Apopka is one of those Florida cities I’ve seen the exit for countless times on the interstate, say the name out loud (because it’s fun to say!) and keep on driving. I never really gave it much thought as to what’s there. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a natural Florida paradise with lush greenery, haven for birds, delicate blooming flowers and clear water. And, it’s an easy drive from Orlando.
Recently, I visited Lake Apopka North Shore and enjoyed some of the new, 11-mile Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive. As Apopka Mayor Joe Kilsheimer explained, this important drive opened May 1, 2015, by the St. Johns River Water Management District and provides bird enthusiasts and nature lovers an opportunity to enjoy Florida wildlife. As I walked some of the drive with members of the Orange Audubon Society, I heard the calls of redwing blackbirds and grunts of pig frogs. I spotted an osprey, red bellied woodpecker, flycatchers, redwing blackbirds and blue heron.
What Exactly is the Lake Apopka North Shore?
Once Florida’s second largest lake at 50,000 acres, thousands of acres of Lake Apopka were drained under government programs in the early 1940s and converted to farmland. Under the Lake Apopka Restoration Act of 1985 and Florida’s Surface Water Improvement Act in 1987, Lake Apopka is in the process of being restored to its natural glory. Today, Lake Apopka is the state’s fourth largest lake with 30,000 acres of water and 20,000 acres of wetlands. Lake Apopka North Shore is the former farmland and the Wildlife Drive is along some of the former farmland.
Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive and Getting Wild
Only open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays during daylight hours, word has already gotten out about the wildlife drive because there was a steady flow of nature enthusiasts driving through. Some pedaled along on bicycles. During the days the area is closed to the public, restoration work is being done.
Bird watching Lake Apopka North Shore would probably be ideal during the winter season when birds migrate from the north (and it’s cooler for humans!), but as a member of the Audubon society pointed out, there isn’t a bad time to bird here. Why? That area has the highest number of bird species of any inland U.S. area with more than 362 birds having been identified.
I also saw several alligators and was treated to an airboat ride by Boggy Creek Airboat Rides, which typically don’t operate there. This provided an opportunity to view the pristine lake. Other wildlife living in the area include bobcat, river otters, coyote and raccoons.
Visiting Lake Apopka North Shore
Lake Apopka North Shore is about a 30-minute drive, northwest of Orlando and makes a great morning trip to experience natural Florida. When planning your visit, be sure to dress for the climate and especially bring along water, sunscreen, insect repellent and a hat. Also, check with Mosquito Creek Outdoors for a list of local outdoor-related events, to find guides or to order outdoor gear for your next outing – whether in Florida or across the country. Plan to grab lunch or dinner (or both) at Porkie’s Original BBQ and save room for the homemade banana pudding. Yumola!
Learn more about Lake Apopka North Shore by visiting floridaswater.com/recreationguide/lakeapopka.
View additional images from the day on my Flickr stream.
Note: I visited Lake Apopka North Shore as an attendee of IPW.