Relax Yourself: These are the Best Parks in OrlandoBy Rona Gindin
Wekiva Springs (Photo: Jesse Kunerth/Shutterstock.com)
Orlando may be best known for its theme parks, but the city has traditional parks aplenty — wide green expanses with scenic lakes, graceful old oak trees and colorful jungle gyms. If you’re lucky, you might even find beautiful walking trails and peaceful fishing spots. Here are five front-runners:
Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake. Within the sprawling 183-acre Bill Frederick Park at Turkey Lake, you’ll find the typical lake views, shaded pavilions and playgrounds. But you’ll also encounter farm animals, a fishing pier and even two 18-hole disc golf courses. Expect to see groups gathered for birthday parties while you walk, jog or bike around seven miles of trails. Reserve yourself a bass Tracker fishing boat or an eight-person cabin for an overnight stay.
Where to find your zen: Watching native birds frolic over the lake while lounging under the shade of massive oak trees.
Jay Blanchard Park. On the east side of town, near the University of Central Florida, you can hike or fish in Jay Blanchard Park. At 84 acres, this green escape appears to be a straightforward family park with two sizable playgrounds — yet it offers far more. The Little Econlockhatchee River runs alongside, so folks can drop fishing lines from a bridge, canoe or kayak. Little Econ Greenway, a 7.9-mile urban trail, offers long and short hikes through ultra-lush greenery. Tennis and sand volleyball courts are available too.
Where to find your zen: Settle in for an explosion of colors as the sun sets over the Little Econlockhatchee River.
Fort Christmas Historical Park. Soldiers built a fort on the 25-acre Fort Christmas Historical Park on December 25, 1837 during the Second Seminole Indian War. Today, a full-size replica of the fort, as well as several restored homes, offers brief immersion into the oddly fascinating traditional “Cracker” lifestyle. Plan your visit to coincide with one of the park’s many inspired festivals. Themes range from bluegrass music to living history, wetlands to militias.
Where to find your zen: Think of a quieter, electronics-free life while visiting the 1904 Brown House’s cozy paneled parlor with its brick fireplace and two wooden rocking chairs.
Kissimmee Lakefront Park. In early 2015, the city of Kissimmee (just south of Disney World) debuted the $30 million, 25-acre Kissimmee Lakefront Park in its historic center. Here, nature and technology intersect in a peaceful setting. Visitors unwinding by a sea wall might notice “rain gardens” and “baffle boxes” that cleanse storm water outfall. The marina’s new brick floating docks offer access to Lake Tohopekaliga. You will also spot a fishing pier, barbecue grills, a bait shop, historical plaques, wooden trails made with recycled lumber and a 3-mile paved trail.
Where to find your zen: Sit on a bench by the illuminated miniature lighthouse on land that juts into Lake Tohopekaliga.
Wilson’s Landing Park. When it comes to nature, sometime simple is best. At serene Wilson’s Landing Park in Sanford, landlubbers lounge by hardwood hammocks and southern magnolia trees and stroll the scenic boardwalk. (More active travelers might bring a kayak and set out on the Wekiva River.) Gather for lunch under the river-view pavilion that overlooks the glistening water. You might even spot a gator.
Where to find your zen: Take in the leisurely parade of kayaks meandering past the park in the Wekiva River.