When it comes to activities, Orlando is often nearly synonymous with one thing: theme parks. More specifically, the city is known as the home to Disney World and maybe not much else. We handpicked best state parks near Orlando, that deserve as much attention as DW.
However, Florida’s natural topography and warm climate lend itself to having created many wonderful state parks. These parks are perfect for tourists looking for a more slow-paced experience away from crowds as well as locals looking for an interesting getaway from the hustle and bustle.
Thanks to Florida’s warm climate, many of these parks are accessible year-round and offer a variety of great activities for the whole family. From trail hiking to kayaking and more, the state parks of central Florida are stand out and must-see attractions that are often overlooked in favor of their more commercial theme park counterparts.
Rich with Native American history and featuring amazing wildlife, Orlando does state parks like no other state.
Wekiwa Springs State Park – Best for Kids!
- 20-30 minutes from Orlando,
- direction: NORTH
Wekiwa Springs may hands-down be the most popular state park among Central Floridians.
Nearly 30 minutes out from Orlando, a drive of any length is more than worth it to get to this natural wonder.
Visitors are able to rent kayaks or canoes and explore the historical Wekiva River where the Timucuan Indians themselves once fished. Visitors looking for a more relaxing experience will be able to luxuriate in the springs or find the perfect tree to launch themselves off of and dive into one of Wekiva’s beautiful lagoons.
Meanwhile, those looking to hit the pavement will likely enjoy hiking or biking down Wekiwa’s scenic trails, or even enjoy some casual horseback riding.
The grounds offer camping facilities for those looking to ditch the hotels on International Drive, giving visitors a more truly authentic Floridian experience.
Wekiwa is a lushly tropical paradise, and visitors will likely forget the busy city is a mere car ride away.
De Leon Springs State Park
- 1 hour 10 minutes from Orlando
- direction: NORTH
Known as Acuera, or Healing Waters, to the Timucuan Indians, visitors to this area will quickly learn why the spot has earned its name.
Featuring beautiful natural springs that are shaded over by one of Florida’s crowning jewels, an ancient cypress tree, these springs truly feel like they should exist a world away.
A piece of history has been preserved on the grounds in the form of the Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant utilized during the Civil War. This spot now offers visitors a short refuge from the Florida heat in the form of their DIY pancake griddles built into each table.
Visitors can relax on a 50-minute boat ride which offers them the opportunity to spot some of Florida’s most impressive wildlife. Alligators, manatees, and eagles all call De Leon Springs home and might just pop up when you least expect them.
Blue Spring State Park near Orlando
- 42 minutes from Orlando
- direction: NORTH
Home to some of the most relaxing and luxurious waters in central Florida, Blue Spring State Park is truly a must-visit.
Nestled along the St. Johns River, these temperate waters are enjoyed by more than their human visitors and are home to an impressive annual manatee festival.
Thanks to the conservation efforts of local researchers, Blue Spring State Park has been turned into a haven for these magnificent aquatic creatures. Home to 14 manatees in 1970, the area’s conservation efforts boosted that number to over 485 manatees in 2018.
Because of these efforts, the waters are closed to activities from mid-November to the beginning of March. However, a manatee festival is held at the park every January and is definitely worth a visit.
Otherwise, visitors can enjoy birdwatching, hiking the park’s impressive trails, canoeing, kayaking, and more. The area truly showcases central Florida’s astoundingly beautiful array of wildlife like no other park.
Lake Louisa State Park
- 33 minutes from Orlando
- direction: WEST
Known as one of central Florida’s “natural theme parks”, visitors to Lake Louisa will have as much fun as they allow themselves to. Holding three major lakes, the area utilizes biodiversity to its advantage.
Lakes Louisa, Hammond, and Dixie allow for paddleboarding, kayaking, and canoeing. Bordering the critical conservation effort Green Swamp Area, as well as Lake Wales Ridge, Lake Louisa is a perfect and safe intersection of some of the most interesting wildlife species seen in Florida.
Home to animals such as the ever-present osprey, bald eagles, tortoises, bobcats, deer, and more, visitors will likely be amazed at the company they keep in this park.
Lake Louisa is also a must-visit for flora and fauna enthusiasts. Home to 11 natural plant communities, the wide variety of wildlife that works to support these creatures is truly astounding.
The park features seven miles of paved roads as well as 20 miles of unpaved roads, perfect for hiking and biking.
- 52 minutes from Orlando
- direction: NORTH
Hontoon Island stands out from many of the parks on this list for one reason; it is truly an island. Because of this, the park is only accessible to those traveling by water. Visitors must take either a private boat or the park’s ferry to the island, where they can enjoy a truly secluded stay away from the city.
Leaning into the historical significance of the land, visitors can even opt for the truly rustic experience of renting a bathroom-less cabin or simply pitching a tent.
