Beaches and Outdoors

By KEVIN FRITZ

Whether nature-made or artificial, the Central Florida region is home to plenty of options for the family to cool off or explore.

Sebring is home to 95 crystal-clear lakes and the Highlands Hammock State Park, one of Florida’s oldest parks and a gem you must not miss. The park is renowned for its beautiful old-growth hammock and thousand-year-old oaks. You may catch a glimpse of a black bear and the Florida panther. An elevated boardwalk traverses cypress swamp where you may observe alligators, birds and other wildlife. Cycle the scenic three-mile loop drive or hike the park’s nine nature trails. Picnicking, birdwatching, catch-and-release fishing and ranger-guided tours are other popular activities and a fully accessible tram tour allows visitors to view wildlife relatively up close. Campers should check out the full-facility and the youth/group campgrounds.

In Polk County, the Allen David Broussard Catfish Creek Preserve State Park covers more than 8,000 acres of scrub, sandhill and flatwoods land.

Like fishing? In Osceola County, Lake Tohopekaliga, known as Lake Toho, covers 22,700 acres, spans 42 miles in circumference, and is a hotbed for bass.

Take the family waterskiing, wakeboarding, wakeskating, wakesurfing and kneeboarding at the Orlando Watersports Complex. A short drive west, Lake Louisa in Clermont is the largest in a chain of 13 lakes and is designated an Outstanding Florida Water Way. Grab a pole or canoe and relish in the beauty of Lake County.

Excellent outdoor activities await north of Orlando, including the Lake Apopka Loop Trail, offering 15 miles of family biking where the odds of seeing a ‘gator are fantastic. Want to tube down a crystal-clear river fed by natural springs? Located in Apopka, local favorite Rock Springs Run at Kelly Park offers swimming, hiking trails, picnicking and concessions.

Visit Blue Spring State Park, home to hundreds of manatees, where the clear, 73-degree waters welcome swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers. Picnic on the beach or stay the night at the campground.

In the Ocala National Forest, the southernmost forest in the United States, dozens of campgrounds and 600 lakes, rivers and springs welcome visitors year-round.