Day Trippin’: Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (LAWD)


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An Osprey spreads its wings on a post at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. (Photos by Doris Keeler)

It’s hard to imagine someone living in the city relishing a two-hour, 11-mile drive. But what if that drive steers you away from the clogged highways and winds through a wildlife paradise?  Whether you are looking for a leisurely way to spend the day or a chance to see Florida’s wildlife up close, the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is well worth the time, and it’s literally in our own backyard.

Take a Drive on the Wild Side

From the moment you enter the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, the melody of Mother Nature replaces the sound of the city. On both sides of the single-lane, hard-packed shell road, birds wade along the shoreline, alligators glide through the water, and osprey circle overhead. If you’re lucky, you may get a chance to see a bobcat or two or even otters playing in the canals. It is a photographer’s playground and a wildlife lover’s wonderland.

Even though the speed limit on the drive is 10 miles per hour, many of the cars actually go slower than that, as they take in the views out of their windows. Pull-over areas provide drivers a place to get off the road to take a look around. With patience and a keen eye, the views are spectacular.

A gator sunning itself on the lake bank.

In addition to the pull-over areas, a small parking area by the historic pump house offers an opportunity to view Lake Apopka, the fourth-largest lake in the state. There are a couple of areas that offer forks in the road. Both end up at the same place but offer different views. Since you can’t loop back around, you’ll have to save the other roads for another visit.

The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive Audio Tour, accessible with a smartphone or another electronic device, provides guests with an overview of points of interest along the trail. Check out the website at www.sjrwmd.com/lands/recreation/lake-apopka/ for how to connect to the audio tour.

Herons duke it out at the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive.

Other Activities

Even though the wildlife drive is the main attraction, it is part of the larger Lake Apopka Loop Trail, which covers more than 20 miles and follows the lake’s edge. The Loop Trail offers two separate trails, which provide hiking, biking and horseback-riding opportunities. The area is home to 360 species of birds and is considered one of the best birding destinations in the state.

Trip Suggestions

After visiting LAWD numerous times, there are a few suggestions I would offer. First, go early in the morning; that’s when we have found wildlife to be more active. Second, take your time, and give those who may be in front of you time to enjoy the drive, as well. And, finally, make sure you take a bottle of water or two with you.

The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive begins at Lust Road near Highway 429 in West Orlando and ends on Jones Avenue. It is open from sunrise to sunset on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and all federal holidays.

Good for the entire family, the drive is slow and peaceful and, best of all, it’s free.

 

About the Writer

Doris Keeler is a freelance writer and blogger from Orlando who travels the state on weekends searching for people and places that represent “old Florida.” If you’re looking for things to do, or just want to see some of the unique things around the Sunshine State, visit her blog at www.FloridianaMagazine.com.

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