We have written before about Wild Florida, which has a drive-through safari. But it’s not the only wildlife drive in town. Around Lake Apopka, in a wetlands that was formerly farmland, the St. John’s River Authority maintains a free wildlife drive. This 11 mile route through wetlands, forest, and around the lake, features history, water reclamation, and, of course, wildlife.
What wildlife can you see?
The restored wetlands are home to a wide variety of animals, including over 300 species of birds. The area is a frequent stopover for species that are migrating, so you will be able to find different types of birds in different months and seasons. There are also bobcats and black bears in the forest section. And of course, because it is a wetlands, there are a number of alligators.
As you drive through, you’ll see animals on both sides. There are good viewing angles for both the passenger and driver’s side windows, and the road is usually a few feet from the wetlands themselves, so you will have enough distance to get a good look at the animals. However, unlike Wild Florida, you will probably only see everything once, as it is too long a drive to do multiple times in one day.
What else is there to do at Lake Apoka Wildlife Drive?
There are several pull-overs where you can get out, stretch your legs, and take a closer look (or take a better picture). There is also a parking area early in the drive, where you can walk over to the Historic Pump House.
This pump house was used to drain the wetlands for farming. You can still look inside, but you can’t go inside. However, because the windows are high up, smaller children will need to be lifted up to see in.
The Historic Pump House also hosts a couple of picnic tables, and a view of Lake Apopka. This portion of the drive is part of a multi-purpose trail so there will be hikers, joggers, and bicyclists sharing the path.
How will I know where to go once I enter?
There are two forks in the road, so you can take different paths each time you go. The first fork takes you either along Lake Apopka or through the wetland, and the second fork gives you two choices through the wetland. The guides at the front gate should be able to give you tips as to which is a better choice that day, in part based upon what you want to see.
Throughout the drive, you’ll see audio guide posts. You can download 11 audio files from the website, either before you go or during the drive, and each short – approximately 2 minutes, except for the first one – clip talks about the animals, the history of the wetland, or the restoration project.
Some of these are interesting for the kids – the ones that talk about birds, or alligators, for example. The ones that talk about land use are less interesting for them (although I enjoyed them). There are also some information kiosks if you are interested in pulling over to read and learn more about the project, the flora, and the fauna.
The wildlife drive is staffed by volunteers who can greet you and answer questions at the beginning. However, once you start the drive, you are on your own.
When is it open?
It is open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays, and Federal holidays, from sunrise to sunset. The speed limit is 10 miles per hour, and expect to spend 2-3 hours on the drive. It is one-way, so once you start, you cannot get off. There are several port-a-potties throughout the drive. We were told that they are cleaned regularly. You can find more information, and the audio files, at https://www.sjrwmd.com/lands/recreation/lake-apopka/wildlife-drive/
Is Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive on your list of places to visit in Orlando?