The Best Hiking Trails in Orlando

The picnic area at Lake Russell, in the Nature Conservancy Disney Wilderness Preserve, near Orlando
The picnic area at Lake Russell, in the Nature Conservancy Disney Wilderness Preserve, near Orlando | © Ian G Dagnall / Alamy
Anjali Sareen

From its dedicated plant-based restaurants to its beautiful trails, which are a pleasure to follow in the clement Central Florida weather – Orlando is a health-giving paradise. Walking, running, biking – you don’t have to be a fitness fanatic to enjoy the great outdoors. Here is our pick the very best hiking trails in Orlando. Best foot forward!

The Seminole-Wekiva Trail

The Seminole-Wekiva Trail, a local favorite, runs 14mi (22km) within the suburbs of Orlando, Altamonte Springs, up to Lake Mary. The trail is well marked and attracts a lot of people. It’s also shaded by trees, with stops for water and bathroom-break options along the way. At the end, the Lake Mary trailhead stops near a commercial complex where you can grab some food.

Disney Wilderness Preserve

You can’t come to Central Florida and miss a visit to something linked with the Mouse. Even if you aren’t a fan of theme parks, fret not – because the folks at Disney offer just a bit of everything. The Disney Wilderness Preserve is an extra-special outdoor area just for those in the know; welcome to 11,500 sprawling acres (4,654ha) of wilderness where more than 1,000 species of plants and animals thrive. Just like everything else Disney-related, the preserve will leave you on a satisfied high.

Bear Creek Nature Trail

Yes – it sounds like a risky proposition, but Bear Creek Nature Trail is far from being overrun by wild animals. This is a highly popular outing on which you are bound to meet plenty of friendly walkers, runners and bikers as you progress. It’s not a particularly long stretch, but the surrounding nature is utterly Edenic and the plentiful (and spectacular) trees – including the famous Florida palms – are photogenic. It also runs in a loop so there’s no danger of getting lost.

Big Tree Park

The name of the park, just beyond Orlando in Longwood, is now a misnomer – the 3,500-year-old bald cypress tree that gave rise to the title was lost in a fire in January 2012. Never mind – this hike, while less than 0.5mi (1km) in length, makes for an absorbing atmospheric walk, along a boardwalk that passes through waterlogged, green terrain known as hydric hammock swamp. It’s a crosshead for the Cross Seminole Trail if you feel like getting stuck into more miles.

Black Hammock Trail

The Black Hammock Trail, in Oviedo, about half an hour’s drive from downtown Orlando, feels a bit more secluded than some of the other competition in the vicinity, but that’s part of its charm. The 4.5mi (7km) stretch, which follows the shores of Lake Jesup, is an easy-to-follow boardwalk that will take you past traditional scenes of locals growing strawberries as if the 20th century had never happened. It is also shaded by tree canopies for its entire length, so you’ll barely feel the Florida heat as you advance.

Split Oak Forest Wildlife & Environmental Area

The Split Oak Forest Wildlife & Environmental Area was named after – what else? – a split oak. To be precise, a 200-year-old live oak that was split down the middle but lives on today. It’s the centerpiece of an area that delivers some of the best hiking in Orlando, with loop trails for ease of passage. Like many areas in Central Florida, it is surrounded by wetlands, so if you’re lucky, you may spot some of the local wildlife, including the Florida scrub-jay, the Sherman’s fox and the threatened gopher tortoise.

Bill Frederick Park

Family-friendly Bill Frederick Park is a favorite among dog lovers because your furry friend is allowed to join you. It’s a surprise; quiet and peaceful – so not what you’d associate with hectic Orlando. There’s a lake you can angle in, shady pathways to follow and impressive stands of mature pine to gaze up at as you pass. The park is an 187-acre (76ha) paradise, with places to camp for the night (whether you want to check out a cabin or pitch a tent). The hiking trail is approximately 2mi (3km) long.

Black Bear Wilderness Loop Trail

The Black Bear Wilderness Loop Trail is in Sanford, Seminole County, approximately 35 minutes from the heart of Orlando. It’s considered a more remote trail (it has the word “wilderness” in the title, after all) and is a 7mi (11km) loop with boardwalk bridges to take you around the marshy areas. Be careful, though, as the trail isn’t named without good reason; there are bears in the area and you may come across them on your hike.

Kelly Park Loop Trail

Hawks, moths, turkey and deer are all on the menu as you follow the loop trail around Kelly Park – a great option for any nature fanatic. Kelly Park was donated by a prominent physician, Dr. Howard Atwood Kelly, in 1927 and today is a wildlife preserve and bird sanctuary. The loop is just under 2.5mi (4km) long, making it a good choice for a quick adventure. You’ll get to dip your tired toes in refreshing river waters, too.

Wekiwa Springs Hiking Trail

Here is a little-known gem in a suburb a matter of minutes beyond downtown Orlando. Wekiwa Springs State Park has been popular for its emerald waters since the mid-19th century. During the warmer months, the springs are filled with families enjoying the beautiful outdoors. At Wekiwa Springs, naturally aquatic activities head the agenda – take advantage of canoe and kayak rentals, and prepare for high visitor numbers if you come at the weekend or during national holidays.

