Updated February 2019 to correct information about Lake Toho
Living in Florida has many benefits, one of which is that summer is almost practically year round. We aren’t called the Sunshine State for nothing! Our fine weather makes enjoying the many local springs and lakes in Central Florida an ideal option for a date day. To help you plan your next outdoor adventure, we put together a Guide to Central Florida's Best Lakes and Springs where you can enjoy swimming, fishing, kayaking, or just simply having a lovely, lazy day with someone special.
Location: Winter Park
Besides being a popular launch spot for Paddleboard Orlando tours (they do a $45 beginner-friendly paddle board tour of the nearby chain of lakes every Saturday), Lake Virginia is also home to Winter Park Beach (a.k.a. Dinky Dock). Here you can set out a beach chair under the shade of a live oak, soak up some rays on the sand or take a swim in the lake's waters.
Be aware, it's not always safe to swim here in the summer months due to an increase in harmful bacteria in the water. This area is sampled bi-weekly for bacterial contamination. The beach is posted with a ‘no swimming' warning when bacteria counts exceed State of Florida guidelines for swimming areas.
Lake Tohopekaliga (Lake Toho)
Location: Osceola County
Lake Toho is one of Florida's largest lakes and is renowned as one of the best fishing places in Florida for catching trophy bass. The lake’s tributary streams headwaters to the Everglades ecosystem. The lake has multiple RV/camping sites and is home to Big Toho Marina. Scenic Brinson Park sits on the shore and has a fishing pier, BBQ grills, picnic tables and access to the Florida Trail.
Lake Toho is also home to Makinson Island, which is situated on the northern third of the lake. This 132-acre island offers approximately 3.5 miles of hiking trails and wildlife viewing opportunities. The island is only accessible by boat or kayak.
Location: Osceola County
Lake Kissimmee has it all when it comes to marine life to sink, hook and catch: bluegill, largemouth bass, catfish, crappie and chain pickerel. The best part is you don’t even need to have a boat.
While the lake boasts a boat ramp with direct access to Lake Kissimmee, budding anglers can fish from the marina, dam and canal banks with the same marine life available at these options too. They also allow kayaking and canoeing on the lake.
Sprawling over 35,000 acres, Lake Kissimmee and its neighboring lakes and creeks of the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes is the place to go to catch some fish, see some wildlife and just relax on the open waters.
Harris Chain of Lakes
Location: Lake County
Lake County residents got lucky because instead of just having one option of a lake to visit for fishing and fun in the sun, they have eight. The Harris Chain of Lakes are a part of the Upper Ocklawaha River Basin, which is a sub-basin of the St. Johns River.
The lakes that make up this chain include: Lake Eustis, Lake Harris, Little Lake Harris, Lake Dora, Lake Beauclair, Lake Griffin, Lake Yale and Lake Carlton.
Lake Harris is the largest of the lakes, measuring 13,788 acres with an irregular shape. Fisherman’s Cove Marina is one option for enjoying Lake Harris; it has a marina, RV sites, lodging and recreational areas.
Lake Harris and all the other lakes are go-to places for sailors, boaters and even water-skiers alike. Not to mention, there are plenty of bass to go around.
We previously wrote about the Winter Haven Chain of Lakes. You can read that article here.
Location: Downtown Orlando
While many people might not think of Lake Eola as a typical “lake,” it is one of the most popular and viable options for Orlandoans looking to have a good time. You can even bring your furry friends, too.
Known for its white and black swans, the lake is located in the middle of Downtown Orlando and features restaurants, the Disney Amphitheater, swan boats to paddle around the lake and a fountain that illuminates at night in the middle of the lake.
Every Sunday from 10am-4pm, there is the Orlando Farmers Market. Held in the southeast corner of Lake Eola, the market features local vendors who sell homemade crafts, food and art.
Come swim in the crystal clear waters of Wekiwa Springs, where the water is 72 degrees Fahrenheit year round and always beautifully clear. With the springs holding 42 million gallons of water, there are so many water-related activities to engage in.
Wekiwa Springs and Wekiva River can be explored via canoe or kayak, which can be rented onsite by visiting or calling the canoe rental stand at 407-884-4311 or by visiting www.canoewekiva.com. There are also several trails available at Wekiwa Springs State Park, ranging in length from .8 of a mile to 13.5 miles.
While you're in the area, consider visiting Wekiva Island.
Kelly Park/Rock Springs
Rock Springs is home to Kelly Park/Rock Springs Run, one of the go-to places for tubing in Central Florida. Kelly Park has a free-flowing natural spring that is 68 degrees year round and perfect for just relaxing in the sun inside an inner tube. They also have areas to kayak and canoe in. Admission to the park is $3 per vehicle and tubes can be rented outside of the park for a nominal fee.
Best known for its DIY pancake house, The Old Spanish Sugar Mill, DeLeon Springs makes for a great day trip starting early in the day before the long lines for the restaurant begin. Inside this 625-acre DeLeon Springs State Park you'll find the bubbling spring, a refreshing and safe place to swim that guarantees 72-degree water temperatures year-round. Entrance fee to the park is $6/vehicle.
Canoes, paddleboats and kayaks can be rented from the park's concession. The park's paddling trail provides access to the 22,000-acre Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge, with lakes, creeks and marshes to explore. The free boat ramp, with dock, can accommodate boats up to about 20 feet, with the St. Johns River a distance of about 10 miles.
Visitors can also hike the 4.2 mile Wild Persimmon Hiking Trail or take a leisurely stroll on the one-half mile paved Nature Trail to see the 600 year-old cypress tree.
Finally, there is a guided boat tour offered here which gives guests a 50-minute eco/history boat tour on Spring Garden Run.
Location: Orange City
Blue Spring State Park is not just a go-to place for humans but also manatees, making it a designated manatee refuge site and also home to a continually growing West Indian Manatee population. During manatee season, which approximately runs from mid-November through March, several hundred manatee can be viewed atop the spring’s overlooks.
The spring allows snorkeling and swimming, yet all water-related activities are closed from mid-November to March into order to make sure they continue to provide a safe warm-water refuge environment for the manatees during the winter.
Fishing, canoeing and boating can also be enjoyed here and along the St. John’s River. River boat tours are available; for reservations, call St. Johns River Cruises at 386-917-0724. There's also a self-guided tour that begins inside The Historic Thursby house, built in 1872.
Take note: the park reaches capacity in the summer swimming season and in the winter manatee season. We recommend arriving before 10am during these times ensure entrance into the park.
But what about alligators?
This is a fair question and one worth addressing. While alligators definitely pose a threat in our Central Florida lakes and springs, they don't ruin the fun altogether. Here are some tips for enjoying the water safely. (Adapted from the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission).
Generally, alligators less than four feet in length are not large enough to be dangerous unless handled. However, if you encounter any alligator that you
believe poses a threat to people, pets or property, call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWCGATOR (866-392-4286). Please be aware, nuisance alligators are killed, not relocated.
Be aware of the possibility of alligators when you are in or near fresh or brackish water. Bites may occur when people do not pay close enough attention to their surroundings when working or having fun near water.
Do not swim outside of posted swimming areas or in waters that might be inhabited by large alligators.
Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn. Therefore, avoid swimming at night.
Dogs and cats are similar in size to the natural prey of alligators. Don’t allow pets to swim, exercise or drink in or near waters that may contain alligators. Dogs often attract an alligator’s interest, so do not swim with your dog.