Locals know Palm Island Park as the go-to place for watching birds and alligators along the edge of Lake Dora.
For us, however, it was a surprise find when looking for the Dora Lighthouse. Seeing people walking a boardwalk on the far shore, we needed to know why.
Since then, we’ve returned many times to enjoy its gentle beauty. The old-growth live oaks, tall cabbage palms, and ancient cypress attract many birds to roost.
Invasive species battle for the understory, but the boardwalks focus your attention on the lake and its residents. On a meandering route, you can walk up to a mile.
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Location: Mount Dora
Length: 1 mile in a figure-8 loop
Trailhead: 28.793683, -81.641817
Address: 411 S Tremain St, Mount Dora
Restroom: At nearby Gilbert Park
Land manager: City of Mount Dora
The park opens sunrise and closes at sunset. You definitely don’t want to be out there at dusk when the birds are coming in to roost.
Leashed pets welcome. No bicycles. Fishing welcome, but no casting from the boardwalk. Access the shoreline or use the platforms provided.
From US 441, follow Donnelly St. through downtown Mount Dora. Turn left on E. 3rd Avenue, and right on S. Tremain St. Continue to the end of the street where it intersects with Liberty Ave, and park in the lot.
From the parking area, follow the paved path through the park gate. You are immediately faced with a choice: a path to the left through the cypress, or the boardwalk.
Follow the boardwalk to start. It swings out over a cove in Lake Dora and parallels the cypress-lined shoreline.
Looking down into the water, especially on the shoreline side, we’ve watched coots and moorhens, mergansers and rails.
Up in the trees, expect cormorants, ibis, and smaller egrets, including snowy egrets and little blue egrets.
A roofed platform has benches, giving anglers a place to cast out of the sun and mobility-challenged visitors to rest.
After the curve in the boardwalk, there is a ramp leading to a broad path into the cypress. Take this to find an ancient tree with a hollow in it.
At this T junction, turn right. The footpath is broad and barely above the level of the surrounding swamps.
A dense upper canopy keeps the walk shady. Take the next left for an exploration down a dead-end trail with a lot of large trees along it.
Returning to the same intersection, continue straight ahead until you find the next left. It leads to a set of trails closer to the shoreline.
At the next trail intersection, turn left to walk out to the very tip of the peninsula on Palm Island, surrounded by marshes.
Return back to the intersection and turn left. Around a half mile, this path meets the boardwalk that sweeps around along the open water of Lake Dora.
Look out, but look inwards, too. At the curve the boardwalk makes, we’ve often spotted alligators climbing right up the live oak branches to sun.
The boardwalk ends at the cross trail (the same one that led to the tip of the peninsula) and restarts on the other side.
After passing beneath the oak canopy, it emerges out to the cove of the lake again. From here you can see the boardwalk stretching around to the entrance gate.
In this near part of the cove, look up into the trees to see anhingas drying their wings, and cormorants and ibis roosting.
Look down into the grassy waters to spot young alligators. This is the most likely area in which to spot them.
Sealing the loop, you reach the ramp leading down to the cypress with the big hollow in its base. Stay on the boardwalk and follow it around to the gate.
Instead of walking through the gate, take the path to the right. It quickly turns to a natural surface footpath and meanders through the woods.
As it winds through the cypress, note the size of these giants. The understory is relatively open so you can see the boardwalk in the distance.
Reaching a T intersection with homes behind it, the left leads to the neighborhood while the right leads to the hollow cypress. Turn right.
When you return to the hollow cypress, turn right and walk back up the ramp to the boardwalk.
Follow the boardwalk around one last time, savoring the views, to reach the front gate and finish your mile-long walk.
See our photos of Palm Island Park
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
With trails that lead you deep into a very large sinkhole, Hidden Waters Preserve in Eustis offers a fascinating hike with elevation changes and interesting terrain
A 1.3-mile nature trail at Trimble Park near Mount Dora offers a family-friendly outdoor adventure beneath ancient oaks and cypresses along the shorelines of two lakes
On 230 forested acres on the northern shore of Trout Lake, Trout Lake Nature Center in Eustis offers a fun network of family-friendly interpretive nature trails.