Long known as Turkey Lake Park, the City of Orlando’s largest park covers 178 acres of rolling hills on the western shore of the lake. It’s an urban complex for outdoor recreation of all sorts, from boating on the lake to vast picnic grounds, a swimming pool, fishing piers, two 18-hole disc golf courses, a farm with barnyard animals, and camping – cabins, tent camping, and a small RV campground. A natural-surface nature trail runs the length of the park on its western edge. Combined with the paved bicycle path that loops the park, you can explore the entire park on this 2.4-mile walk.
Length: 2.1 miles
Lat-Long: 28.500772, -81.475042
Fees / Permits: $2 individual, $4 multiple passengers
Bug factor: moderate
Open 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Nov-Mar, 8 a.m. – 7 p.m. Apr-Oct
Leashed pets welcome but must be registered at the park gate office on your first visit
From the junction of Interstate 4 and Florida’s Turnpike, drive west on Interstate 4 to Exit 75B and follow Kirkman Road (SR 435) north for 1.6 miles. Turn left onto Conroy Road and continue 1.5 miles. Turn right on Hiawassee Road and drive 0.9 mile to the park entrance on the right. After checking in through the front gate and paying the entrance fee, follow the park road all the way back to the Carter Center, where you’ll find the turnoff to the cabins. Follow this narrow road down the hill and park in this lot. Alternatively, you can park in the Carter Center lot and walk down
Leaving the parking area adjoining the cabins, walk towards the cabins and keep to their left, heading uphill on the grassy slope into the slash pines. A “Nature Trail” sign guides you forward towards the treeline at the top of the hill. You hear the constant hum of Florida’s Turnpike, which defines the western edge of the park. Look for a small opening between the trees and a sign where the footpath begins, tunneling into sand pine scrub on this high, dry ridge above the lake. Green strands of smilax, also known as catbrier, dangle across the stunted oaks and silk bay. This trail, although close to traffic noise, has some rugged elevation gains and drops, enough to make the walk a lot of fun.
The white sand curves down into a bowl of saw palmetto before heading down a straightaway through the scrub. Passing a large pavilion above a tee for the disc golf, the trail reaches its first interpretive markers about the plants around you, such as sand pine and dahoon holly. Sand live oaks form archways over the trail. You see a disc golf hole off to the right before the trail emerges behind the Children’s Farm. The trail drops down sharply before it starts to follow the fence around the big red barn. This is not a petting farm, but a working farm, a great place for urban residents to bring their kids to learn about farm animals. A restroom sits at the top of the hill, and there is a water fountain and bench down on the farm.
Past the farm, the trail curves around a sinkhole and a tall sand pine with an unusual split trunk. The footpath undulates up and down these ancient sand dunes, with uphill climbs. Beyond an old pavilion, the trail leaves the scrub to enter the more developed portion of the park. Watch for arrows to keep you on the trail. When you come to a junction with a bark chip path amid the grasses, follow it to the left. It skirts between cabbage palms and oaks, passing gopher tortoise burrows. Keep left at the junction of bark chip paths. Citrus trees, primarily kumquats, surround the trail, dripping with fruits during the winter months. Passing the “Nature Trail” sign on the left, the trail emerges at a pavilion within sight of the front gate, where there is a water fountain and benches. You’ve walked 1 mile.
To continue the loop, turn left on the paved bike path and cross the park road. Be alert to bicycle riders zipping past as the trail drops down a hillside of pines and oaks. Descending to Turkey Lake through the woods, you get the first glimpse of the wall-to-wall development on the far shore. Despite the crowding of civilization, the shoreline of the lake is marshy, attracting flotillas of coots drifting across the waters. The trail curves around a picnic area with covered pavilions and grills and towards a boat launch before climbing uphill past the swimming and volleyball complex. Turn left at the T intersection.
By 1.5 miles you reach the playgrounds. Walk downhill to the pier, passing the restrooms. The pier provides a nice perspective on the near shoreline. As you leave the pier, follow the paved path up and around to the T intersection, and make a left. Thick with cattails and pickerelweed, the next little cove is always busy with bird life. The trail continues past it, behind the campground. Turn off the paved path at “Pole 6” of the disc golf course to follow the lay of the land as it slopes down to a bridge. Keep alert for golfers, alligators, and ant nests as you traverse this section, passing an ancient cypress stump, so you can walk along the extremely marshy shoreline for a short stretch. There are benches here for wildlife watching.
As you approach the dock, climb uphill to the bike path. You can see and hear the busy Turnpike in the distance. Atop the hill, Southlake Overlook, provides one more sweeping view of Turkey Lake. Returning to the bike path, walk past the ballfield to return to the parking area by the cabins, completing the 2.4 mile loop.