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Long before Walt Disney bought up his first parcel of orange groves, Orlando was best known for its verdant ecosystem and smooth-rolling waterways. That hasn't changed, even decades later – just beyond the theme parks that Central Florida is best known for, the lush landscape of Orlando North, Seminole County, continues to attract eco-savvy travelers to this corner of Florida.

From airboat rides to floating cottages, from crystalline rivers to lush forests and wooded hiking trails, Orlando North is an under-the-radar eco-destination for outdoor adventures. Thanks to its mix of tropical and subtropical climate zones, the region boasts tremendous biodiversity. As you explore, you will encounter prairies, swamps, estuaries, springs and over 2,000 waterways with thrilling activities to turn any jaded traveler into an adventurer. 

Orlando North is full of opportunities to discover different ecosystems and encounter nature, from biking through beautiful quiet woodlands, spotting wildlife, or just soaring through the treetops on a zipline. No matter your level of adventure, Orlando North will challenge your wild spirit.

Cypress tree at Katies Landing on the Wekiwa River, Sanford, Florida. The Wekiwa has been designated a National Wild and Scenic River
A cypress tree at Katies Landing on the Wekiwa River, Sanford, Florida. The Wekiwa has been designated a National Wild and Scenic River © Alamy Stock Photo

Explore the Wekiva River

Whether you prefer swimming, snorkeling or kayaking, the Wekiva River offers the perfect tropical backdrop to cool off on a warm summer day. The Wekiva originates in Apopka and eventually joins the St. Johns River – the longest river in the state, which waves across 7000 acres. 

Wekiva Island is just the right spot to take in the scenery, with private River-banas equipped with couches and rocking chairs, as well as ice chests for your sodas or the beer and wine available for purchase on site at the Tooting Otter General Store. You can also visit the Paddle Cafe, or even book a personalized barbecue. If you’re feeling more active, Wekiva Island boasts a boat launch for your canoes, kayaks and paddleboards – which you can rent on site as well. 

Horseback riding in Sanford

Discover Old Florida with horseback riding surrounded by sunflower fields and picturesque vistas in Sanford. Hidden Palms Ranch is a gem for those wanting a private or guided horseback adventure. The small farm is located in the Lake Jesup Conservation Area and offers thousands of trails laden with Spanish moss and air plants – not to mention a rich, century-long history.

Palm Forest Florida Lake Jesup
The palm forest surrounding Lake Jesup © Alamy Stock Photo

Peep egrets on an airboat tour

Bird watching and adrenaline rushes don't usually go hand in hand, unless you hop on the Black Hammock Airboat Tour. From 30-minute rides to private tours, this eco-friendly activity is a must-have experience for anyone visiting Orlando North. Visitors zip through mangrove islets and narrow canals full of seagrass – not to mention Florida's famous alligators. The ride takes you around Lake Jesup and into a wild habitat of exotic birds. As you circle around the marshes, you will learn about Bird Island and different species surrounding the wetlands. It is a true paradise for avid bird watchers and those who want to experience wildlife from a distance.

Bike the Cross Seminole Trail

One of the best trails for biking and hiking are located in Orlando North. And that’s why Cross Seminole Trail tops the list for one of the most visited areas in the state, thanks to its jungle-like roads and flat curves. The trail comprises three separate sections that connect you with a 23-mile of expansive landscape. Though you can explore the trail on foot, you can also go on wheels. This bike-friendly location will take you through rural areas, upscale neighborhoods, paved bridges and enchanting Instagram-worthy scenery.

Florida, FL, South, Seminole County, Orlando, Sanford, Central Florida Zoo & and Botanical Gardens, entrance, front, sign, logo, sightseeing visitors
The Central Florida Zoo and Botanical gardens has everything from a one-horned Indian rhino named PJ to zipline adventures © Alamy Stock Photo

Zipline at Seminole Aerial Adventures

For the daring soul, zipline through the Seminole forest and discover Orlando North from a bird’s-eye view. Seminole Aerial Adventures features three separate courses with up to 13 ziplines of experience. The Rainforest Course offers a two and a half hour adventure where you can navigate 33 challenging elements. Younger thrill-seekers can join the 45-minute course Kid’s Course and still enjoy swinging up in the air. This eco-adventure is located in the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens where you can also enjoy animal interactions with giraffes and rhinoceros. 

Happy hour in Sanford

Sanford is a walkable place to drink and enjoy nature simultaneously. Finish off your tour de Orlando with a brewery hopping adventure. Seminole County has many craft breweries, including Sanford Brewing Company, Wop’s Hops, Inner Compas Brewing Company and Deviant Wolfe Brewing. Each brewery is within five blocks of the other, making it easy to sip your way through new flavors. As you explore the tap list at these spots, you'll find everything from Belgian style beers to peach-infused brews – and get a taste of Orlando North.

SANFORD, FLORIDA - APRIL 2, 2019: German Deli. Downtown Sanford, Florida.
Picturesque downtown Sanford, Florida boasts a number of delicious restaurants – including Hollerbach's German cafe. © Alamy Stock Photo

Eat authentic German food

The best part of the Orlando North culinary experience is the versatile ethos of the region and its international flair. Hollerbach’s Willow Tree Cafe is unlike what you'll find in most cities in Florida. This cafe has an exquisite German menu featuring giant Bavarian pretzels, wiener schnitzel, sausages with sauerkraut and traditional German beer. It’s like taking a trip within a trip, and sitting on their rooftop after a hike is pure Orlando North. 

One of the many pathways at Cranes Roost an outdoor park in Altamonte Springs Florida.
WD1YP7 One of the many pathways at Cranes Roost an outdoor park in Altamonte Springs Florida. Alamy Stock Photo

Stroll Cranes Roost Park

Close to some of Altamonte Springs’ best shopping districts (not to mention the city’s numerous hotels), Cranes Roost Park is a picturesque mile-long boardwalk looping around a centerpiece lake. Branching off are cobblestone paths, European-style plazas and an amphitheater with a floating stage. Whether you come for a nature walk close to businesses and restaurants or for an event like a concert or Fourth of July Fireworks, Cranes Roost is proof that nature is woven into Orlando North from the city to the country.

Retreat to the Gator Mansion or a floating cottage

If you pick up a growler to go, you’ll have a little extra to enjoy at your lodging at nearby Lake Mary or Lake Monroe– where there’s a host of unique lodging that feels totally Floridian.

The Gator Mansion is perfect for family reunions or group hangouts that offers a true Southern-style vacation home with six-bedrooms for 12 guests. A boat slipway is an optional add-on, perfect if you’re hoping to see more of Orlando North from the water.

For a more rustic voyage, head to the St. Johns River just before it spills into Lake Monroe. As you step out on the porch at the Floating Cottage, you can embark on a sunset kayak tour or delight in the cerulean skies while listening to the wild birds. 

You may also like: 

Where to find accessible Florida adventures
What Labor Day weekend travel will look like in 2020
8 US destinations perfect for a boat trip

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Sponsored by Orlando North (Seminole County)

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