De Leon Springs - Orlando / Florida Guide
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On a recent visit to Orlando we thought we’d have a day away from the theme parks and go for a journey into the local ‘natural’ Floridian countryside.
We headed out east (although it goes in a northerly direction) on the I4 which goes over downtown Orlando. Like most of the visitors we say we’re going to Orlando but very few of us ever visit or even see downtown Orlando. Our route continued to take us east on the I4 where you see the city of Orlando from the road, with its tall, towering buildings. Continue on for another 15 minutes and you enter Seminole County - Lake Mary, Heathrow, Sandford where the land opens out with houses and open green land. The north of Orlando certainly feels less developed for tourists. Continuing on our drive we see a huge American flag for a Chevrolet garage on the left. Driving on we entered Volusia County – from here you could see the St Johns River with a huge wide lake – Lake Jessop. Quite a view!
We carried on until we took Exit 114 onto H17 heading for DeLand. This is a pretty, historic town to drive through – you can see where Mainstreet USA, Magic Kingdom got some of its ideas! Pretty lampposts, small individual shops painted attractively, planted raised garden beds, fancy slabbed pavements, wrought iron balconies… it felt very Victorian and we wondered if the character ‘Pollyanna’ (played by Haley Mills) would come skipping down the street!
At the end of the high street you drive through Stetson University. Delightful character buildings – colonial architecture with pillars, wooden structures, and beautiful gardens in a stunning tree lined road.
Continue driving on for around 7 – 8 miles out of Deland into De Leon, looking out for a sign (just before the post office sign) to turn left off the main road. Continue down this road until you see De Leon Springs a state park.
The Springs were originally used by Native Americans. In 1800 Settlers built sugar and cotton plantations and by 1800 the Springs had become a winter resort as visitors were promised ‘a fountain of youth’.
For around $5 you can enter with a vehicle and up to 8 passengers. After this I think it’s an additional $1 per passenger.
Here you can take a break from the car and driving. Catch a boat trip and look for alligators and bald eagles. The boat operates in the mornings between 9 and midday – (Reservations can be made Tel: 386837 5537).
After this you could take a dip in the Springs which are 72°F all year. Adjacent to the swimming area is an attractive picnic area for lunch. You can also rent a canoe, kayak or pedal boat.
And just to finish off the day stop at the Old Spanish Sugar Meal Restaurant – open 9am – 5pm and cook pancakes, choosing your own fillings, at your table. Our girls loved this experience and still talk about it. (Reservations/info for the Sugar Mill is Tel: 386 985 5644).
We drove approximately 80 miles, thoroughly enjoying a quiet day getting back to nature and showing Florida’s diversity. We will certainly do it again.
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