Those less interested in roughing it can simply soak in the island’s solitude and learn about the island’s historical significance in their visitor’s center. Visitors may boat, canoe, fish, grill, and more.
With the ferry operating nearly up until sunset and overnight boat rentals available, this is a great place to escape to after a full day’s worth of exploring.
Tosohatchee Wildlife Management Area
- 30 minutes from Orlando
- direction: EAST
Located near Christmas, Florida, and just off of the St. John’s river, Tosohatchee is a great trail for wilderness explorers. Featuring winding creeks as well as expansive trails, perfect for horseback riding, biking, and hiking, one feels as though they could lose themselves in the park.
Visitors won’t lose themselves, of course, as the park’s trails are clearly and safely marked. Visitors can feel free to relax in a hammock or one of the park’s many open vistas, perfect for any outdoor activities they may find themselves engaged in.
Featuring over a whopping 60 miles of trails, this park is for the serious trekker. This is also a great spot for fishing, as the park boasts a wide selection of natural Floridian wildlife.
Those most interested in trails and getting up and moving will likely enjoy Tosohatchee most of all, as the area’s impressive trails are a major point of pride for the park.
Lake Griffin State Park
- 1 hour from Orlando
- direction: NORTHWEST
Lake Griffin is one of the most pleasantly scenic state parks near Orlando. Visitors will first be greeted by one of Florida’s largest and most impressive live oak trees stood near the entrance, dating back nearly 400 years.
Once visitors have snapped a few pictures of the impressive tree and somehow managed to slightly get over the tree’s grandeur, the park shows itself to be one of the best areas for spending the day outdoors and active.
Visitors can ride down the much less ominous than its name Dead River until they get to Lake Griffin itself. There, visitors are free to paddle to their heart’s content with a canoe or kayak rental.
Those more hesitant about paddling themselves can get the same experience by hopping onto a guided canoe and kayak tour or even a guided pontoon boat tour. This is really a fantastic park to simply luxuriate in. With canopied trees and a kids’ fishing class, this really a great place for the entire family to forget some of their stresses and enjoy all Florida has to offer.
Silver Springs State Park
- 1 hour 25 minutes
- direction: NORTHWEST
Silver Springs State Park is ideal for aquatic nature enthusiasts. Offering guided tours of the park’s waters all from the comfort of the park’s famous glass-bottom boats, visitors are given a sneak peek into an amazing underwater world.
The park’s rangers offer visitors their indispensable knowledge and firsthand, custom tour experience they can get nowhere else.
Featuring some of the best features of state parks near Orlando, beautiful gardens, and historic sites, the park does its best to remind visitors of its role in history as a steamship port.
Avid kayakers will also likely enjoy the experience Silver Springs has to offer them as the forest wilderness surrounding the water can only be described as primeval.
With accessible campgrounds mixed into the fold of this natural getaway, visitors will likely find themselves forgetting they are so near to modern civilization. Enjoy the breathtaking wildlife and luxuriate in the park’s unique offerings.
Highlands Hammock State Park – Best Hiking Trails
- 1 hour 36 minutes from Orlando
- direction: SOUTH
The parks of central Florida are unique in that they all bring something impressive yet diverse to the table. With each park being magnificent in its own way, Highlands Hammock is no exception.
This park retains the honor of boasting more rare and endemic species of wildlife than any other single Florida State Park. Having preserved Florida’s wildlife in a way that still makes the area safe to visitors, the park has retained the qualities that made it impressive hundreds of years ago.
Visitors walking the trails of Highlands Hammock just might be able to spot panthers and black bears passing peacefully beneath ancient and preserved hydric hammock oaks.
The park also preserves some of Florida’s more common but still impressive deer and alligators, as well as a wide array of avian wonders.
Featuring nine trails, as well as an elevated boardwalk that passes through a truly Floridian natural cypress swamp, this park truly oozes the Floridian experience thanks to its diverse natural wonders.
Rainbow Springs State Park
- 1 hour 40 minutes from Orlando
- direction: NORTHWEST
The aptly named Rainbow Springs State Park is a jewel amongst these already impressive parks. So named thanks to its gorgeously colored features, visitors will likely be stunned by the impressive and vivid beauty of this park.
Featuring sapphire-blue waters, ornamental gardens, and man-made waterfalls, as well as sloping hills that one can rarely find in Florida at large, this park is truly breathtaking. Unlike any other park in Florida, the beauty offered by Rainbow Springs goes a long way in showcasing the diversity of Florida’s beautiful wildlife to visitors.
When visitors are done luxuriating in the park’s springs, they are free to walk through the park’s mossy hammocks and lush plant life.
The historical home to a mining operation and former privately owned tourist attraction, Rainbow Springs has a unique and storied history worthy of preserving.
Visitors are able to rent canoes or kayaks, while the more calm and relaxing tube rentals give visitors the full lazy river experience. Snorkeling, trail hiking, and more are all available and offer a glimpse into some impressive wildlife.