Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive (LAWD) opened in May 2015. It did not take long for word to get out about this fantastic location. There are a few drive-through birding sites in Florida; Black Point Wildlife Drive at Merritt Island and Ding Darling at Sanibel Island being among the best. The new Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive fits right in.
A one-way, 11-mile, dirt packed drive skirts the north shore of Lake Apopka, beginning at Lust Road and ending on Jones Road in Orange County, Fla. Currently LAWD drive is open Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and federal holidays between sunrise and sunset. Gates open at dawn and close approximately one hour before sunset. There are plans to put in a gate on a timer. No trailers or large vehicles are permitted.
Given the 10 mph speed limit it takes about an hour to make the trek, unless, of course, you stop along the numerous pullouts to view the birds, wildlife and marsh scenery. One could easily spend a good couple hours taking in the marshland sites and numerous birds. The Lake Apopka Loop Trail intersects portions of the trail allowing access for hikers, bikers as well as cars.
Lake Apopka is Florida’s fourth-largest freshwater lake. Unfortunately, in years past the lake became polluted with sewage and citrus-plant discharge. In 1996, the Florida Legislature passed additional statutes mandating that the lake get cleaned up. Over the next few years the northern shore of Lake Apopka was targeted for cleanup and marsh restoration. What was formerly farm land is now restored marsh and wetland.
During our visit in mid-July we took an hour and a half to make the journey, counting 18 bird species along the way, including barn swallow, swallow-tailed kites and osprey. Other wildlife that may be seen along the trail includes alligators, turtles, otters, bobcats and coyotes.
The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive is an excellent birding location and has already been named a Great Florida Birding Trail site. The site is North West of Orlando and it is well worth the drive to take the drive. Best viewing times (as usual) are early morning and later afternoon. There is no shade and few amenities so prepare accordingly.
At the end of The Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive one can find two Great Florida Trail Sites:
From a copy of The Lake Apopka National Wildlife Refuge Preliminary Proposal Telephoto Florida found online dated February, 2013 comes the following excerpts:
"This large and diverse ecosystem lies within an historic bird migration path that attracts huge numbers of migrating birds each fall—some to stop over before continuing south and many to winter there. The area has already been designated a Globally Important Bird Area by both the American Bird Conservancy and the National Audubon Society; it has also been recognized as one of Florida’s ‘Special Places’ by Audubon Florida.
“Wildlife within the North Shore is extremely abundant ... Over 360 different avian species have been observed on the property during a series of Christmas Bird Counts… Several mammal species are found … at least 65 species of butterflies… Twenty-three species of rare plants [have been found] on the property.
“Listed (protected) wildlife species known to occur on or near the property include: · Little Blue Heron · Snowy Egret · Tricolored Heron · White Ibis · Reddish Egret · Whooping Crane · Roseate Spoonbill · Wood Stork · Least Tern · Limpkin · Sandhill Crane · Bald Eagle · Crested Caracara · Snail Kite · Peregrine Falcon · Brown Pelican · Florida Scrub-jay · Florida Black Bear · American Alligator · Gopher Tortoise · Eastern Indigo Snake · Sand Skink
“Lake Apopka North Shore is a magnet for migrating birds... At night this large dark area by a large lake is attractive to birds migrating to the north or to the south. Birds that in the fall and the winter migrate to the east along the gulf do not all turn to the south towards migratory hotspot Fort DeSoto, but rather they make a gradual turn to the south and that brings them to Lake Apopka.”