Stand-up Paddleboarding (Photo: Courtesy Paddleboard Orlando)
Many Orlando visitors flock solely to the city’s theme parks. Yet for those willing to explore further afield, a world of outdoor wonders await, like the Winter Park and Harris Chains of Lakes. Ancient cypress trees and swaying palms line these watery wonderlands, which are frequented by creatures like egrets, eagles and alligators. Whether you’re looking for an adrenaline rush or a more mellow means of admiring Orlando’s natural beauty, these popular watersports take you into the heart of the sparkling lakes.
- Kayaking. Few experiences top the tranquility of paddling past the looming cypress trees along Orlando’s waterways — and keeping alert for egret, osprey and eagle sightings. Visitors toting their own kayaks should head to Dora Canal, a mile-long stretch linking Lake Eustis and Lake Dora. The canal’s peaceful setting amid ancient cypress trees is perfect for spotting alligators and otters. Others may opt for a guided experience, such as those offered by Peace of Mind Kayak Tours. These two-hour adventures meander through three of Winter Park’s lakes and down its quiet canals.
- Jet Skiing. Visitors with a need for speed can cruise Orlando’s lakes by jet ski, an exhilarating experience that allows you to zip past the million-dollar homes, wildlife and sub-tropical plants and trees lining the lakes’ shores. Makaio Watersports serves the Winter Park Chain of Lakes, and acts as a delivery service for jet skis. Visitors can make an appointment to have the watercraft delivered to a lake or their choice. After delivery, the outfitter provides an orientation and helps launch the vessels into the water, leaving you to explore the lakes at your own pace.
- Fishing. Both Winter Park and Harris Chains of Lakes are rich stomping grounds for anglers; a bounty of largemouth bass call Lake Eustis home, while that and other lakes teem with black crappie, bream, tilapia and gar. The best way to hook a mighty fish is via boat, kayak or canoe, though there are a few spots along the shore where the public can fish, namely Dinky Dock Park on Lake Virginia and Kraft Gardens on Lake Maitland.
- Stand-Up Paddle Boarding. An ever-increasing number of outdoors lovers have turned to SUP-ing — paddling across water while standing on a 9- to 14-foot-long board — to get their water sports (and workout) fix. This demand has been met by a number of Orlando outfitters offering rentals and tours on Orlando’s lakes. Beginners can take SUP lessons on Winter Park Chain of Lakes through Paddleboard Orlando. Experienced SUPers with a penchant for tippling will enjoy the sunset, happy hour tour on Lake Maitland organized by Hua Hele Wai Paddleboarding.
- Boating. One of the most popular — and relaxing — ways to enjoy Winter Park Chain of Lakes is from the comforts of a pontoon boat tour. Perhaps the lakes’ most popular activity, Scenic Boat Tours‘ guided, hour-long jaunts wind through three lakes, including Lake Osceola, and two man-made canals. As you admire multi-million dollar estates that dot the lakes’ shores, keep an eye out for omnipresent wildlife, like cranes, alligators and plenty of fish. The region’s vibrant flora is also on constant display, including colorful tropical flowers, cypress trees and brilliant, green ferns.
- Flyboarding. Daredevils, rejoice! If laid-back water sports aren’t your cup of tea, FlyBoard Rentals of Orlando doles out adrenaline rushes on Winter Park’s Lake Virginia. If you’re not familiar with the sport, a flyboard is like a jet pack attached to your feet, and linked by tubes to a personal watercraft. The waterflow from the watercraft gives the flyboard its propulsion, sending the flyboard wearer shooting up, up, and away — as high as 50-feet into the air.