From Theme Parks to Nature Trails: Central Florida’s Best-Kept Secrets for Family Hikes 

Ready to trade theme park hustle and bustle for a quieter nature retreat? Head 45 minutes north, hit the trails, and discover the authentic beauty of Florida!

I’ve curated a list of my 10 favorite places where you and your family can explore trails and walking paths suitable for ages five and up. Whether you’re strolling, walking, or wheeling with strollers or wheelchairs, there’s something for everyone.

Being a local, I’ve grown up here and am now raising my family in this vibrant community. Over the years, my family and I have ventured through these trails, going from strollers and baby carriers to now keeping up with our energetic older kids. 

Join us in rediscovering our beloved hikes and uncovering new ones – it’s a journey through nature for every age and stage!

Table of Contents

Gemini Springs Park

Gemini Springs Park is a beautiful 212-acre preserve located at 37 Dirksen Drive in DeBary, just a 30-minute drive north of Orlando or 40 minutes southwest of Daytona Beach. 

It features cabbage palms, oaks, scattered citrus trees, and open green spaces. The area is home to twin second-magnitude springs that produce 6.5 million gallons of water daily. You can view both from overlooks along the walking paths. The springs flow into Lake Monroe, creating a serene scene.

Wildlife enthusiasts will encounter diverse animals, from alligators and turtles to fish and vibrant birdlife like owls and ibis. 

The broad spring run at Gemini Springs Park in DeBary, Florida on a bright and sunny day.
Gemini Springs Park in DeBary, Florida. My hubby and I took this photo from the Spillway.

Gemini Springs offers a range of trails, including our adored nature walk along paved sidewalks starting at the west playground. This accessible route passes landmarks like the Fishing Pier on DeBary Creek and the unique Spring House event space.

Explore the 1.7-mile Gemini Springs Park Loop for a longer walk. It combines paved and unpaved paths with multiple off-shoots to tailor your journey to fit your family’s needs. As always, wear comfy shoes, weather-appropriate clothing, and sun protection.

Gemini Springs has flush restrooms, pavilions, a fishing pier, a playground, and even a dog park. It’s popular for community gatherings, so weekends and holidays can get busy. 

To beat the heat, visit during mild or cooler weather, as summer temperatures soar and there’s no swimming. Best of all, Gemini Springs is free.

Lyonia Preserve

Named after the Rusty Lyonia tree, Lyonia Preserve is located at 2150 Eustace Ave., Deltona, Florida, conveniently situated 35 minutes north of Orlando and 30 minutes southwest of Daytona Beach. 

Lyonia Preserve is a 360-acre haven for Florida’s unique scrub ecosystem, featuring sandy ridges, short oaks, low vegetation, and open white sand areas. Florida scrub is crucial for the threatened Florida scrub jay, the state’s only endemic bird. 

With 164 plant and 124 animal species, Lyonia Preserve offers a genuine natural experience. It’s where you can see gopher tortoises, bobcats, birdlife, and the curious Florida scrub jay.

Two children run down a hiking trail at Lyonia Preserve.
Aw! My kiddos running down one of the trails at Lyonia. Still exploring these trails a decade later.

With three easy paths on sugar sand, Lyonia Preserve invites exploration. The Orange Trail, a short 0.4-mile loop, is popular for its proximity to the library and environmental center. The Red Trail, a 1.6-mile loop, winds around a wetland area. The Blue Trail is the longest path, with a 2.4-mile loop and a 91-foot elevation change.

For an immersive experience, bonus routes like Red Root and the Blueberry Trail offer 2.8 miles of loops connecting the Red and Blue Trails. The Lyonia Boundary Trail, a 2.4-mile loop, traces the preserve’s perimeter.

What to wear? Opt for comfortable closed-toed walking shoes to navigate the sandy terrain. Bring water, sunblock, and a hat or sunglasses for sun protection.

Facilities include flush restrooms, pavilions, an amphitheater, a library, and an environmental center. 

A local favorite, Lyonia Preserve is best visited during cool weather, as summer exploration is ideal only in the early morning. While there’s no swimming, the environmental center provides an air-conditioned alternative. And the best part? It’s all free!

Scrub Oak Preserve

Scrub Oak Preserve is a 70-acre ongoing conservation project where mature oaks and sand pines are being replaced to convert the area into natural scrub habitat. 

It’s located at 1495 McGregor Road, DeLand, Florida, just a 40-minute drive north of Orlando and 30 minutes southwest of Daytona Beach.

The preserve is a flourishing ecosystem that is home to red-tailed hawks, deer, blue jays, mockingbirds, raccoons, wild hogs, and the occasional black bear. Florida scrub jays and gopher tortoises have returned to the area, thriving in their reclaimed home. 

Start on the 1.1-mile loop directly from the McGregor Road parking lot. The easy, sugar-sand path provides a unique experience, passing by a green pasture where you might encounter cows and other farm animals. 

Two kids and a German Shepherd pose by the sign for Scrub Oak Preserve in DeLand, Florida on a very sunny November day.
Obligatory photo of the kids and dog in front of the Scrub Oak Preserve sign.

