5/7/2023 UPDATE: Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is closed to vehicular traffic Mon-Thu until further notice due to construction. It will open Fri-Sat and on federal holidays. Hikers and cyclists may still use the Lake Apopka Loop during these closures by accessing the trail via Magnolia Park and points west.
If you’re a birder, this is one destination where you will easily spend a day, or two, or a week or more. Especially in winter.
If you enjoy scenic drives, the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is unique. Unlike other wildlife drives in our National Wildlife Refuges and other public lands, this is a very long one. With options.
Narrow and bounded by marshes – and for one optional 1.5-mile section, Lake Apopka itself – it offers outstanding views across the wetlands.
There are several parking areas where visitors are encouraged to get out of the car and take a short walk, plus an audio tour that points out important features along the route.
Resources for exploring the area around Lake Apopka
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Length: 9 mile drive on an 13.5-mile road network
Address: 2850 Lust Rd, Apopka FL 32703
Restrooms: Portable toilets at several locations
Land manager: St. Johns River Water Management District
Currently open 7 AM to 3 PM (normally sunrise to sunset) Fri-Sun and certain Federal holidays. Consult their website for non-weekend open dates and closure notices.
Traffic flow is slow and one-way. Once you are on the drive, you are committed to completing it. There are no intermediate exit points.
Budget yourself at least two hours for this drive. Bring drinking water and snacks with you as there are none along the drive.
The road is extremely narrow in places. You will end up stopped behind drivers who block the road because they see an alligator. Be considerate and use the pulloffs.
Bicyclists welcome. The roads are unpaved and rough in places. Off-road tires recommended.
Ride along with the one-way traffic flow when cars share the road. The exception is the 1.5-mile segment shared with the Lake Apopka Loop Trail, where cyclists can ride both directions.
Leashed dogs allowed. However, alligators abound. Watch both dogs and small children if you leave the car to walk along the levees.
From US 441 in Apopka, follow SR 437 south to Lust Rd. A small sign points west to the Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive entrance. Turn right and pass under SR 429. Wildlife Drive begins where the pavement ends.
Once you enter the gates of Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive, there is a trailhead with a portable toilet a quarter mile down the dirt road.
It’s a spot where people park to walk or bike in when the drive is closed, and also a final turnaround before you commit to the entire drive. Past that, you enter the wetlands.
Along this introductory section, greenish goo floats on open water. That indicates the heavy nitrogen load entering the wetlands at this point.
As the road narrows and you progress past the wetland cells, that goo goes away. The water becomes clearer and cleaner as you get closer to Lake Apopka.
Four pulloffs provide perches for birding in the first mile. The road makes a horseshoe around a canal discharge at Conrad Rd, where you can stop and walk out on a deck over a wetland.
Narrowing tightly again, Wildlife Drive has vast open water on the left and mazy wetlands on the right. Use the pulloffs to marvel at the giant rafts of coots, gallinules, and teals.
Where the road briefly broadens is the access to the one major parking area along the drive, at the Historic Pump House. The final set of portable toilets are located here.
It’s worth parking in the dirt lot and walking up to the Lake Apopka Loop Trail for the view of the lake. A walk south along the trail provides fabulous open water panoramas.
After crossing a narrow bridge at 2 miles, you come to the first decision point: left for the Lake Levee or straight on Welland Rd and Roach Rd.
Both are roughly the same distance, but the Lake Levee route climbs up along the lake, sharing the views with the bike trail. Birders will want to stay on the lower route in the wetlands.
The routes meet again on Laughlin Rd, which is bounded by canals with wetlands beyond. We saw a lot of wading birds in this section, especially glossy ibis.
The next decision point is at the Raptor Kiosk. Straight ahead are audio tour stations 8 and 9 in the lower wetlands. McDonald Canal Rd offers a closer look at canals lined with woody marshes.
Coming together one last time at Lake Level Canal Rd at the Sunset Kiosk, the drive heads due north for a mile between treelines along a working farm.
Making a sharp right to pass by the farm entrance, the final piece of the drive turns left along the edge of Jones Avenue Stormwater Park.
As you exit, the gate at Jones Avenue opens automatically for each car. To return to Apopka, make a right to follow Jones Avenue to US 441.
Lake Apopka North Shore
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Discover the wild heart of Central Florida on a ride along the Lake Apopka Loop Trail, an arc spanning two counties along the lake’s north shore
With both wetlands and open water that attract birds, Jones Avenue Stormwater Park filters runoff from the neighboring community while providing wildlife habitat
On forested bluffs above Lake Apopka, Magnolia Park anchors the eastern terminus of the Lake Apopka Loop Trail near a campground under ancient live oaks