There are many beautiful outdoor places to explore in Orlando and some of the best adventures are either free or cheap. Orlando has so many unique parks and things to do near downtown and the surrounding neighborhoods.
You can see the tall cypress trees at Kraft Azalea Gardens, ride the swan boats at Oviedo on the Park or walk the boardwalk trail at the UCF Arboretum. Here is an outdoor adventure tour of the city. Every activity is FREE unless otherwise noted.
OUTDOOR THINGS TO DO IN ORLANDO
- Kraft Azalea Gardens is the perfect spot to relax. In fact, “pause friend and beauty refresh the spirit” is carved into the Exedra monument pictured above. The park features old cypress trees, a fountain, benches and a view of Lake Maitland. It is used frequently as a wedding ceremony or photography site.
- Central Park: Stroll down Park Avenue to window shop at all the stores, and then stop to smell the roses in the Rose Garden in Central Park. Visit on a Saturday morning to peruse one of the best local farmers’ markets.
- Shady Park: Check out the Molecular Dog sculpture by artist Robert Chambers. He designed the 5-foot-tall bronze dog that is in fact the 3-carbon molecule for propane. The propane compound is 3 carbon and 8 hydrogen molecules. The artist is a believer in liquified petroleum gas (clean, colorless, odorless and less expensive than gasoline). The molecular dog was his way to call attention to its environmentally friendly qualities.
- Mead Gardens is a free 47-acre park with an amphitheater, butterfly garden, boardwalk and bike trail. See the event calendar for regularly scheduled yoga and Tai Chi classes (for a cost).
- Winter Park Boat Tour
Float through the canals and lush landscape of Winter Park’s waterways on a tranquil Scenic Boat Tour. The hour-long tour is $14 for adults.
- Lake Eola is the crown jewel of Orlando. The park features a playground, art sculptures and swan boats ($15 for a 30-minute ride). The variety of swans and ducks make Lake Eola truly special.
- See Art Orlando Self guided walking tour was unveiled in 2013 is a collection of modern art sculptures around Lake Eola. The pieces in the collection are all different sizes and crafted from a variety of mediums.
- Harry P. Leu Gardens is 50-acre botanical oasis boasting a rose garden, butterfly garden and a vegetable garden. They host regular events like a monthly Movie Night on the first Friday of the month, free admission on select first Mondays, free story times, annual plant sales and free plant clinics. Price: $10 for adults, $5 for kids age 4-17, free for kids age 3 years and younger.
- The Significant Tree Map: The City of Orlando is home to many significant and majestic trees. You can easily visit all the trees on the Significant Tree Map within a few hours. The majority of the trees are located in or around Downtown. The Mayor Tree is a 200-year-old live oak tree with branches on the ground located next to the Mennello Museum of Art. This gigantic tree is a popular spot for weddings. The remarkable tree looks like something out of a movie. All of the trees on the Significant Tree Map are free to visit and are dog friendly except for Harry P. Leu Gardens.
- Rent bikes. Explore the City Beautiful by renting bikes through the Orlando Bike Share program. Simply reserve a bike online or through the app, release the bike to ride and then return at any one of the designated stations.
- Harbor Park at Lake Baldwin in Baldwin Park offers a lake view, benches, a dock and a gazebo. You can also walk to the nearby restaurants like Tactical Brewing and Café 906 in the same block.
- UCF Arboretum is a free 82-acre nature park open to the public on the UCF campus. There is a grassy area, picnic tables, nature trail and the boardwalk trail. UCF offers Arboretum tours and you can also explore on your own while geocaching.
- Oviedo on the Park: Take a stroll around the lake, and then explore the park featuring a shaded playground, life-size chess set, snack station, free splash pad (weather permitting), swan boats, and a variety of restaurants.
- Pappy’s U-Pick Patch: Pick your own strawberries seasonally, December – April, at Pappy’s U-Pick Patch. Tip: wear shoes you don’t mind getting dirty. The patch closes when they are picked out or it rains. Check their Facebook page for open hours and prices per pound.
You may also be interested in more U-Pick Farms near Orlando.
