8 State Parks Near Orlando with Lakes and Hiking
Take kids to Florida state parks near Orlando for outdoor fun and picturesque trips. Whether you're an Orlando resident looking for a day trip or pastoral staycation, or a tourist who wants to go beyond the theme parks, these Central Florida state parks are wonderful resources to get closer to Mother Nature. These gorgeous spots offer outdoor activities including hiking, fishing, swimming, and more!
Most of these Florida state parks are open year round, but always check with individual sites and park rangers as areas of the park may be closed due to environmental factors, maintenance, etc.
For more outdoor adventures, check out our Outdoor Activities Guide for Orlando Families! Get some great ideas about sleeping under the stars with the Best Campgrounds in Florida for Family Getaways and head out to open waters with these Exciting Lakes for Water Activities and Water Sports Near Orlando.
Wekiwa Springs State Park has great hiking trails for young hikers.
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Lovely State Parks Near Orlando
1. Wekiwa Springs State Park: Best for Families
Just minutes from downtown Orlando, Wekiwa Springs State Park offers many activities that kids of all ages will enjoy. Water adventures abound with clear emerald springs, a large shallow swimming area, fun snorkeling, kayaking, and more to entice any family, especially during summer's sweltering weather. In addition to swimming, other fun outdoor activities include geocaching, horseback riding, biking, and hiking (the shortest trail has a boardwalk with serene views of a river hammock).
Relax and enjoy the healing water at De Leon Springs State Park.
2. De Leon Springs State Park: Best for History (and Pancakes)
About 8,000 years ago, the Mayaca tribe settled Acuera ("Healing Waters"), now known as De Leon Springs, a gorgeous Florida state park about one hour north of Orlando. This popular state park features a crystal-clear swimming spring, hiking trails, spring run, eco tours, wildlife viewing, snorkeling, and more. Hungry after those adventures? Head to Old Sugar Mill Pancake House, located inside the state park, where the restaurant features cook-your-own-pancakes at the table and freshly made bread and cookies, housed in a 100-year-old replica of the 1830s sugar mill.
Watch the famous Mermaids of Weeki Wachee Springs State Park perform underwater.
3. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park: Best to Spot a Mermaid
Impress your little ones with a glimpse of magic at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park! This 538-acre park near Tampa offers cool, crystal waters where visitors can see live mermaids, performing entertaining shows, take river boat cruise, discover native wildlife, and rent a kayak or canoe. Families with thrill-seekers can visit Buccaneer Bay, the on-site, spring-fed waterpark, with a beach, swimming area, and four waterslides.
4. Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake: Best for Nature Lovers
Bring your fishing poles and binoculars for hours of nature-loving fun at Bill Frederick Park. This Orlando park covers 183 acres and offers scenic views and outdoor adventures, including bird watching, boat rentals, fishing piers, disc golf, playgrounds, and more. Because of clean campgrounds (that include WiFi and laundry facilities) and proximity to Orlando attractions, Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake makes a great alternative to standard hotel accomodations.
Spot a manatee at Blue Spring State Park during the winter. Photo by Charlotte Blanton
5. Blue Spring State Park: Best to See Manatees
Get a glimpse of the docile manatee in the cooler months at Blue Spring State Park, where "sea cows" swim through temperate waters during the winter, thanks to conservation efforts. During warmer months, dive into the 72-degree waters, as well as catch other native animals, including wading birds, eagles, ospreys, and more. Enjoy boat tours, river cruises, licensed fishing, paddling, and more along St. Johns River and Blue Spring Run. Also visit Manatee Springs State Park for more potential sightings.
Lake Louisa State Park is known for its beautiful views.
6. Lake Louisa State Park: Best for Stunning Views
This self-proclaimed "natural theme park" offers the best views that Mother Nature has to give! Located about 30 minutes from Orlando, Lake Louisa State Park is home to many distinct natural plant communities and wildlife, including deer, bobcat, gopher tortoises, birds, and more. The park's three major lakes (Louisa, Hammond, and Dixie) allow for family-friendly water activities like paddleboarding, canoeing, and kayaking; as well as extensive hiking trails, family campground, and cabins.
7. Little Big Econ State Forest: Best for Paddling
Only an hour's drive from Orlando, Little Big Econ State Forest is a massive park (technically forest) with the Econlockhatchee River, it's namesake, running 17 miles through it and eventually emptying into St. Johns River. The forest is a critical source of protection for wetlands, wet prairies, pine flatwoods and more, and supports a variety of wildlife and extensive hiking trails and horse trails. The Econlockhatchee River Paddling Trail can be used as an eight-mile trek or the full 20 miles, with a pavilion paddlers can stop at to eat lunch, take a break, or escape bad weather.
RELATED: Florida's Kennedy Space Center: A Kid-Friendly Visitors Guide
8. Jetty Park: Best for Surfing
Head to the Space Coast for surfing under the stars at Jetty Park in Port Canaveral. This beautiful, 35-acre park offers surfing, beaches, boogie boarding, kayaking, walking trails, playgrounds, as well as a 1,200-foot lighted fishing pier. Make the experience last even longer by sleeping at Jetty Park Campground (with reservations).
Unless noted, photos courtesy of Florida State Parks