Happy Earth Day, fellow earthlings! With cooler temperatures gracing our area since the weekend, it feels like a crime to spend Earth Day working indoors. Here in Central Florida, we are blessed to live in such a diverse environment, with a variety of wildlife and terrain in every direction. The longer I live here, the more beautiful places I discover and fall in love with, and I consider myself lucky to call this weird and wonderful place my home.
In honor of Earth Day, I’m sharing five unique places to experience nature and wildlife right in your own backyard. Please feel free to share your own local favorites in the comments section below!
1. Audubon Center for Birds of Prey (Maitland, FL)
Nestled just off the main roads in Maitland, the Audubon Center for Birds and Prey is a rehabilitation facility for raptors. The organization brings in hundreds (if not thousands) of hawks, owls, eagles, vultures, and other birds of prey who are sick or injured each year. For $8 per adult and $5 per child, guests can visit about 50 of the center’s permanent residents and learn about each individual bird. Don’t forget to visit the tiny raptors on the back porch, including my favorite: Tony, the eastern screech owl! You can also watch a video inside to learn more about rehabilitation and release efforts, and how the center does its part to protect these amazing species. The Audubon Center for Birds of Prey also hosts various events throughout the year.
2. Spring-to-Spring Trail from Lake Monroe Park to Gemini Springs Park (DeBary, FL)
Whether you prefer to hike or bike, the Spring-to-Spring Trail is a must-visit on a beautiful day. The trail will eventually span 26 miles out to DeLeon Springs, but in the meantime, you can enjoy a more leisurely stroll from Lake Monroe to Gemini Springs. The route is paved and goes 3.15 miles one way.
3. Green Springs Park (Enterprise, FL)
True to its name, Green Springs Park is home to one of Florida’s few sulphur springs. The color has to be seen in person to be believed — and yes, it really is that ethereal. You can access Green Springs Park via the Spring-to-Spring Trail from Lake Monroe Park if you’re looking for a longer hike, or simply drive up to the outside of the park and take a walk around to explore the 31 acres of paved and natural trails that comprise Green Springs.
4. The CARE Foundation (Apopka, FL)
I fell in love with The CARE Foundation a few years back, when the Apopka-based wildlife sanctuary took in Lucious, a sweet young lion who suffered from hypovitamiosis. Although Lucious ultimately passed away from this condition, his story went viral and introduced many to The CARE Foundation, which rescues both exotic and domestic animals. Home to lemurs, foxes, big cats, a bear, blonde raccoons, reptiles, and many other critters, The CARE Foundation offers private tours, as well as open houses throughout the year to welcome the public. I have visited The CARE Foundation for their open houses, but a private tour with a small group is on my list for the future!
5. Winter Park Scenic Boat Tour (Winter Park, FL)
Just off Park Avenue, hop on a boat to explore the chain of lakes and canals that make up Winter Park. For just $14 per adult and $7 per child, Scenic Boat Tours take place every hour from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and are the perfect way to cool down as the weather heats up. Throughout your tour, you’ll visit three lakes and two canals, and the guide will share the history of Winter Park while introducing you to the local flora and fauna.
What are your favorite ways to enjoy nature in Central Florida? Sound off in the comments section below!