Go to any fresh water source in Florida, whether it’s a lake or a river, and chances are there will be at least one alligator lurking around. In fact, alligators are so synonymous with the state that they are found in 67 counties, and the University of Florida even has an alligator as their mascot.
Disclaimer: it's important to be aware and safe around these Sunshine State residents. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers the following advice:
-Never feed alligators.
-Dispose of fish scraps in garbage cans, not in gator infested waters. Otherwise they will associate humans with food.
-Observe and photograph them from a safe distance.
-Leave alligators alone--no harassing, handling or touching.
-Be aware of the possibility of alligators when you are near fresh or brackish water.
For the curious among you, read on for six of the best places to see alligators near Orlando. Just remember to keep your distance!
Smack in the heart of Seminole County, and about 15 minutes northeast of downtown Orlando, is Lake Jessup. Even though the average depth is six feet, jumping in for a swim in this 16,000 acre lake is a terrible idea as it has a dense population of gators.
There are two great places by the lake to spot alligators. The first is Overlook Park, which has a killer boardwalk that takes you onto Lake Jessup and puts you right near the alligators. As you’re approaching the park and parking lot be sure to mind your speed, as you’ll be on a residential road.
Another great place to spot some alligators is at The Black Hammock restaurant. It’s a chill lakeside bar and restaurant with airboat tours and pontoon boat tours right on the property. Take a guided tour with a local expert that’ll put you right next to some massive reptiles. After the boat ride recap your adventures at the restaurant.
Overlook Park: 1988 Spring Avenue, Oviedo, FL 32765
Black Hammock Restaurant & Adventures: 2356 Black Hammock Fish Camp Road, Oviedo, FL 32765
Seven miles slightly north of Lake Jessup, is Lake Monroe. It's the eighth largest lake in Orlando, right behind Lake Jessup, and also has a dense alligator population.
A great place to go to spot some alligators is the Monroe Harbour Marina. There's an awesome pathway that skirts Lake Monroe and puts the water right at your feet. The best time to spot gators is in the evening, once Lake commotion begins to wind down for the day. There are also a lot of restaurants nearby. Walk a couple blocks over to 1st Street in Sanford, and stop by Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe for some authentic German food, beer, and entertainment.
Monroe Harbour Marina: 531 N. Palmetto Ave., Sanford, FL 32771
Hollerbach's Willow Tree Cafe: 205 E 1st Street, Sanford, FL 32771
St. Johns River
The longest flowing river in Florida is also home to a healthy population of alligators. The St. Johns River starts south of Orlando near Vero Beach and flows 310 miles north (it's one of the few river in the US that flow north) until it dumps into the Atlantic Ocean in Jacksonville, two hours northeast of Orlando. It's an integral river within the state, runs through or near 12 counties, and even flows through Lake Jessup and Lake Monroe.
Your best bet at spotting some alligators on the St. Johns is to go on a river cruise. Truth be told you could stand on a dock and wait for one or two to cruise by, but a cruise is a great way to spend some time on the water. One of the best is at Blue Spring State Park. Prices range from $16-$22 per person depending on age and it's well worth it.
If taking a boat ride isn't quite your thing, you can opt to paddle alongside the gators in a canoe or kayak. It is a bit more dangerous—remember no harassing the gators—and more strenuous since you are the motor, but it's still a ton of fun.
St. Johns River Cruises: 2100 West French Avenue, Orange City, FL 32763
Right inside of Lake Kissimmee State Park is Lake Kissimmee, Florida's third largest lake. The lake, and state park, is teeming with alligators. Pay a small entrance fee, and head out along the nature trails. You just might find a BIG alligator catching some rays as you go. Take pictures from a distance and don't disturb the alligator. Let a park ranger know if you saw an especially big gator so they can be sure it makes it back to its own habitat.
An airboat ride is another option for enjoying the sights.
Lake Kissimmee State Park: 14248 Camp Mack Road, Lake Wales, FL 33898
Kissimmee Swamp Tour: 4500 Joe Overstreet Road, Kenansville, FL 34739
Canaveral National Seashore
When you visit the Canaveral National Seashore can seriously effect how great of a time you have. During the summer lots of the trails are often overtaken by high tides and bugs are prevalent. The fall and winter months bring cooler temperatures, fewer bugs and easy passage on the trails. Keep your eyes peeled for big reptiles in the marshes. They like to patrol the brackish, marsh waters looking for a fresh meal.
Canaveral National Seashore: 308 Julia Street, Titusville, FL 32796