Adventurous Activities in Orlando, Fla.
By Janet K. Keeler
For some Orlando visitors, there just aren’t enough thrills in the amusement parks to satisfy their wild side, in spite of all those roller coasters. They crave something more adventurous.
Orlando and environs deliver with plenty of opportunities for fishing, biking, hiking, and all manner of watersports. And there are even activities to make like an Indy car driver and zoom at top speeds around a track.
10 ways to be adventurous in and around Orlando...
The many lakes that dot the landscape let travelers know they are landing in some place different when flying into Orlando. There are about 100 lakes in the city and more in surrounding areas so it’s no surprise that lake fishing is a big activity here. Most anglers are on the hunt for bass and sunfish with an added bonus of seeing alligators in their natural habitat. Lake Kissimmee has about 2,000 of the prehistoric creatures gliding along. Fishing guides are plentiful in the area and they can arrange for equipment rental too.
BIKE ORANGE COUNTY
There are a number of bike trails in the urban area of Orlando, including a four-mile trail in Disney World at Fort Wilderness. Most of them are shorter (eight miles or less) lengths and paved. For a longer ride, head west of the city to the 22-mile West Orange Trail that skirts Lake Apopka in part. The trail goes through Winter Garden, a fine spot to stop for food or drink or check out new equipment at one of several bike shops. The trail has varying surfaces and is also fit for hiking and skating.
TAKE A WILD RIDE
The Safari Wilderness Ranch just of north of Lakeland takes visitors on an excursion over a 260-acre facility. Visitors can hop aboard specially outfitted vehicles that hold up to 20 passengers or visitors can traverse the area on camels. There are also kayak tours, too. Safari Wilderness, in the middle of the Green Swamp, is home to the second-largest collection of Oryx in North America and two large herds of water buffalo and defassa waterbuck. Other animals on the trail are free-roaming lemurs, cattle, zebra, fainting goats, ostriches and llamas.
OUTDOOR ENTHUSIAST HEAVEN
Just an hour north of the bustling city of Orlando is the Ocala National Forest, nearly 700 square miles of natural Florida and the southernmost forest in the continental U.S. There are many ways to interact with nature here including biking, fishing, hiking and paddling. Camping is popular and accommodations range from cabins to primitive sites. For day-trippers, water is a big attraction because there are a number of recreation areas where swimming is allowed. The water is a constant 72 degrees at Alexander Springs. Salt Springs is in a semi-tropical setting and is popular with swimmers. The forest is quite large so visitors should study maps before they go to determine how far they want to drive in relation to the time they have to spend there.
A FAST GETAWAY
Closer to Orlando than the Ocala National Forest is Wekiwa State Park, less than 20 miles from downtown. Visitors can hike, canoe and camp, among other activities. For more than 150 years, the park has attracted visitors who want to cool off in the 72-degree spring water that’s fed by the Wekiva River. It’s also a popular spot for horseback riders. This is the place to come when a visitor seeks solitude and a break from the theme park crowds.
Orlando is close to Florida’s horse country, Ocala, so finding a place to ride isn’t difficult. Hidden Palms Ranch in Sanford, about 30 miles from Orlando International Airport, offers horseback treks through the Lake Jesup Conversation Area. The small-group rides that are limited to four ensures a personalized experience. Visitors can also book a private tour. Know a horse lover headed to Orlando? Hidden Palms offers gift cards.
SKY DIVING, INSIDE
Get your skydiving thrills in the heart of Orlando on busy International Drive without ever stepping foot into a plane at iFLY Indoor Skydiving. With the aid of a wind tunnel, participants get all the feels of regular skydiving but without the parachute or having to jump tandem. It’s sort of like floating on air though a bit more challenging than that. The experience is about 2 hours and that includes instruction and time to get in to that nifty flight suit.
BIG WHEELS TURNING
Revolution Off Road in Clermont, less than 25 miles east of Orlando, is 230 acres of tracks and trails tailored for ATVs. There are also ranges for shooting and archery, plus fishing for bass in several locations. There are both guide and unguided ATV tours and drivers will be on the trails for about two hours. The “Mucky Duck” is an eight-wheel amphibious vehicle that allows a driver plus three passengers to explore lakes and ponds. Prepare to get dirty. Very dirty.
THE NEED FOR SPEED
The Indy Racing Experience at Walt Disney World is the closest most of us will come to understanding the thrill of being behind the wheel of a racecar. Participants can sit behind a professional driver and feel what it’s like to zoom to 130 mph. Many opt to drive the sleek cars themselves and attend a training class and then take a warm-up lap followed by six laps around the track. The driver determines the speed she is comfortable with. There’s a viewing area so family and friends can cheer and take photos.
SKIIING ON WATER
With its many lakes, it makes sense that Orlando is a waterski enthusiast’s paradise. Aktion Park at the Orlando Watersport Complex in Orlando is a great place to take a water skiing lesson and then practice what you learn. They promise you’ll get up on two skis whether it’s on the beginning one cable system or the more advanced two. If you’ve already got waterskiing experience, you can bypass the lesson and get busy. Wakeboarders are also welcome, as are family and friends in the viewing stands. Tubing, not the kind down a lazy river but the version where tubers are pulled by boat, is another popular activity. There are paddleboard rentals too, and a quiet place to enjoy a paddle standing up.