This is Hike #21 in the book 50 Hikes in Central Florida, completed on May 16, 2021.
Orlando Wetlands Park is located in Christmas, Florida, which is east of Orlando. I arrived a little after 10:30 am. I accidentally brought my old, unusable, hiking boots, so I completed this hike wearing my Vans shoes. Fortunately, despite the park’s name, the trail was dry.
The first part of the hike was along the South Woods Branch Trail through a shaded woods. After ten minutes I emerged into a sunny area and Lake Searcy. To the left was an observation deck which I briefly climbed to take in the lake view. From here the hike continued on a sandy road which skirted around the southern and eastern edges of the lake.
Walking around the eastern edge of the lake, I spotted a large alligator sunning itself on the road I was walking. It saw me, as well, and slowly moved down into the water. I had only time enough to take one photo before it disappeared.
I might have walked a little bit quicker past the spot where I last saw the gator. I did not see it again, but I would have more close encounters later in the hike. Closer ones.
From the northeast corner of the lake near a hidden shelter, the North Woods Branch Trail turned right into the woods. It zigzagged through a shady forest and emerged at the junction of the Wilderness Trail. Although not part of the book’s route, I walked across a wooded bridge to the Perimeter Trail, which would lead to the Florida Trail to the east. I took some photos and crossed back over the bridge.
I headed west on the straight-line Wilderness Trail until I arrived at the aptly-named Vulture View. In this clearing beside the marsh were several black vultures enjoying the sun. I walked past them down Bald Eagle Boulevard, another sandy road. To my left were beautiful views of the wetlands.
On the road I joined a large flock of black vultures who weren’t very bothered by my proximity. They barely moved out of my path. It was fascinating seeing these birds up-close.
At the end of this road I reached a shelter with a picnic table. I stopped here for a quick lunch. Rested, fed, and hydrated, I walked a short distance south on Wetlands Boulevard to Alligator Alley. True to its name, I spotted a couple of alligators floating just a small way from the end of the road. They were in the water so I wasn’t worried about being so close to them.
I took a few photos and walked down alligator Alley, a double-track trail on top of a levee, to Otter Boulevard. In this southwest section of the park is a maze of named sand roads and trails.
The book’s suggested route headed toward the southwest corner of the park, crossing Bittern Boulevard and Blue Heron Boulevard, and continuing on Snowy Egret Way. At the corner of the park was an observation deck with views back towards the park. Here there was a small pond with a hole and underground pipe, part of the wastewater treatment process.
The route continued east along Hawk Highway. This section was open and sunny (and hot) with more views across the wetlands (see photo, at top).
Although this sandy road went back to the parking lot, the suggested route turned left back into the wetlands. Shortly after I turned up Blue Heron Boulevard, I had my scariest hiking moment to-date. Walking towards a culvert to the right of the trail, I got within 20-25 feet of an alligator hidden in some tall grass. It was facing away from me. I froze. Although startled, I had the presence of mind to raise my phone to take one quick photo before backing way and quickly walking on down the trail.
Looking back, I’m rather surprised how calm I remained despite nearly walking right up on a medium-sized gator.
The route crossed the same roads here and turned right down Otter Boulevard. Again, there were beautiful views across the wetlands here. Soon I reached the southern end of Wetland Boulevard and took it back to the parking lot. I spent a few minutes looking at the bat houses and browsing the visitor pavilion before leaving.
On my way home I took a small detour to downtown Titusville to Playalinda Brewing for a cold beer at the original Hardware Store location.