Orlando and Central Florida have an abundance of waterways for kids to explore, and boating on these waterways is a great way to enjoy the natural beauty of the outdoors at a safe and social distance.
There are many lakes in the Orlando area connected by canals that form lake chains, making for a beautiful day on the water and a great chance to view native Florida wildlife. Whether you want to take the kids fishing, water skiing, or anchor the boat and swim, we've got you covered with some of the best boating areas around Orlando.
Don’t have a boat? No problem. Several Orlando companies offer sightseeing tours, airboat tours, and paddling tours to get you out on the water. So kids can enjoy an outing while also supporting local businesses.
Be mindful that COVID-19 protocols might be place at some destinations, including mask and social distancing requirements.
Roughly 12 miles from downtown Orlando, this chain is a central location for tourists eager to enjoy a taste of Florida water sports or bass fishing. The chain encompasses 11 lakes, most of which are more than 50 acres, allowing ample room for water skiing, tubing, wakeboarding, and more. The high water quality makes for great fishing opportunities as well. Visitors and locals alike will awe at the beautiful lakeside homes along the Butler Chain of Lakes, some of which are or were owned by celebrities and professional athletes, including Joey Fatone and Shaquille O’Neal. Public boat access is available at R.D. Keene Park on Lake Isleworth.
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Search for dolphins on a trip to Disappearing Island. Photo by the author
If you prefer sandy beaches and salt water, look no further than Disappearing Island. Every day during low tide, the water recedes and this “island” appears at Ponce Inlet in the intracoastal waterways between Daytona and New Smyrna. It is a popular destination for boaters to anchor and play in the clear, shallow water and beach area. The island is accessible only by boat. Most visitors launch at the North Causeway boat ramp in New Smyrna. From there, it is a short leisurely boat ride to the island. Keep a lookout for dolphins on the ride. Pack a picnic, beach chairs, sand toys, and floats for a day of family fun on the island. You can also flag down one of the concession boats for a snack or treat. The island offers beautiful views of the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse, and it is also dog-friendly, so your four-legged family member can tag along as well.
Drop a line and fish with the kids along the Harris Chain of Lakes. Photo by the author
This chain in Lake County is comprised of eight lakes and is a popular weekend boating destination as well as a fisherman’s paradise. There are several public boat ramps, making the lakes easily accessible, and all of the lakes are great for water sports. Boaters can dock in Tavares and dine at one of several restaurants within walking distance while watching seaplanes take off, while kids enjoy playing at the Tavares seaplane-themed splash park or the adjacent Wooton Park playground. Other restaurants accessible by boat include Hurricane Dockside Grill, JB Boondocks and The Crazy Gator. If you prefer a quieter setting, pack a picnic lunch and explore Trimble Park or Hickory Point Park. The scenic one-mile Dora Canal is a must to venture through, often compared to a Disney jungle cruise. And after a day on the water, nothing beats watching the sunset with family from the comfort of your boat.
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Lake Tohopekaliga is a popular fishing and bird-watching destination. Photo by FWC
This 19,000-acre lake known as Lake Toho is located south of Kissimmee and is popular for fishing and bird watching. It is also home to Makinson Island, a 132-acre island accessible only by boat, and complete with miles of hiking trails to explore. Lakefront Park, located on the north side of the lake, has a playground, splash pad, miniature lighthouse, and scenic walking path. Boaters can dine at the Blue Grill on the west side of the lake, located at the Big Toho Marina. The boat ramp is also located near the marina, just past the bait shop.
St. Johns River is the longest river in Florida, stretching from Indian River County and running north all the way to Jacksonville. There are many boat ramps on the St. Johns accessible around the Orlando area. Boaters are sure to see all kinds of wildlife, from manatees to alligators. Hontoon Island State Park is a great family-friendly stop along the river. Dock the boat, have a picnic lunch, let the kids expel some energy on the playground, and enjoy a family nature walk. If you’re really adventurous, camp overnight at the island. Another popular boating destination along the St. Johns is Silver Glen Springs, about 50 miles upriver from Sanford and along the shores of Lake George. Boaters can anchor and swim in the crystal clear waters outside of the spring. Make sure to arrive early as the spring run fills up fast.
The Winter Park chain is another popular boating destination for water sports and anglers alike. The Venetian-style canals linking each of the six lakes are man made and lined with lush plants and canopy shade trees. The canals are shallow and might not be accessible for all boats, however. There are no waterfront restaurants, so be sure to pack a picnic or snacks for your boat ride. Note also that most boats entering the chain must be 21 feet or less in length. A Winter Park boat sticker or day pass is required for all motorboats. There are two public boat ramps; one at Dinky Dock Park and the other at Fort Maitland Park.