Lake Eola

Smack in the heart of the City Beautiful is Lake Eola Park, a downtown destination for everything from farmers’ markets and concerts to swan-shaped paddle boat rides and relaxing walks. The paved sidewalk around the lake is just under a mile long, making it a near-effortless way to get your steps up while bouncing around downtown’s bars. Eventually you’ll be hungry, so visit the Thornton Park District on the side of Lake Eola opposite downtown proper: you’ll have plenty of stylish cafes and restaurants to duck into to eat your fill.

Warren Park

If you’re a business traveler staying near Orlando International Airport, make the most of the reliably warm weather with an outdoor hike around Warren Park, in the community of Belle Isle. There are two recommended long hikes around the Lake Conway Chain of Lakes. Start from Warren Park and head south around the smaller lake for 4mi (6km) or head north from Warren Park and make a 7mi (11km) loop around Lake Conway. Both of these cross through residential areas home to other quiet parks, and you’ll have opportunities to rest your legs beside the lakes.

Cady Way Trail

Linking urban Orlando and ritzy Winter Park, the Cady Way Trail is a paved hiking and biking route that gives you a little more than 7mi (11km) of activity potential. At its eastern end, Cady Way bumps up against the Seminole County line where it connects to the Cross Seminole Trail – make a note if you want to explore the unique, historic towns and wide greenspaces in Florida’s Natural Choice.

Orlando Urban Trail

At a tiddly 3mi (5km) long, the Orlando Urban Trail is one of the easiest routes to walk without venturing too far off the beaten path. It’s a dedicated dead cert for pedestrians and cyclists, so you’ll rarely have to contend with motorized traffic, except when you come to cross a street or two. The Orlando Urban Trail is best suited for families and city-break weekenders, as it takes you to a few cultural landmarks – among them, Mead Garden, Orlando Museum of Art and the Orlando Science Center.

Lake Davis Park

It’s only a mile away from Lake Eola, but Lake Davis Park is one of those tucked-away neighborhood stunners that very few visitors ever stumble upon. The paved walking trail takes you around the lake in only a few minutes, leaving you plenty of time to walk across the street to 903 Mills Market. Do yourself a favor and complete your walk early so you can start the day by tucking into something rewardingly calorific, say, a breakfast pizza.

Pine Island East Loop Trail

Part of the Shingle Creek Trail, the Pine Island East Loop Trail extends 3.4mi (5.5km) away from the town of Hunter’s Creek, introducing you to a peaceful retreat among Floridian wildlife. Keep your camera at the ready as you can reckon on encountering deer and turkeys – even the occasional alligator – as well as a handful of locals. The neighboring Pine Island West Loop Trail and Marriott Trail are close by, too, so you can take an extended hike if you wish to explore around the headwaters of the Everglades.

Shadow Bay Loop Park

After you’ve spent the day riding rollercoasters at Universal Resort, just 3mi (5km) northwest in Shadow Bay Park you can take a leisurely stroll. There are multiple walking trails and you’ll feel a million miles away from vacation central, yet still within easy reach. Shadow Bay is equipped with playgrounds and athletic facilities, including free pickup pickleball games. Meanwhile Bill Frederick Park, across the street, has camping opportunities if you’d like to skip the hotel stay for a night under canvas, enjoying the natural beauty Orlando has in spades.

Lake Underhill Park Loop

Orlando may be a busy city, but that doesn’t mean that greenspaces are few and far between. Lake Underhill Park, just east of downtown, has a fine loop trail a fraction more than a mile long. This is a unique option as it also has a bridge section running over Lake Underhill. Explore the eastern end of the city a little farther by following the connections to West Lake Underhill Park, Festival Park, Park of the Americas, and Colonel Joe Kittinger Park.

Hal Scott Preserve Red Blaze Loop Trail

Covering more than 9,000 acres (3,642ha), Hal Scott Preserve is a massive park not far from the main campus of the University of Central Florida. There are several trails that create three loops, one of which is the Red Blaze Loop Trail. This jaunt is 6mi (10km) one way, unlike the other two loops which are 4mi (6km) and 6mi (10km) round trips. Venturing through wetlands, the Red Blaze Loop Trail is a great day-long hike where you can be alone with your thoughts – and the occasional ‘gator.

Cypress Grove Park Loop

Cypress Grove Park is a picturesque backdrop for weddings, photoshoots and a midday walk around Orlando. It takes up around 80 acres (32ha) and takes in 1920s mansions as well as a playground for kids. Even if there’s a ceremony taking place, you can walk around the grounds or along Lake Jasmine without intruding. When the venue has an open calendar, take advantage of the sports courts and picnic tables – a superbly lazy way to spend the afternoon between hiking, fishing and playing.

Nick Dauk contributed additional reporting to this article.

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