Among the most visited recreation destinations in the nation, Orlando has more than its fair share of sightseeing opportunities. Whatever the mode—bus, boat, bike, train, trolley, etc.—guided tours can help you navigate all that Central Florida has to offer. But, every now and again, you just want to grab the wheel (literally!) to take control of your ventures. Some of best ways to experience the true beauty of The City Beautiful and its surroundings is by actively steering your own way! So go ahead… get wild with these seven energetic ways to explore Orlando.
1. Hang Gliding
For a bird’s eye view of exhilaration, head to Wallaby Ranch in nearby Davenport (about 35 miles from downtown Orlando). Back in 1991, founder/owner Malcolm Jones revolutionized hang gliding by equipping tandem gliders with wheels for simplified take-offs and landings. Thanks to aerotowing ─ where the hang glider is towed to the sky by a specially-designed, ultralight tow-plane ─ you’ll take exploration to new heights overlooking 500 breathtaking acres.
Prepare to catch spring fever at Wekiwa State Park, home to one of the Sunshine State’s most popular (and most mispronounced) springs. The grassy hillside alongside Wekiwa Springs (spelled with a ‘w’) presents a tranquil atmosphere for picnickers, sunbathers and swimmers. The springs empty into the Wekiva River (spelled with a ‘v’), a 16-mile utopia beloved by kayakers. You can rent a single, double or triple kayak onsite to enjoy self-guided exploration; or, practically every local kayak company offers guided options for this serene locale (Paddleboard Orlando, for example). Wekiva River is occupied by native birds, turtles, otters and, yes, alligators. Trek down to Wekiva Island, a party paradise with river-banas (comfy cabanas), The Tooting Otter restaurant/bar, a riverside boardwalk and sand volleyball courts.
Wekiwa Springs converges with Rock Springs, a crater-edged creek within Kelly Park, to form the headwaters of the 17-mile-long Wekiva River leading to St. Johns River. Rock Springs Run is a brisk 67°F but you’ll stay comfortably warm seated in your kayak. Rock Springs doesn’t have onsite rentals but does have a primitive kayak launch at its neighboring sister site, Camp Joy. Skip the logistical coordination by booking an offsite tour company, such as Get Up and Go Kayaking. Their clear kayaks bestow uninterrupted views of the aquatic life and fish swimming right underneath you!
Sightsee on Shingle Creek, the headwater of the Florida Everglades, via self-guided or tour-led kayaking (single or tandem), canoeing or paddleboarding, launching from the Paddling Center at Shingle Creek. The area’s pristine landscape is home to an abundance of fauna and flora. Shhh… to maximize sightings, keep noise to a minimum so you don’t scare off the wildlife.
More kayaking: For a truly illuminating quest, try bioluminescent kayaking (A Day Away Kayak Tours); or paddle along the Econlockhatchee River, the second largest tributary of the St. John’s River (Adventures in Florida).
You don’t need to retreat to the coastline to find a beach! A hidden gem close to Rollins College, Dinky Dock is Orlando’s secret beach, complete with a 1.56-acre park, a fishing pier and boat ramp. Dinky Dock also serves as a launch site for Maui B’s paddleboarding which travels the Winter Park Chain of Lakes. You’ll take a deep dive into Florida’s history as you glide along Lake Mizell, Lake Virginia, Lake Osceola and Lake Maitland. Be sure to dip into canals to marvel grand waterside homes.
More paddleboarding: Make waves with your favorite mates aboard the Megalodon, a roomy 15’ paddleboard can accommodate six people (Otter Paddle Orlando); for a cooler nighttime plunge, attend a sunset paddle or full moon paddle event (Lake Life Paddle); or explore within to find your inner zen with SUP yoga (Wave of Wellness).
There are 30 bike trail options within a 30-mile radius of downtown Orlando, which collectively total more than 250 miles of paved, off-street routes. Whether you use your own wheels or rent some, Orlando aims to be bike-friendly. Spanning over 20 miles from the Orange-Lake County line to downtown Apopka, the partially-shaded West Orange Trail is a popular choice thanks to its scenic path, along with quaint pit-stops like a butterfly garden and historic Plant Street. Rentals are available at the Killarney Station in Oakland (through West Orange Trail Bikes and Blades) and the Winter Garden Station (through Wheelworks). If you’d rather explore neighborhoods in the outskirts of downtown Orlando, head to Elite Road Bike Rentals to pedal around Lake Baldwin and the 40-mile Cady Way trail. You can make your way through the Ivanhoe Village and into Winter Park. Elite Road Bike Rentals also offers various guided tours.
More biking: Orlando’s bike share program, HOPR, allows bikers to conveniently hop on and off rentals via a mobile app reservation. You can find these black and teal rides stationed near Lake Eola and beyond. For a communal ride, join Orlando Critical Mass, the “world’s largest monthly bike ride” promoting awareness of alternative transportation. This fun street fleet starts at Lake Haven Park on the last Friday of the month at 5:30pm and safely road-shares through downtown Orlando. If Sanford is your destination of choice, gather friends and climb aboard Limo Cycle, a 15-passenger, pedal-powered party bike!
You can forgo waiting in lines for amusement rides and still experience magical thrills. With the high-tech power of a Segway, you won’t exactly need to rough it to experience nature at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. Their X2 Segway is an easy to maneuver, all-terrain ride that lets you roam about the paved woodland trails. The standing position grants wild views of the Tri-Circle-D Ranch, glassy Bay Lake and more.
Where can you find good, clean fun? Here’s the dirt on Revolution Off Road, a unique adventure park located in Clermont (about 40 miles from downtown Orlando). Rev up exploration on an ATV, Polaris razor (dune-buggy style) or a “muddy duck.” Also, known as an argo, this 8-wheeled amphibious vehicle can accommodate four riders who desire exploration without limitations. Journey through various terrains aboard the muddy duck, like nature trails, mud holes and ponds.
Fun fact: Known as the “gem of the hills,” Clermont was voted Best City to Live In, Top 20 Cities in America for Quality of Life and Economic Development, Top 25 Best Places to Retire and #1 Florida Bicycle-Friendly Community. To see this up-and-coming place for yourself, book a stay at one of Hilton’s two Clermont properties. Just a few blocks from Lake Minneola, Home2 Suites by Hilton Clermont offers modern suites with pet-friendly options; also in the proximity of area attractions, Hampton Inn & Suites by Hilton Clermont has comfy rooms and suites, an outdoor pool and a fitness center.
7. Zip Lining
Want to feel the wind in your hair as you soar through the sky? Orlando has a number of zip line operators. With the company tagline ‘Explore the Wild,’ Forever Florida encourages just that with seven zip lines and three rope bridges burrowed among 4,700 acres of conservation, which is home to native wildlife, like black bears, white-tailed deer and the endangered Florida panther. Night owls, you can shine under the stars with Forever Florida’s Night Flight Adventure.
If you’re chomping at the bit to test your zip lining skills, head to Gatorland to brave the Screamin’ Gator Zip Line. As you fly between multi-leveled towers, glance down to see attentive spectators feasting their eyes on you… we’re talking about the 130 giant alligators roaming the breeding marsh!
Perhaps the most extreme zip lining can be found at Orlando Tree Trek Adventure Park. The course is stacked with a giant 425’ zip line and nearly 100 aerial obstacles, all weaved within the natural pine forest. Dare-devil kiddos can also conquer exploration here with two kid-only challenges.
Now that’s wild, right?