Mount Dora – Orlando

After hitting three new disc golf courses in the Tampa area a few weeks back, I was jonesin’ to play another new Florida course, this time in Mount Dora, just above Orlando. So I left early Saturday morning and reached Mount Dora four hours later. After playing a few rounds at the fun 9-hole course, I drove into the historic downtown section, where I enjoyed a nice walk as I took in the quaint and charming city. As I meandered further, I came upon a park that leads to a lighthouse out on a point. Not expecting to see a lighthouse, I was rather surprised by this, especially since it’s on a lake and not in the ocean. Turns out the 35-foot lighthouse was built in 1988 and is only one of two inland lighthouses in the state. Just beyond the lighthouse point walk is a boardwalk that goes along side of the lake, known as Palm Island Park. Full of fisherman braving the windy but beautiful conditions, I got some great shots of the lighthouse from there and enjoyed the trails that weaved through the woods behind the boardwalk.

After a few hours in Mount Dora, I then drove around Lake Dora, stopping here and there to check out the view. I then went over to Trimble Park, which is located on the southeast side of Lake Dora. Featuring some great lakeside views, they also had a real nice boardwalk that zigzags through a marshland, where I saw quite a few herons and egrets. It was also nice to hear silence as opposed to the howling wind on the lakeside of the park.

As I then continued my way south towards Orlando, I stopped by Magnolia Park in Apopka, where I played and won a disc golf tournament at in 2001. Even though the tournament had a temporary basket setup and the park didn’t have a permanent course, I had heard rumors that a permanent course had been put in and I always wanted to go back to the park to find out for sure. And to my disappointment, there was no course put in. But it was still fun remembering how the temporary course was laid out. And since I had disc golf on the brain, I next went over to Gordon Barnett Park in Orlando and played a round each at the two disc golf courses there. The heavy rains on Friday soaked the course pretty well and apparently my shoes too. The high winds added to my not-so-stellar rounds. As the sun started to set and my shoes slowly dried, I then met up with a friend for dinner.

My first stop on Sunday morning was at the Harry P. Leu Gardens right in downtown Orlando. I was very impressed with these gardens as the layout was beautiful, and even though the chilly weather has prevented all the flowers from fully blooming, they still made an effort to show themselves off. I particularly enjoyed the Tropical Stream Garden and the trail that led down to the overlook of Lake Rowena. I also almost crashed a wedding as I accidentally came upon one by the Floral Clock. I did the tour of the Leu House that was built in 1888 and occupied by Harry Leu in the mid-1930’s. I enjoyed the story of how his wife changed her name…from Mary Lou to Mary Jane – Mary Lou Leu just didn’t quite have the ‘ring’ she was looking forward to.

Just up the road in Winter Park was Mead Garden. Although not as grandiose and impressive as Leu Gardens, it was still very charming and had a picturesque natural feel to it. After ‘gardening’ all morning, it was time to get in some real exercise, so I headed to the eastern area of Orlando and Blanchard Park for a nice bike ride. I first came across this park when I first moved down to Florida in 99, and have always made a point of going there whenever I’m in the Orlando area. Boasting a great bike path that runs along the Little Econ Greenway Trail, I used to always rollerblade on it in the late afternoon. This time, my bike and I got to contend with the strong winds and chilly temps, but still had a nice ride and even saw some gators sunbathing on the other side of the Little Econlockhatchee River.

As I continued my way back home, I then checked out the Hal Scott Preserve on the eastern outskirts of Orlando. With miles ands miles of trails, one could get lost walking on them. Since I didn’t want to take that chance, I only hiked a couple miles of them. But it was the perfect way to end my tour of the Orlando area, where I got to explore some hidden gems among the city best known for its Disney attractions.

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