- Overlook Park: Walk along the boardwalk that takes you above Lake Jesup and puts you right near the alligators. You can view them in their natural habitat at this densely populated lake. Lake Jesup has an estimated alligator population of almost 13,000 and is second only in the state to Lake Okeechobee. Warning: Never feed alligators. Observe and photograph them from a safe distance.
- The Black Hammock Adventures is a lakeside bar and restaurant in Oviedo with amazing sunset views on Lake Jesup and airboat tours. You can even get your photo with a baby gator at the end of the tour.
- Big Tree Park in Longwood has a boardwalk that leads to the former site of the famous 3,500 year old bald cypress tree “The Senator” that was lost to fire in 2012. However, its companion tree, the 2,000-year-old Bald cypress “Lady Liberty” still stands tall. The park also serves as a Trailhead for the Cross Seminole Trail. Big Tree Park includes a playground and a “Phoenix” clone of “The Senator” that was planted nearby.
- Wekiva Island is that secret watering hole locals don’t want visitors to discover. Located along the shore of spring-fed Wekiva River, this eco-friendly oasis has it all — from recreational activities to a bar that serves beer and wine. Spend the day lounging in Adirondack chairs, playing volleyball, swimming in the cool waters and listening to live music. Admission is free during the week, and the charge is only a dollar or two on the weekends.
- Lake Lily features a large lake with a circular boardwalk, a playground, lily pads, benches and picnic tables. There is also the dog-friendly Farmers’ Market on Sundays, 9am – 2pm.
APOPKA’S NATURAL SPRINGS
We are fortunate to have so many natural springs near Orlando. The water is crystal clear and around 68-72 degrees year-round. Challenge yourself to visit them all: get a Real Florida Passport for $8.95 to stamp at all of the local springs.
- Wekiwa Springs State Park in Apopka has boat tours, camping, canoeing, kayaking, swimming and snorkeling. The cost is $6 per vehicle.
- Kelly Park/Rock Springs in Apopka is popular for the floating down the stream in an inner tube. Kelly Park also has a concession, picnic pavilions and playground. The tube rentals are available from vendors outside the park at an added cost and guests may also bring their own pool floats. The cost is $3-5 per vehicle.
Read more about Natural Springs Near Orlando.
- Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is an 11-mile drive with a chance to view native animals in their natural habitat including 174 bird species. The drive is open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
DE LEON SPRINGS
- De Leon Springs State Park offers swimming, hiking and boat tours. You can also make your own table-side pancakes at the Old Sugar Mill restaurant. The cost is $6 per vehicle for entry. Pancakes not included.
- Blue Spring Park is a designed manatee refuge in the winter (mid-November through March). You can’t swim with the manatees during manatee season but you can view them in the crystal clear water from the boardwalks. The park also has a big playground, gift shop and the historic Thursby House to explore. The park offers boat tours and water activities in the 72-degree water in non-manatee seasons. Get here early since there are usually lines to get into the park. The cost is $6 per vehicle.
- Sanford Riverwalk: You can take a relaxing walk along Lake Monroe on the palm tree-lined sidewalk at the Sanford Riverwalk. There’s a fun playground and a splash pad ($2 per person) at the Fort Mellon Park. Hop aboard the free trolley that offers multiple stops along the Riverwalk and historic Downtown Sanford.
- Black Bear Wilderness Area is free, open to the public, has two hiking trails (1.5 mile and 7 mile) and rustic camping. You have a high chance of seeing some black bears, bear scratches on trees or bear prints. Warning: There is a slight degree of danger to hike here since it is home to wildlife like snakes, bears, alligators, etc. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, 3,900 Black Bears live in Florida, and it’s possible you might see one on your trek. Wear bug spray since this is a wooded area. Leashed dogs are allowed.
About the Author/Photographer:
Melody Larson has lived in Orlando for 21 years and is a UCF alumna. Her adventures have included bunny yoga, bungee jumping, parasailing, flying a plane, horseback riding on the beach and holding an alligator. Find her @orlandoadventuring on Instagram and www.orlandoadventuring.com. All images courtesy Melody Larson unless otherwise noted.