A Weekend in Orlando: 3 new hiking trails and an eco oopsie

Hiking trail at Split Oak Forest in Orlando

Although I’ve lived in Orlando on and off for 6 years, I haven’t actually discovered many great nature places without venturing far outside the city. Lately, I’ve been making an effort to change that.

This past weekend, I took my partner to 3 places in Orlando I’d recently discovered. I’ll be writing about each of these places individually in more detail in the future, but for now, here’s a less detailed weekend report while it’s all still fresh in my mind!


Since Tim had worked late the night before, we slept in on Sunday morning, slowly waking up to a dreary day. Undeterred, and antsy to get outside anyway, I suggested we buy some rain boots and go hiking despite the rainy conditions. In fact, I felt very excited about the possibility of hiking in the rain, as long as I didn’t have to worry about my feet getting wet!

New boots

I typically avoid buying new items in order to be more environmentally and socially sustainable. In an ideal situation, when I need something, I will either look for it secondhand or research the most sustainable option.

(For what it’s worth, a search on earthhero.com showed these 2 options, and a search for “eco-friendly rain boots” turned up this article with 7 options on treehugger.com. Thredup.com would probably be the easiest way to procure secondhand rain boots, with 82 items showing up when I searched rain boots. In the past, I also have had luck buying secondhand footwear on Mercari.)

However, I am not a perfect consumer, and none of my preferred methods would get us rain boots in time to enjoy a weekend of splashing through flooded hiking trails, so Tim and I headed to Tractor Supply Company and purchased some Western Chief brand rain boots.

Ellie's new rain boots submerged in water on a flooded hiking trail in Orlando

When buying new, I try to make sure I am purchasing a product that will last a long time before I have to replace it, and I’m hopeful that these boots will see me through many soggy adventures!

Furthermore, when buying new items that I know might not be the most sustainable option, I try to communicate with the company to express that I would like to see them making sustainable choices–using eco-friendly materials, minimizing waste throughout the production and transportation process, offsetting their carbon footprint, using fair employment practices, and working toward a circular economy where they plan for the end of a product’s life.

I looked into the 2 companies and saw that Western Chief is a family business, and Tractor Supply Company does have a sustainability program, but I’d love to have a little more detail and transparency.

In order to somewhat offset our purchase, I wrote to both of the companies to give my feedback. Will this alone be enough to make them change? Probably not, but I’d like to think that if enough consumers voice similar sentiments (and vote with their wallets), companies will start to listen. Want to do the same? Check my phrasing below to see what I write when I give feedback like this!

  • A letter to Tractor Supply Company giving sustainability feedback
  • A letter Western Chief, giving sustainability feedback
  • A letter Western Chief, giving sustainability feedback

Oakland Nature Preserve

Armed with our new boots, we headed to the nearby Oakland Nature Preserve. I had been introduced to this place a little over a month ago, as it was the classroom for an FMNP course I took. It was Tim’s first time here, and I was excited to show him around!

With only 30 minutes left before the park closed at sunset, we set off on a brisk walk on the boardwalk path, which took us to a platform overlooking Lake Apopka.

Lake Apopka view from Oakland Nature Preserve in Orlando

The rain had stopped by this point, and the temperature was in the 50s, so we were bundled up, but the chilly gloomy weather was actually a fun change of pace (knowing that it wouldn’t be long before Florida turned its default weather back on).

I often enjoy days like that, because it reminds me of English weather, which always felt perfect for getting outside and having a brisk walk, but the visual input is still very much Floridian–even with cold temperatures, a quick look around tells you that you’re in Orlando!

Boardwalk at Oakland Nature Preserve in Orlando

Since I had gloves on and we had such a short period of time before we had to be back at the car, I didn’t take many photos on this walk, but above is a picture from a previous visit when it was much sunnier!

Although we would have loved to have spent more time in nature, darkness fell quickly, and it was time to depart. On the way home, we picked up a plant-based dinner from our new favorite pizza place, Pizza Nova, and finished the day off with a cozy pizza and Elton John night, watching Rocketman before tuning into the livestream of his farewell concert at Dodgers Stadium.


Elton John’s concert had kept us up late the night before, so we slept in again. However, once we were up and moving, I was very antsy to slide on our rain boots and hit the trails.

Split Oak Forest

After a quick breakfast, we departed and made our way to Split Oak Forest. I’d been here once before, about a month ago, for a Bioblitz event where Friends of Split Oak volunteers and Florida Native Plant Society members catalogued all the species we could find (video below).

Split Oak Forest is an interesting story because it is such a local issue in Orlando right now–there is a proposed toll road that would run right through the forest and further fragment all the nature. But that’s a story for another time.

I took Tim on the same part of the trail that I’d hiked at the Bioblitz. It took us through a few different habitats, and I pointed out some of the plants and lichen that I’d learned about recently. We also saw a lot of mushrooms, including some giant pink mushrooms!

It was much warmer today than yesterday, but not uncomfortably so. It was warm enough that we didn’t need jackets, but not hot enough to make us sweat through our long-sleeved shirts and pants. The cloud cover shifted so that parts of our walk were sunny and parts were cloudy.

  • Hiking trail at Split Oak Forest in Orlando
  • Hiking trail at Split Oak Forest in Orlando
  • Hiking trail at Split Oak Forest in Orlando

We couldn’t have asked for better hiking conditions! Except for the fact I was hoping for flooded hiking trails to splash through, but I knew our next destination would deliver on that.

But first, we went home to make a quick lunch.

Tibet-Butler Preserve

Once we’d eaten and rested a little bit, we got ready to head out on another hike, this time at Tibet-Butler Preserve, another place that had been in Orlando the whole time and I’d never known about it!

This was the location that I was most excited to explore. I’d visited for the first time only a few days before, but I hadn’t gotten very far, as both sections of the trail were flooded within the first 10-20 steps.

Now that I had rain boots, there was nothing stopping me from exploring this nature preserve, and I was so excited to have my partner joining me for the adventure!

The day had passed quickly, and we only had an hour before the park closed at sunset, but we made the most of it, splashing through the marshy trail and then branching off to a trail that went through scrub habitat.

  • Flooded trail at Tibet-Butler Preserve
  • Big orange mushroom at at Tibet-Butler Preserve
  • Sunset at at Tibet-Butler Preserve

In a portion of the scrub, I was shocked to see a group of trees that had incredibly huge concentrations of red lichen on them. It made the trees look pink!

We’d been so captivated by our surroundings and by the experience of splashing and squelching through the muddy trails that we hadn’t paid attention to timing. All of a sudden, it was 10 minutes before sunset and we rushed to get back to the parking lot.

From there, we stopped at Trader Joe’s for some plant-based ingredients I need to make a holiday meal later this week, and then we went home and enjoyed a little prequel holiday meal lineup while we watched some of our current show, Last Kingdom.

I fell asleep very early, wiped out from a weekend full of wonderful adventures right here in our own backyard in Orlando!

What are your favorite places in Orlando? Have you explored any of the city outside of the theme parks? Would you want to visit any of the places I explored this weekend? Let me know in the comments below!

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