When it comes to rugged spaces, natural thrills, and adventures on the water, Kissimmee and the surrounding areas are ideal for me and my action-loving family. This is where we like to choose our own outdoor adventures, whether we want to hike, bike, paddleboard, Segway, or kayak—or do a little bit of everything—all while learning about this ecologically important section of Florida and its wild inhabitants.
Vast open spaces and nature preserves are usually not what come to mind when we hear the word “Disney,” but that changes on the hiking trails of Disney Wilderness Preserve just south of Kissimmee. This Nature Conservancy-managed property protects 11,500 acres of flatwoods, freshwater marsh, oak hammocks, and cypress swamp, and the more than 1,000 species of plants and animals within these habitats. My kids love to count the many rare, protected, and endangered species that live here, including the red-cockaded woodpecker, wood stork, bald eagle, Sherman’s fox squirrel, and eastern indigo snake. They’ve started recognizing more and more of these, so they’ve having fun and learning all at once.
When I take my family here, we always do four things: wear comfortable shoes, bring bug spray, water bottles, and picnic lunches. Then we take turns choosing between a one-mile hike to cypress-line Lake Russell or the full scenic 2.5-mile loop. Before visiting, we checked with the preserve to see if the trails were wet, which sometimes happens after heavy rain.
After a day of exploring one of Florida’s wildest preserves, we like to spend some time exploring the family— and cycling—friendly town of Celebration and the trails nearby by bike. We rent bikes at Celebration Bike Rental and ride through a bustling downtown, past restaurants and shops, and through quiet streets. My kids love to compete, pedaling as fast as they can as they race along the waterfront. It’s a great way for them to release some energy while enjoying being outside. Celebration Bike Rental provided everything we needed, including trail maps to help us explore.
With the mild—and wild—side of the area’s natural spaces by land explored, it’s time to set out on the water. My family loves starting our aquatic adventures at Shingle Creek, the northernmost headwaters of the famed Florida Everglades and home to a plethora of wildlife. It was fun (and educational) to see animals they learned about in school in the wild. Expect to come across bald eagles, egrets, ibis, ospreys, great blue herons, largemouth bass and sunfish, countless turtles, and the occasional lazy alligator.
The Paddling Center at Shingle Creek is the launching point of our second day on the water. In addition to canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals, the center offers guided tours for all experience levels. Spend 1.5 hours paddleboarding (instruction included for beginners) while learning about the area’s ecology, wildlife, and natural history. Alternatively, take the center’s two-hour Cypress Forest Guided Eco Tour and kayak through the tranquil forest of cypress trees like the ones used to make the wooden shingles for which Shingle Creek was named, all while a guide teaches your group about the flora and fauna surrounding you. As a parent, I’ve found it incredibly rewarding to see my kids learn more and more about the area, and start to ask our guides great questions. It’s amazing to see their curiosity grow each time we get out there.
The options are limitless when it comes to land and water adventures in Kissimmee and surrounding areas. The combination of hiking, biking, and paddling activities available offer the best of both worlds for families who love nature and the outdoors and make for one unforgettable vacation.