Finding a hidden gem in Central Florida can seem hard. It seems every good thing is spoiled quickly as word spreads, but each time I have gone to this little hidden gem, I am wowed how there aren't more people there! The best part about this hidden gem of Central Florida is that it is completely free! Throughout this post, I will be sharing photos with you from my several trips there to help convince you that you need to visit!
The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is an incredible experience along an 11-mile one-way drive through the nature preserve managed by the St. John's Water Management District. Open only Friday-Sunday and select Federal holidays from 7 am - 3 pm with the entrance located at 2850 Lust Road Apopka, Florida 32703. Keep up to date with operating hours and trail closures with their Facebook page.
While this is an easily overlooked option for a day trip in Central Florida, it is easily one of the best places to witness true Florida wildlife from the comfort of your own vehicle, and don't forget, it is free! It is well-known by the birding community for being the home for over 350 species of birds whether year-round or just for migration. Get a greater look at the wildlife in action by checking out my video diary of this trip!
Throughout the free audio tour, you can hear more about the wildlife. In addition to the numerous birds, you can also get an up-close look at alligators sunning along the banks of the water, hiding in the lily pads, or swimming down to the lake. While it is a unique experience to see so many alligators in one place, it is also very important to remember to never feed or approach any wildlife.
Here are some of my top tips for spotting more of the wildlife:
Drive slow! Let others pass you during pull-offs so you can make the most of your experience.
Look for the photographers! This is a hot spot for birding and wildlife photographers. If you see their large lenses out, be sure to stop and look in the same direction. A lot of people are friendly and if they appear to be at one of the lookouts ask them if they've seen anything! When I see a large creature I usually am sure to roll down my window and point to indicate to drivers behind us to keep an eye out in the same area.
Eyes to the sky! There are always birds soaring overhead or in the trees that you might miss while looking below for gators or other creatures.
Go to the lookouts! There are quite a few lookouts and trails you can explore on foot for quieter places to see some beautiful views and more wildlife. Check out the Lake Apopka map here to plan your experience!
Bring the proper gear to enjoy the experience! If you plan on staying in your vehicle, I recommend some binoculars! An inexpensive pair like these will help you get more detailed looks at the gators and birds. If you plan on taking some of the hikes, ensure you bring the proper amount of water for the hot Florida days and sunscreen! If you plan on taking the bike route, a water pack like this one may make it easier to stay hydrated!
If you live in or are visiting Central Florida anytime soon, I hope the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive will be on your list for consideration. If you are interested in supporting the efforts of the St. John's Water Management District with this nature preserve of Lake Apopka, you can donate on their website. Nature lovers can find this escape only 20-minutes away from Orlando to enjoy some beautiful wildlife on the weekends. Let me know if you have visited or want to soon in the comments! Thanks for stopping by.