Wear comfortable closed-toe walking shoes and bring water, sunblock, and a hat or sunglasses for sun protection. 

Facilities are limited at this preserve, so it’s best to come prepared. While exploring, remember that the area is still being developed, so please respect the natural habitat and take any trash with you. And it’s all free!

Longleaf Pine Preserve

Extending over 12,005 acres, Longleaf Pine Preserve offers a mix of wet and dry landscapes with ephemeral wetlands after heavy rains. It showcases longleaf pine, slash pine, and palmetto palms. 

The preserve has two entrances, but we have only explored the west entrance, located at 3637 E. New York Ave., DeLand, Florida. It is 35 minutes from Orlando and 35 minutes from Daytona Beach. 

This preserve is rich in wildlife, featuring bobcats, coyotes, foxes, deer, black bears, snakes, turtles, hawks, doves, and wild hogs. 

The paths include the Orange Trail (0.8 miles), the Red Trail (12.3 miles), the Green Trail (0.8 miles), and the Blue Trail (6.1 miles located at the east entrance).

We prefer a combo of the Orange and Red Trails, less than 2 miles roundtrip. It has a very cool section of raised wooden narrow decking to get you through the wet and muddy sections. 

Colorful trail map sign of Longleaf Pine Preserve in DeLand, Florida.
Plenty of miles to explore here.

To explore, wear shoes that can handle wet conditions and protect against the sun with clothing, hats, and sunglasses. 

Visiting during cool and dry weather, early in the summer, is recommended to avoid peak heat. Be prepared for flooded and muddied routes during the rainy season. 

Longleaf Pine Preserve provides a thrilling escape at no cost.

Lake Beresford Park

Lake Beresford Park sprawls across 211 acres, offering a serene wooded escape. It is located at 2100 Fatio Rd., DeLand. The property is 35 minutes north of Orlando and 30 minutes southwest of Daytona Beach. 

It’s a natural sanctuary where Lake Beresford and the St. Johns River connect. Wildlife abounds, with bears, gopher tortoises, birds, and squirrels calling the place home.

A 1-mile round trip portion of the paved Spring to Spring Trail runs through the park. The Lake Beresford Park Loop is a 2-mile paved path along the park’s perimeter. These routes cater to various mobility needs, including strollers and wheelchairs. 

Our top pick is the unpaved Lake Beresford Footpath, which leads to the lake on an unmarked route through Florida woodland.

Unpaved and leaf-covered Lake Beresford Footpath at Lake Beresford Park in DeLand, Florida.
A portion of the gorgeous Lake Beresford Footpath.

Explore in your comfy walking shoes and take advantage of amenities like flush toilets, a playground, and a pavilion. 

A community favorite, the park sees more activity on weekends and holidays, especially during the cooler months. Lake Beresford Park welcomes all, free of charge, providing a retreat for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and abilities.

The Colby Trail at Colby-Alderman Park

Stretching across 123 acres with palm trees, oaks, and the serene Colby Lake, the Colby Trail in Colby-Alderman Park invites you to explore its wooded forest. 

Found at 1099 Massachusetts St., Lake Helen, FL 32744, it’s a tranquil retreat conveniently located 35 minutes northeast of Orlando and 30 minutes southwest of Daytona Beach.

The 1.5-mile loop, with a trailhead in the parking lot, offers a mix of paved and unpaved paths, both shaded and unshaded. The versatility allows for shorter or longer outings, with numerous off-shoots to fit your and your family’s needs. 

Trek until you discover the bamboo garden. It’s a special treat along the way, and don’t miss the small overlook on Colby Lake.

Tall pine trees seen from below along the Colby Trail in Lake Helen Florida on a sunny January day.
Beautiful pine trees along Colby Trail.

Colby Trail, rooted in Cassadaga, a Spiritualist community, features interpretive plaques delving into its rich history. I recommend comfortable walking shoes. 

Colby-Alderman Park has pavilions, a playground, flush toilets, and volleyball courts. While weekends and holidays may draw more visitors, Colby Trail maintains its quiet and peaceful ambiance. 

The best time to visit is during cold and mild days. In summer, visit early to avoid the afternoon heat and thunderstorms. Embrace this magical place at no cost!

Audubon Nature Park

Audubon Nature Park, a tribute to ornithologist John James Audubon, is a lush refuge with diverse habitats located at Doyle Rd. & Lush Ln., Deltona, FL 32738. It’s a quaint outdoor area just 30 minutes northeast of Orlando and 35 minutes southwest of Daytona Beach.

The 1.1-mile loop is a harmonious blend of boardwalk and unpaved paths that wind through woodlands and wetlands, offering glimpses of Florida’s varied wildlife. 

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, and her children on the boardwalk at Audubon Nature Park in Deltona, Florida on a warm and sunny March day.
The kids and I looking for wildlife from the boardwalk and Audubon Nature Park.

Oaks, saw palmettos and other vegetation frame the landscape, creating an ideal birding spot. Look for ibis, egrets, herons, songbirds, alligators, turtles, and the occasional otter.

Dressed in comfortable walking shoes and sun protection, you can explore this tranquil retreat anytime. 

