by Kim Hays
former OMB contributor
If the great outdoors isn’t really your thing, but you want your children to grow up with a better relationship with Mother Nature than you have, then Trimble Park, a 40-minute-trip from downtown Orlando is the perfect spot to test their meddle. Let’s just call it “nature light.” Sure there’s dirt and bugs and, in the summer, heat, but civilization is just around the corner should your kid turn out to be just like you.
To get there, head northwest toward Mount Dora on U.S. Highway 441 (Orange Blossom Trail). You’re looking for the tiny hamlet of Tangerine, where you’ll turn left onto Earlwood Drive and follow it until it ends in the gorgeous, Spanish-moss-canopied Trimble Park. Click for map.
Your kids will be delighted to see an enormous playground nestled in the shade and a giant felled tree that now grows sideways that’s perfect for climbing. You can take a seat on one of the plentiful benches or picnic tables and take in the action or simply sit back and enjoy the scenery.
Only later will your kids realize that the park is surrounded by a lake, complete with a fishing pier and boat docks. Be sure to venture close to the water for a look at what lurks there (there’s no swimming in this gator-infested lake!) as well as interesting foliage, including “cypress knees.” Look closely to find a secret swingset that overlooks the lake.
But the best part of Trimble Park is the nature trail, a 1.3-mile loop that’s easy enough for kids and novices. Enormous oaks and cypress tower over the well-maintained wide trail that loops along the lake’s shore. Massive philodendrons give the feel of a prehistoric jungle. There’s plenty of room to walk side-by-side and keep you from getting into too-close-for-comfort contact with creepy crawlies. Sure you’ll probably see spiders and lizards, but you may also dragonflies and blue herons. (The trail was absolutely filled with fluttering butterflies during our most recent trip in mid-September.)
Then there’s the silence. Follow the signs to “The Point” and take a seat on the bench overlooking the spot where Lake Beauclair and Lake Carlton meet, and enjoy it. The trail then turns into a boardwalk and eventually splits to go back to main park or the campground. Hot and sweaty? There’s a misting shower near the water fountain to help you cool off.
Even if you’re not a nature fan, I have no doubt you and yours can survive his short, easy hike. And even if you opt out of the walk, the breathtaking beauty of this gem of a park (paired with the playground) makes it a perfect diversion from the city and a tame introduction to nature. Be sure to let us know if you decide to give it a go.
IF YOU GO: Everything here is free, parking is plentiful, and rarely does the 71-acre park get crowded. Be sure to read all about what you’ll see if you decide to take the hike at the Florida Hikes! website. And come prepared: Even though it’s “nature light,” it’s still a hike, folks. That means sneakers, long socks and bug spray. Avoid dusk, when the mosquitos are out in force. If you go in summer, be sure to pack water. But if you forget, the hike’s short enough that you’ll be fine filling up before and after at the park’s water fountain. After you’ve braved the brief hike, you might want to consider an overnight trip in the great outdoors. While I’ve only been to Trimble Park for day trips, my parents have overnighted in Trimble Park’s campground with my elementary-school-age twins. The Orange County park offers RV and tent camping for a song. Click here for details. (We don’t recommend tent camping here in the summer. You know, heat, bugs, etc.) The park is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the summer, and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the winter. Address: 5802 Trimble Park Road, Mount Dora. Phone: 352-383-1993