
2. Airboat Adventure
For a little wildlife-spotting with a closer vantage point than ziplining provides, an airboat tour can get you up close with the residents of Florida’s marshes and swamps. Book an adventure on a six-person airboat through Spirit of the Swamp on Lake Tohopekaliga, or enjoy the everglades experience of Boggy Creek Air Boats, the closest outfitter to the theme parks with a fleet of six-person private boats and 17-passenger tour boats. For added adrenaline, try a night tour filled with nature’s surprises around every turn.
Casting your line and coming back with a big catch is a rite of passage for almost any Florida traveler, and luckily there are plenty of fishing spots where you can try your luck. Lake Tohopekaliga, aka “Toho,” is known among locals as a bass fishing paradise, while a short drive to the state’s eastern shore yields a wide variety of fish, from grouper and redfish to mangrove snapper and Spanish mackerel around the north jetty of Sebastian Inlet.
4. Canoeing/ Kayaking
The state of Florida contains more than 30,000 lakes—yes, 30 thousand—many of which can be found in Central Florida. So of course, options for canoe and kayak rentals abound. Great places to start include the Paddling Center at Shingle Creek, where you can rent your shell of choice or go on a guided excursion, and Crystal River Kayak Company, which offers both canoe and kayak tours and scalloping charters.
Rich with a broad array of flora and fauna, Central Florida’s biodiversity is something to behold. Encompassing 9 distinct ecosystems, Forever Florida is more than just a ziplining destination; it’s also a wonderland filled with native wildlife. Explore natural forests, pastures, streams and wetlands through a number of onsite adventures, or even learn to rope and ride like an actual cowhand. Located in St. Cloud, it’s just a quick trip from the hustle and bustle of the theme parks, yet somehow a world away.
Feel the need for speed as much as you’d like in the Orlando area when you’re on a bike; after all, there really aren’t any hills to slow you down. Try a quick six-mile spin through the Cady Way Trail, trek all 23 miles of the Cross Seminole Trail, or take in the water-to-water sights of the Seminole Wekiva Trail, enjoying the occasional cool breeze beneath its tree canopies.
7. Snorkeling in the Springs
To indulge in the visual delights beneath the water’s surface, you don’t have to stray too far from the heart of Central Florida to find what you’re looking for. Key snorkeling spots include the sparkling Silver Glen Springs about an hour north, near Ocala, as well as Wekiwa Springs and De Leon Springs, both under an hour away.
8. Disc Golfing
Enjoy some laid-back, low-key fun in the sun at either of Orlando’s most popular disc golf spots, from the 18-hole Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake to the more robust 36-hole Gordon Barnett Park, or get in a quick 9-hole round on the course at the University of Central Florida.
9. Hot-Air Ballooning
For an unforgettable glimpse of the earth from above, take flight in a hot air balloon over Central Florida with one of the area’s best outfitters, like Aerostat Adventures or Orlando Balloon Rides. Book early to schedule the morning liftoff of your choice.
Take your pick of the litter when it comes to hiking trails around the Orlando area. There’s your choice of three loops through the pines of Hal Scott Regional Preserve, the pristine beauty of the Chuluota Wilderness Area hiking trail, or the swimmable lake and scenic views of Lake Louisa State Park just northwest of Kissimmee. Or, for a route that’s not as secluded, try an urban hike like the Orlando Art Walk, the Cady Way Trail, the downtown loop through Celebration itself, or the aptly-named Orlando Urban Trail.