Skip Orlando’s crowds and discover Florida’s nearby but lesser-known Alexander Springs area. Tropical forests, natural swimming pools and freshwater rivers make this region a dream come true for keen hikers, campers and nature lovers who come to spot bears, manatees and alligators.
Often quieter than nearby Wekiwa Springs, this section of the Wekiva River offers keen kayakers a chance to paddle in peace. Bring your own equipment and launch at Katie’s Landing halfway along the river – the only launch site for kayaks inside the Lower Wekiva River Preserve State Park. Choose to travel downstream for a more relaxing ride with the current, spotting families of otters playing in the water and raccoons scurrying up trees.
Skip the theme parks and sample nature’s very own lazy river at Rock Springs. Bring a tube, or rent one outside the park, then ride the river for almost a mile through the forest. From the head of Rock Springs, a staggering 26,000 gallons (98,421 liters) of fresh spring water are produced every minute. The park has a satin-smooth natural pool for swimming on the way and picnic areas for a picturesque pit stop in the trees.
The name is a clue that this verdant area of forest and wetlands in Seminole County is a paradise for wildlife watchers. Hikers may well encounter languid black bears lolloping across the challenging 7mi (11km) loop trail that tunnels into the trees on raised boardwalks, weaving through a canopy of palm trees and over muddy marshes. More reluctant hikers should stick to the 2mi (3km) wilderness walk that curls alongside the St Johns River.
Moments from the highways, malls and office blocks of Altamonte Springs is a hidden oasis adored by its residents. This midnight-blue lake dappled by sunlight lies at the heart of 120 acres (49ha) of woods and wetlands and is perfect for hiking and fishing from the pier. Nature lovers can visit the octagonal pavilion on the lake for more information on the animals in the preserve, while families can find a spot on the banks for a peaceful picnic.