Orlando has many beautiful national parks and stunning gardens, thanks to the low-lying land, plenty of sun and summer showers. Of course, the world-famous swampland of The Everglades is a renowned area of natural beauty, but there’s a wealth of parks and gardens right across Florida for lovers of the great outdoors to enjoy. If you’ve had enough theme park action, any of the places listed below will offer an excellent alternative.

    We’ve got quite a broad range of natural attractions in this list, including a selection of smaller gardens located in downtown Orlando – perfect for an afternoon stroll or a family picnic. From there, it stretches all the way up to several larger national parks for those of you who want to get an authentic glimpse at Orlando’s fantastic flora, fauna and natural topography.

    Blue Spring State Park spans over 2,600 acres and includes the largest spring on the St. John’s River. It’s a popular destination for locals and visitors. The water is crystal clear and usually around 73°F (22.8°) during the swimming season. The freshwater spring is a manatee refuge and, from November to mid-March, is home to hundreds of West Indian Manatees, along with a wide range of other animals including tropical birds, and turtles, squirrels and even alligators.

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    Location: 2100 W French Ave, Orange City, FL 32763, USA

    Open: Daily from 8am to 8.30pm (hour may vary)

    Phone: +1 386-775-3663

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    photo by Ebyabe (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

    Canaveral National Seashore is a sanctuary for wildlife and humans alike. It’s home to many endangered species, including the sea turtles who come to the beach to lay their eggs in the sand. Like many seaside cities, the area is fitting for those who enjoy outdoor activities. You’ll find horseback riding, canoeing, kayaking, surfing, swimming, fishing, and boating. If you enjoy hiking, there’s a trail near the Visitor’s Center.

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    Location: 7611 S. Atlantic Avenue, New Smyrna Beach, Florida 32169, USA

    Open: Summer: daily from 6am to 8pm. Winter: daily from 6am to 6pm

    Phone: +1 386-428-3384

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    Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort is a campground nestled between the Magic Kingdom and Epcot theme parks. Almost 2,000 different camping sites are available, ranging from individual tent sites to full RV parking spots. The camping sites are a combination of paved driveways and sandy paths. Each site has running water, electricity, outdoor grills and picnic tables. Private showers and laundry facilities are located near all sites. Fort Wilderness Resort also has 409 air-conditioned cabins that can sleep up to 6 people. These cabins include full bathrooms, free Wi-Fi, and bunk beds.

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    Location: 4510 N Fort Wilderness Trail, Orlando, FL 32836, USA

    Phone: +1 407-824-2900

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    The Everglades is a region of subtropical wetlands in the southern portion of Florida. Beginning at Lake Okeechobee, near Walt Disney World, the Everglades become more prominent about 3 to 4 hours south of Downtown Orlando. Here, the environment is ever-changing and mostly untouched. Swamps and mangroves are inhabited by various types of snakes and alligators, and birds of various species make this sub-tropical wilderness their home.

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    Location: Everglades City, FL 34139, USA

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    Gatorland is a theme park-cum-wildlife reserve that's been titled the ‘Alligator Capital of the World’. Sitting on a swampy 110-acre site just south of Orlando City, the centre promises plenty of family-friendly (and safe) fun, including an observation tower, alligator and crocodile shows, a swamp walk, a zipline, gator-training sessions and daily shows.

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    Location: 14501 S Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, FL 32837, USA

    Open: Daily from 10am to 5pm

    Phone: +1 407-855-5496

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    photo by Bob Linsdell (CC BY 3.0) modified

    The Harry P. Leu Gardens are known for their extensive collections of aroids, azaleas, bamboo, bananas, citrus, ferns, hibiscus, and roses. The gardens are divided into 15 themed sections, including a Butterfly Garden, Citrus Grove, Tropical Stream Garden, and the Floral Clock.

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    Location: 1920 N Forest Ave, Orlando, FL 32803, USA

    Open: Daily from 9am to 5pm

    Phone: +1 407-246-2620

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    photo by Kristine Paulus (CC BY 2.0) modified

    Horseback Safari at Forever Florida is a large wildlife conservation area offering some of the best horseback riding trails near Orlando. This preserved region of land encompasses 9 different ecosystems, all of which you can experience on a horseback safari.

