The dreaded Florida summer is winding down and much-needed cooler weather is around the corner! At this time every year, my husband and I start to plan our seasonal hiking schedule. Cooler weather for us means packing up our backpacks and hitting the trails for a picnic. Take a sneak peek at our go-to secluded hiking spots in Central Florida, perfect for your next picnic!
This short trail is going to be your absolute new favorite weekend spot. Located off of the West Orange Trail just 10 minutes from downtown Winter Garden, Oakland is a small town with surprising secrets. Among them is Oakland Nature Preserve, a free nature area with short hiking trails and a boardwalk to Lake Apopka.
Park in the free parking lot under a shaded tree and head back towards Oakland Avenue. Follow the short dirt road next to the fence line until you reach the church. The big secret? Oakland Nature Preserve is actually located right next to a wildlife preserve (I recommend brining binoculars). Throughout the many times my husband and friends have visited the park, we’ve spotted zebra, giraffes, rhinos, ostriches and wild buffalo. If you're lucky, you'll get to spot some of these animals for yourself!
When you’re finished gawking at the wildlife, follow the road back to Oakland Nature Preserve to the long boardwalk. It runs right over natural Florida swamp and you may see birds, snakes, bugs and alligators. At the end of the boardwalk there is a small covered pavilion area that overlooks Lake Apopka. It's the perfect spot to enjoy your picnic lunch.
Pine Island East Loop Trail (Shingle Creek)
My husband and I literally stumbled upon this trail one afternoon while visiting his father in Hunters Creek. Nestled behind the Hunter’s Creek Middle School bus loop, you’ll find one of the local’s favorite picnic spots. Park in the lot and head towards the boardwalk. There are two short (half-mile) straight trails on the left and the longer trail on the right. Follow the beautifully shaded trail following the creek until it opens up into a large clearing. Making a sharp left follow the power lines down until you find the picnic area on the right.
We love this trail especially for the birding. When the trail opens up into the clearing, take a quick look up and you may spot bald eagles, red shoulder hawks and osprey, along with so many beautiful water birds along the creek. I got lucky one day hiking this trail with our pup and spotted a pair of otters playing in the water!
Lake Kissimmee State Park (North Loop)
Despite its name, this park is actually located in Lake Wales. The North Loop is a beautiful, oak-lined trail that's just over a 6-mile walk. Park in the shaded parking lot after grabbing a map from the ranger station and head to the trail marker to start your hike.
There’s just one word to describe this trail: Peaceful. Shaded under huge oaks that are draped with Spanish moss, the air is filled with sounds of small woodland birds.
Although there are many spots to stop for a picnic along the trail, we normally wait until we finish our hike and take our packed lunch out to the lake to eat by the water.
Wekiwa Springs State Park is one of the most well-known and popular parks in Florida. It's most famous for the beautiful winding Wekiva River and the cold spring, but locals have a secret. Wekivia Springs has miles of pristine trails to explore. Although the full hiking loop is quite long, taking the shorter equestrian trail loop (about 3 miles) will circle around to a secluded picnic spot and the trail finishes off right at the parking lot (and restrooms).
Entrance to the park is just $6, even during peak seasons. Pulling up to the Ranger Station at the entrance, the friendly staff will help you pick out the right trail length depending on your time frame, weather and needs.
We love this trail for a few reasons. First, it's dog-friendly (dogs need to be on a leash to protect the wildlife), so you can bring Fido along for the fun. We also appreciate the fact that we can pick and choose the length of our hike depending on if we want to go for a short walk and picnic or a longer day hike.
- Lake Louisa State Park (the beach area at Lake Louisa is perfect for a relaxed picnic and there aren't many people there in the fall)
- Lake Lotus Park
Where's your go-to hiking and picnic spot in Central Florida?
Feature image credit: Oakland Nature Preserve