Lake Louisa State Park, on edge of Green Swamp, has so many appealing activities from camping to horseback riding
Lake Louisa State Park is so close to the Orlando theme parks that some nights you can hear the fireworks.
Yet once you are inside its landscape of rolling sand hills, lush cypress swamps and miles of pine forests dotted with lakes, the world of cars and commerce feels remote. The park, in fact, calls itself “a natural theme park.”
Here are seven good reasons to visit Lake Louisa State Park
- It’s hiker heaven. There are 20 miles of trails, including some with oranges growing from abandoned groves.
- Lake Louisa State Park cabins are large and comfortable. Because there are a lot of them, they are slightly easier to book than most state parks cabins, particularly for weekdays.
- Campers will find the campground beautifully situated between two lakes. There are also luxury “glamping” site, equine camping and two hike-in primitive campsites.
- A small sandy beach gives you the option of taking a dip or wading.
- Kayaking and fishing is popular on the the small lakes, where you can rent kayaks or paddleboards or bring your own.
- Lake Louisa State Park is a great destination for bicyclists — both within in the park, where you can rent bikes, and at nearby Van Fleet Trail, a 29-mile rail trail.
- The park concession offers horseback riding, not common at Florida State Parks, as well as Segway tours.
If you’ve driven by on US 27, you probably had no idea how big and spectacular this park is. One reason Lake Louisa feels wild and remote is because it is part of the vast Green Swamp, which makes up its lengthy western border.
More than 100,000 acres of Green Swamp, located between Orlando and the Gulf, have been preserved as public land because it is a critical recharge area for the Floridian aquifer as well as the source of the Hillsborough, Withlacoochee, Ocklawaha, and Peace rivers.
As a result of all that undeveloped land, Lake Louisa State Park attracts wildlife including deer, bobcat, gopher tortoises, fox squirrel, bald eagles, osprey and, of course, alligators.
Hiking and biking in Lake Louisa State Park
Lake Louisa State Park is perfect for hikers and bikers because there are more than 20 miles of trails that are also used by mountain bikes and equestrians.
There are also seven miles of paved roads with minimal traffic, and we saw many road bicyclists using them. You can rent bikes at the camp store at the Dixie Lake Picnic Area. For use on paved park roads only, they start at $10 per hour.
If you bring your own mountain bike, you can pedal on 20 miles of unpaved multi-use trails in the park.
We loved the variety of trails available in the park.
Some trails climbed sandy hills and led to small round lakes with lily pads. Others went through beautiful cypress swamps.
We particularly enjoyed the trails that went through old citrus groves. On our February visit, the forest was decorated with brilliant orange fruit and we picked some tasty tangerines as a trail snack. Some of the trees had reverted to their root stock, the sour orange – and, boy, is that name accurate.
(If you’re interested in hiking in former citrus groves, take the trails around Hammond Lake and in the southeast corner of the park.)
On a foggy morning, the hiking trails along the centrally located Big Creek were magical, with Spanish moss hanging from live oak trees and a half-dozen deer leaping through the woods.
There are so many intriguing trails that we spent two days hiking and still had places we wish we had had a chance to explore.
The beach at Lake Louisa State Park
The largest of a half dozen lakes in the park, Lake Louisa, is lined with picturesque cypress trees. It has a small beach with dark orange tannic water and very white sand.
We saw people swimming at the beach, apparently not put off by the sign that warned about the potential for alligators. There are no life guards.
There is a bath house, rest rooms, picnic tables and a playground at the beach area, making it an appealing place to set up for the day.
Families will appreciate the Lake Louisa State Park playground, located near the beach.
Kayaking at Lake Louisa
One of the smaller lakes, Hammond Lake, is popular with kayakers, who can rent boats at the store in the campgrounds. Here are details.
You can bring your own canoes or kayaks but they must be hand-carried to the water at the lakes.
An unusual state park treat: Horseback riding
Not many Florida State Parks have concessions for horseback riding, but Lake Louisa has a variety of equine options.
You also can arrange horseback trail rides in the park, starting at $70 for a three-mile, one hour ride. Here’s information. The minimum age is 8.
The horseback riding concession also offers riding lessons, both group and individual, as well as special events, such as date-night sunset trail rides followed by champagne, and early morning mimosa rides.