Connected to the East Central Regional Rail Trail, Audubon Nature Park invites you to savor its beauty and serenity. 

As a free and less-crowded sanctuary, it’s perfect for year-round visits, with the cooler months offering the most comfortable exploration.

Green Springs Park

Green Springs Park, a verdant 31-acre oasis, has a third-magnitude spring that pours 0.65 to 6.5 million gallons of water daily into a shallow run. The spring waters flow into Lake Monroe. 

Located at 994 Enterprise/Osteen Road, Enterprise, Green Springs is a mere 35 minutes northeast of Orlando and 40 minutes southwest of Daytona Beach.

The vibrant land, covered with oaks, magnolias, and pines, earns its name from the spring’s sulfur-infused, ever-changing shades of green. Turtles, fish, and birds animate the waters, offering a glimpse of Florida’s untamed beauty.

The trail options at Green Springs Park cater to various ages and mobility needs. 

Families with strollers, walkers, or wheelchairs can choose the 0.5-mile paved loop, accessible from the parking lot. It weaves past the playground, pavilion, and Green Spring Overlook. 

Additional unpaved off-shoots are available for those interested in a longer hike.

The sulfur spring source with it's lush palmetto palms, ferns, oaks, and vines at Green Springs Park in Deltona, Florida.
The ethereal Green Springs.

As the trailhead to the Spring-to-Spring Trail and the East Central Regional Rail Trail, Green Springs provides a gateway to broader adventures. 

Wear comfortable walking shoes, bring bug spray, and enjoy the amenities like playgrounds, pavilions, and flush toilets. 

With its local charm and a mostly shady ambiance, Green Springs Park invites you for a cost-free escape into nature.

Mill Lake Park

Mill Lake Park, at 207 E. Blue Springs Ave., Orange City, FL, is a picturesque community retreat featuring the serene Mill Lake as its focal point. Just a 35-minute drive north of Orlando or 35 minutes southwest of Daytona Beach, it offers a peaceful escape for nature lovers.

The property offers a meticulously maintained green space for families seeking quality time together. Mill Lake hosts a variety of wildlife, including birds, turtles, and the occasional alligator.

The 0.8-mile paved loop encircling Mill Lake is ideal for families with strollers, walkers, or wheelchairs. Kids can even ride their bikes and scooters. While the route lacks shade, the lake’s beauty compensates for the sun’s exposure.

View of the lake, sidewalks, and amenities at Mill Lake Park in Orange City, Florida on a sunny January day.
It’s a lovely walk on a cool day.

Prepare for your visit with comfortable shoes and sun protection. The facilities include flush toilets, pavilions with picnic tables, and a refreshing splash pad.

As a city park, it experiences peak activity on weekends, holidays, and during the summer. The best times to visit are on cooler, dry days, making it a delightful, cost-free outing for families seeking relaxation and recreation.

Blue Spring State Park

Blue Spring State Park, at 2100 W. French Ave., Orange City, stands out as a true treasure among the state parks in the area. It’s conveniently located just 41 miles north of Orlando or 38 miles southwest of Daytona Beach.

Renowned for its inviting 72°F crystal-clear waters, the spring transforms into a winter refuge for Florida manatees, creating a unique natural beauty.

The area offers three official routes catering to various ages and mobility requirements. 

The Blue Spring Boardwalk Trail, a one-mile boardwalk stroll along the Blue Spring Run, is perfect for families with strollers or wheelchairs and provides excellent wildlife viewing opportunities. 

A young girl looks at the camera while wearing a sloth onesie at sunset at the boardwalk at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida.
My youngest living her best life at a boardwalk overlook at Blue Spring State Park.

The Blue Spring Campground Trail is a 1.8-mile out-and-back paved and unpaved path. 

For a moderate hike with older kids, the Pine Island Trail, stretching 4.9 miles, offers a more immersive experience with potential muddy and wet sections.

Comfortable walking shoes suffice for the boardwalk or campground paths. Sturdier options or waterproof footwear are recommended for the Pine Island Trail. 

The park provides flush toilets, concessions, a campground, pavilions, and picnic tables.

Given its popularity, especially during holidays and weekends, arriving early or late is advisable. Summers are ideal for swimming, while winters attract visitors for manatee viewing in the spring run. 

Blue Spring State Park has an entrance fee of $6 per vehicle, allowing unlimited day-use exploration. Dive into the wonders of this local treasure!

Get more information from my A Family Adventure Awaits: Discover the 14 Best Things to Do at Blue Spring State Park with Kids post.

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Pinnable image featuring the 0.25-mile Sand Pine Scrub Trail at Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, Florida.
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4 thoughts on “From Theme Parks to Nature Trails: Central Florida’s Best-Kept Secrets for Family Hikes ”

  1. It’s so great that your kids have experienced “parks” besides Disney in Florida! They will be better human beings for it! Your youngest in the bear suit is so adorable!

    Reply
    • San Miguel Barbie, thanks! Yep, we definitely spend way more time out in nature than in typical tourist spots. Aw, I think she looks pretty cute in that suit too!

      Reply

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