I’ve lived in Florida my entire life. The obsession with seeing alligators in Central Florida in the wild bewilders me. I suppose it makes sense in the same way that I want to see a moose when I visit Maine, and I want to see a grizzly bear (from the car) when I go to Montana. I can’t imagine visiting Central Florida and not seeing an alligator, especially if I was trying to look for them. They are in just about every body of water — canals, retention ponds, rivers, and lakes. Heck, gators have even been known to take a dip in the swimming pool! A general rule of thumb here is to just assume there is an alligator in every body of water. It’s drilled into us from birth to the point where I couldn’t stand on the edge of Lake Tahoe in California without having a fleeting moment where my brain scanned for evidence of gators.
Yet, somehow people manage to visit our beautiful, swampy state and not lay eyes on a single alligator. Well, I am here to change that for you, folks! I’ve put together this list where you are almost guaranteed to see alligators in Central Florida. 🐊
Orlando Wetlands Park
The Orlando Wetlands Park is located on the far east side of Orange County in Christmas, FL. It includes more than 1600 acres of wetlands to explore. There is a wonderful trail that meanders along the shoreline where gators can often be seen basking along the shoreline. The park opened a new boardwalk in 2023 that crosses over the water in case you don’t want that up-close-and-personal gator experience. There’s also a free tram that you can ride through the park on select weekends. Aside from gators, this park also has an impressive bird population that includes the super cool roseate spoonbill.
Location: 25155 Wheeler Road, Christmas, FL 32709
Apopka Wildlife Drive
You don’t have to get out of your car to see alligators along The Apopka Wildlife Drive. Located on the north shore of Lake Apopka, this is almost a sure bet location to see gators in their natural habitat. The St. Johns River Water Management District set aside the former farmland as a nature reserve. The 11-mile dirt road drive comes with a free self-guided audio tour that explains the habitat and history of the land. Much like the Orlando Wetlands Park, this wetland environment is home to many species of migratory birds. Other animals including bobcats, coyotes, raccoons, otters, and eagles, also call the North Shore home.
Important to note: the drive is only open Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and some federal holidays. Always check the website in advance before making the drive out there just in case it is unexpectedly closed during other hours.
Location: Lust Rd, Apopka, FL 32703
Circle B Bar Reserve
When someone asks me where they can see gators locally, the Circle B Bar Reserve is the first place I send them. The park’s Alligator Alley is a world-renowned nature photography hot spot. It’s located on the northwest shore of Lake Hancock in Polk County, about an hour south of Walt Disney World. Once we had to literally step over a 9-foot alligator sunning itself in the middle of the trail along the lakeside trail known as Alligator Alley. You need to be very careful with small children (toddlers especially) along this trail and always walk with caution! Aside from this famous (or perhaps infamous) alligator sighting location, the rest of the park is absolutely gorgeous. The Shady Oak Trail (which is not along the water) is an easy walk under a canopy of oaks dripping in Spanish moss and resurrection ferns. There is also an excellent Discovery Center for children and adults to learn about the native habitats and wildlife.
Location: 4399 Winter Lake Rd., Lakeland, FL 33803
On an Airboat Tour
We have so many great airboat tour companies in Central Florida. You could easily see gators on any number of them. The rides and tour guides are always fun and it’s a great way to get a taste of Florida nature from the safety of a boat. My advice is to pick a tour company that takes you to the floodplains of the St. John’s River or Lake Jesup (Lake Jesup has the highest concentration of alligators in Florida).
Alligator Safety Note
It would not be wise of me to write an article about where to see alligators in Central Florida without a disclaimer about safety. Alligators are wild animals. You should never, ever, under any circumstances approach an alligator. You should always keep small children and pets away from the shoreline. Do not feed the alligators or taunt them in any way. This means don’t slap your kayak paddle at them or throw sticks or rocks or anything like that. Leave them alone. If you run into one along a trail, you should avoid crossing its path and not get too close. Always use a zoom lens for photography. Exercise precautions, and enjoy our native wildlife! ::steps off Florida woman soapbox::