If you own a horse, this park also offers an equestrian primitive camp with five horse paddocks, fire rings, non-potable water supply, picnic tables, a pavilion, grills and a self-composting toilet. Equestrians may use 15 miles of the unpaved multi-use trails in the park.
Lake Louisa State Park cabins
The cabins in Lake Louisa are terrific — among the best in Florida state parks, and we’ve stayed in most of them. Each of the 17 cabins is located on a hill overlooking Dixie Lake. Each has a huge screen porch, perfect for watching sunsets over the lake.
What is also exceptional is that they have two bathrooms, making them suited for two families or two couples or a gathering. Maximum capacity is six people, using a sofa bed in the living room. Cabins have heat and air conditioning and ceiling fans. (The gas fireplaces no longer can be used.)
Outside the cabins are fire pits with benches and a picnic table and a grill. There’s also a picnic table in the screened porch.
The cabins are well equipped with the exception of offering absolutely no toiletries. (Bring your own bar of soap, dish lotion and paper towels.) Be aware: Not a deal-breaker, but the beds aren’t great and the lack of fitted sheets will give you new appreciation for this bedding innovation.
But here’s a plus: Because there are 17 cabins, Lake Louisa is one of the easiest of the state parks in which to find a reservation, even during peak season on weekdays. With the extra plumbing, these cabins are bit more costly — $120 a night plus tax.
Lake Louisa State Park camping
There are 60 campsites, many suitable for large RVs. These sites will grow more attractive every year as the trees grow tall enough to provide shade and the vegetation grows to offer a bit more privacy.
The campsites are situated between two lakes, with easy access to a fishing pier and hiking trails. A dump station is located between Dixie Loop and Sandhill Loop.
The campground has two accessible bathhouses and a small accessible pavilion.
Lake Louisa also has two primitive campsites, Wilderness Point and Pine Point. Both are tucked away in beautiful areas of the park. You must bring everything, including water.
New: Lake Louisa State Park glamping
Glamping — the combo of glamour and camping — is a new feature in several state parks, and Lake Louisa now offers both “luxury tents” and “ecotents” via a concessionaire.
Luxury tents have queen size beds with linens, a heating and cooling unit, electricity, a coffee maker, a chandelier and other amenities. You can add two twin air mattresses for an additional fee. There’s a bathhouse with toilets and hot showers a short walk away. The luxury tents are $155 a night. (Just a note here: The terrific cabins in this park — with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a huge screened porch are only $120 a night.)
Ecotents are located in a separate quieter location and do not offer an electrical connection. Here, the lighting is solar-powered and you are equipped with a single burner propane coffee station, a bottled water dispenser and one queen bed with linens. You can add two twin air mattresses. Portable toilets are nearby; the bathhouse is a half mile walk. Ecotents are $120 a night.
You book these sites at the concessionaire’ glamping website rather than the state’s reservation website.
History of Lake Louisa State Park
The park was developed in the early 1970s from land that had been homesteads, citrus groves and cattle ranch lands.
In 1910, John and Louise Driggers Hammond settled the land around Lake Louisa. The homestead included their home, a turpentine still, sawmill, shingle mill, a combination school and church, commissary, workers cabin and cooperage. The family exported their goods using steamboats and barges across Lake Louisa.
In 1943, the Bronson family acquired some of the property and established orange groves and a cattle ranch. (These are the old orange groves you may see in the park today.)
The land was purchased by the state in 1973 and opened to the public as a state park in 1977.
Lake Louisa State Park; official website
Clermont, FL 34714
What’s near Lake Louisa State Park: Great bike trails
For bicyclists, the top place to suggest would be the Van Fleet State Trail which is only 25 minutes away. The Van Fleet State Trail is a paved rail trail that runs 29 miles through some of the most rural and undeveloped land you’ll find in Florida.
Also appealing for bicylists is a nearby historic town that is built around a bike trail. The West Orange Trail runs down the middle of main street in Winter Garden. Here’s more about visiting Winter Garden and staying in the Historic Edgewater Hotel, which caters to bicyclists.
These Florida Rambler stories cover other excellent places to hike, bike, camp, kayak and explore near the Van Fleet Rail.
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.