Exploring Orlando's waters on an airboat (©Laura Anders Lee)
I've gone backward on Everest and upside down on the Hulk, but my stomach doesn't flip nearly as much on a roller coaster as when I see an alligator in the wild. There is something so thrilling about exploring Orlando's wild side.
Have you ever wondered what is the source of the Everglades? Many travelers are surprised to learn Orlando is home to the headwaters of the Everglades. Shingle Creek, which runs behind luxury hotels such as the Rosen, the Ritz Carlton and the JW Marriott, flows into Lake Tohopekaliga, then into the Kissimmee River system where it feeds into the Everglades.
The Orlando area gets 80 inches of rain each year, and that water pours into Shingle Creek and trickles down to South Florida. Without us, there would be no Everglades. While you're on vacation in Orlando, you can learn about this valuable eco-system through a variety of exciting opportunites. There's no need to take a day trip to South Florida when you can experience the wilderness of Old Florida right from your hotel's backyard. Rosen Shingle Creek invites guests to explore a 1.2 mile nature trail behind the golf course. Signs point out 135 indigenous plant and animal species from a wild turkey and a Southern bald eagle to a bob cat. Nearby at the Rosen Centre Hotel is Everglades Restaurant, which serves gator chowder. The dining room features elaborate murals depicting scenes from the Everglades. The Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes offers guided fishing, birding trips and eco-tours on Shingle Creek from a canoe or kayak.
Several airboat companies are also readily available to provide guided tours, including Boggy Creek Airboats, Wild Florida and a boat-load of others. Knowledgable guides will lead you through the canals and lakes to see some amazing nature. Thousands of alligators reside in Orlando's waters, and on just an hour tour, you can see baby alligators just a few inches long to big bulls more than 10 feet long. The sawgrass marshes and bald cypresses that surround are also home to beautiful birds, from white egrets and blue herons to the roseate spoonbill, tinted pink because of the number of shrimp it eats on a daily basis. (That's my kind of bird.)
So get out. Explore the great outdoors. Take a hike. Just don't jump in a lake.
SLIDESHOW: The Headwaters of the Everglades
(Photos ©Laura Anders Lee/Where)