Lake Apopka was once the second largest lake in Florida and one of the top spots in the world for freshwater sport fishing. At one time there were at least 21 fish camps on the shore of the lake. The water was so clear that it was said that a fisherman could look in the water and pick out the fish he wanted to catch. Massive drainage of wetlands for agriculture decreased the size of Lake Apopka and waste discharges from local municipalities, industry, and nutrient laden runoff from farms turned the lake pea green with algae and doomed the sport fishing industry. Due to legislation enacted in 1996, the St. John’s River Water Management District has embarked on a 25 to 50 year, $130 million project to restore the lake to a Class III water body. Currently boating, fishing and canoeing are popular on Lake Apopka as restoration efforts continue.
North Shore Restoration Area
The St. Johns River Water Management District’s North Shore Restoration Area is composed of 20,068 acres on the northern shore of Lake Apopka. Most of the Restoration Area is composed of former muck farms, which were once either marsh or lake bottom.
More than 20 miles of hiking and biking trails cross the area. Visitors can also experience the wildlife via the Wildlife Drive along the eastern end. Multiple observation towers can be accessed in the Clay Island area. Trailheads include Clay Island, North Shore, Magnolia Park and the newest (not quite open) Green Mountain Scenic Overlook and Trailhead.
More info: sjrwmd.com
Nature Parks & Trails
One of the most amazing things about the Green Mountain Scenic Byway are the vistas, nature’s décor! At the north end of the byway and just minutes from Orlando, Sugarloaf Mountain boasts some of the best views of the Lake Apopka region. Yes, there is a mountain in Florida! Sugarloaf Mountain is the highest point in peninsular Florida at 312 feet above sea level, and the stunning views are worth the trip.
The byway continues through a lowland hammock known originally as Compton’s Hammock. The hammock has also become known as the Cabbage Patch, after a notorious roadhouse of that name that was located among the cabbage palms in the hammock back in the 1940’s and 1950’s. Large oaks, maples and sweet gums line the road, and rare Needle Palms, hapidophyllum hystrix, are found along the right-of-way.
If you look hard you can see many different varieties, Warea amplexifolia and Blooming Scrub Plum, are just a few of the endangered plant species you can find along the Byway.
U.S. and Florida State listed endangered Warea amplexifolia on the Ferndale Ridge, part of the Lake Wales Ridge within the corridor. Note the background of nearly bare sand, indicative of the nearly desert like conditions found on top of the ridge. Photo courtesy of Ed Gonzalez, Ferndale.
Blooming Scrub Plum, Prunus geniculata, Ferndale Ridge. U.S. and Florida State listed endangered. It is threatened by the loss of its habitat. Photo courtesy Ed Gonzalez, Ferndale
Oakland Nature Preserve
The Oakland Nature Preserves vision is to, “promote understanding of the fragile balances among land, water, mankind, and the environment by EDUCATING present and future generations about the natural systems of the Lake Apopka Basin and by RESTORING and CONSERVING the lands within the Preserve.” Its 128 acres consists of 90 acres of undisturbed forest wetlands while 38 acres are being restored to a longleaf pine-turkey oak plant community. The Oakland Nature Preserve is managed and restored by volunteers. It’s the perfect setting to view the flora and fauna of this region.
Oakland Nature Preserve
747 Machete Trail
Oakland, FL 34787
The 192-acre Ferndale Preserve is located on the western shore of Lake Apopka. It offers equestrian, multi-purpose, and hiking trails, all with amazing views of Lake Apopka. The preserve was once an orange grove, which is being restored to a longleaf pine-wiregrass ecosystem. There are many plant and animal species to be observed, even some endangered tree species. Lake County’s Park Rangers lead regularly scheduled nature hikes along with bird and butterfly surveys. The preserve has plans for a fishing pier, observation tower, a scenic pavilion, a boardwalk through the wet deciduous woodland, a picnic area and a playground.
19220 County Rd 455,
Clermont, FL 34715
The Great Florida Birding Trail (GFBT)
The Great Florida Birding Trail (GFBT) is a program of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, supported in part by the Florida Department of Transportation and the Wildlife Foundation of Florida. This 2000-mile, self-guided highway trail is a collection of 489 birding sites throughout Florida selected for their excellent birding or bird education opportunities. The GFBT is designed to conserve and enhance Florida’s bird habitat by promoting birding activities, conservation education and economic opportunity.
More info: floridabirdingtrail.com
West Orange Trail
The West Orange Trail is a 22-mile world-class rail-trail, which travels through the communities of Winter Garden and Apopka just minutes from Orlando. Some things to see on the trail are a xeriscape/butterfly garden about a mile east of the Oakland Outpost, the Winter Garden Historical Museum and beautiful views of Lake Apopka. The trail also provides access to Clarcona Horseman’s Park, with an equestrian staging area for their visit. Eventually the West Orange trail will be a part of the 200 mile planned regional connection known as the Lake Apopka Loop.
More info: West Orange Trail
The South Lake Trail
The 4-mile South Lake Trail connects to the 22-mile West Orange Trail at the Killarney Station Trailhead, which is located on the Byway in Oakland. The trail then connects to the 5.5-mile Lake Minneola Scenic Trail to create a 30-mile system of paved trails. A 1.5-mile spur connects the trail system to the National Training Center in Clermont. A 14-mile connection to the Van Fleet Trail is planned.
Lake Apopka Loop Trail
The Apopka Loop Trail (0.7 miles, paved) at Magnolia Park opened on June 1st, 2012. The new path connects on the north shore of Lake Apopka to property owned by St. Johns River Water Management District, considered to be an excellent birding area.
Trout Lake Nature Center
Founded in 1988 by the Oklawaha Valley Audubon Society, the Trout Lake Nature Center (TLNC) mission is to conserve and protect the natural environment and to educate the community about its importance.
This 230 acre nature center is located in Eustis and is the point where two watersheds join together. Water flow filters through a variety of wetland habitats to flow into Trout Lake which empties into Lake Eustis. Through a variety of programs TLNC works to educate and engage the community in protecting Florida natural communities.
Walking along its nature trails, traveling along the boardwalk or visiting the museum and education building gives visitors unique insights into Florida wildlife and habitats.
Trout Lake Nature Center
520 CR 44
Eustis, FL 32736