    Riders are matched to each horse according to personality and level of experience. A guide also rides along with the group, providing insight and commentary on the history of the preservation. Florida wildlife, including alligators, turtles and turkeys can be spotted throughout Forever Florida’s lush scenery.

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    Location: 4755 N Kenansville Rd, St Cloud, FL 34773, USA

    Open: Daily from 8.30am to 5pm

    Phone: +1 407-957-9794

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    Kelly Park is a popular public park located in the outskirts of Orlando, in Apopka, Florida. It’s best known for its free-flowing natural spring. Visitors flock to the park year-round to swim, ride a tube, and kayak in the cool, crystal-clear water.

    The park offers tent and RV camping, along with a full-service concession stand, picnic pavilions, and a playground. Tube rentals are available as well, with lifeguard stations staffed throughout the spring.

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    Location: 400 E Kelly Park Rd, Apopka, FL 32712, USA

    Open: Summer: daily from 8am to 8pm. Winter: daily from 8am to 6pm

    Phone: +1 407-254-1902

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    Lake Eola Park is affectionately considered one of Orlando’s top natural playgrounds (that is, one that doesn’t involve Disney or Universal) – a pleasant downtown spot for picnics, exercise, paddle-boat rides, or just a quick escape from the nearby high-rises.

    The 23-acre site, located off East Washington Street, has an almost mile-long walkway around the lake perimeter. You can also find an event amphitheatre, a playground, a bright red Chinese pagoda, and a famous fountain.

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    Location: 512 E Washington St, Orlando, FL 32801, USA

    Open: Daily from 10am to 10pm

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    Lake Toho

    Lake Toho (Lake Tohopekaliga) is a 23,000-acre fishing lake in Kissimmee, Florida, known for its professional bass fishing competitions and birdwatching opportunities. This popular lake is home to a staggering amount of freshwater bass, alligators, water snakes and turtles. Named one of the top 100 lakes in the country for topwater fishing, Lake Toho has been welcoming professional fishers since the early 1980s. In 2001, Dean Rojas even broke the national record for a 1-day catch in this very lake.

    Location: 69 Lakeview Drive, Kissimmee, FL 34741, USA

    Phone: +1 407-846-2124

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    The relaxed and laidback city of Mount Dora is surrounded by beautiful lakes and offers charming attractions all year round. With a population of around 12,000 people, this small city has a unique charm that’s punctuated by its active arts community.

    Mount Dora is known as the “The New England of the South” and “The Festival City”. Outdoor festivals and art events take place throughout the year, including the Mount Dora Arts Festival. There’s also a Museum of Speed, where you can see motorised vehicles of all types.

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    Location: Mt Dora, FL 32757, USA

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    Ocala National Forest is one of the largest nationally protected forests in Florida. It offers exciting activities, beautiful sights, and many camping and outdoor accommodations. Ocala National Forest in Central Florida is home to a stunning 383,000 acres of natural landscape ready to be explored, including over 600 lakes, rivers and springs. Activities in the forest include swimming, snorkelling, diving, hiking, bicycling and horseback riding.

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    Location: FL-40, Silver Springs, FL 34488, USA

    Phone: +1 352-625-2520

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    The Tibet-Butler Nature Preserve is a scenic nature centre on the west side of Orlando, offering various hikes and trails. Home to the Vera Carter Environmental Center, you can tour a variety of exhibits and displays before heading out on a trek. The well-maintained trails loop through many of Florida’s major habitats, such as a pine forest, a swamp, and a lakeshore lined by Cypress trees.

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    Location: 8777 Winter Garden Vineland Rd, Orlando, FL 32836, USA

    Open: Daily from 8am to 6pm

    Phone: +1 407-254-1940

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    photo by Ash Dunassyn (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    Take a fun ride with Wild Florida Airboats through a natural wildlife park filled with alligators, eagles, birds and a variety of Floridian flora and fauna. Tours head into the unique landscape of the Central Florida Everglades, with its miles of stunning wetlands that can only be accessed via an airboat.

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    Location: 3301 Lake Cypress Rd, Kenansville, FL 34739, USA

    Open: Monday–Saturday from 9am to 6pm (closed on Sundays)

    Phone: +1 407-957-3135

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    Ben Reeves | Compulsive Traveller

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