Autumn in Florida can prove challenging. While we’re quick to chuckle at the northerners with their snowstorms as we stroll along the beach in our shirtsleeves, sometimes even the most hardened Floridian relishes the idea of cozying up to a fireplace in flannel pajamas, mulled wine or hot cocoa in hand. While that’s easier said than done with the sound of seagulls right outside your window –that is, if it’s cool enough to turn off the air conditioner and open a window – it’s still doable, and, if you’re willing to drive about two hours, you can have a cabin, lake, and fireplace. What could be more autumn that that?
WHAT: So close to Disney that you can see the theme park’s nightly fireworks show, Lake Louisa State Park offers an autumn respite for Floridians seeking the feel of autumn without all the pesky snow.
WHY: The park has a series of small, rolling hills, lakes, and wooded walking paths. In the center of the state you’ll find more pine and oak than palm, along with wild orange trees that remain from when some of the area had citrus groves on it.
If you have the time and really want to get into the feel of autumn, rent a lakeside cabin. The cabins are Florida-practical with screened porches that keep out the bugs, but serve campers well on chillier fall nights: every cabin has a fireplace, central heat and air, and honey-colored tongue and groove walls and ceilings.
During the day, you can hike over 20 miles of trails (or, if you have your own horse, ride along 15 miles of horse trail), picnic by the lake, or watch the wildlife from a wooden rocking chair on your porch on the water. At night, grab a blanket and a cup of cocoa and watch the fireplace blaze.
WHO: Lake Louisa is part of the state park system; it became a state park in 1974, after the state bought the former cattle ranch and orange grove from the Bronson family.
WHERE: Head east on I-4 to exit 55, then head north to Clermont on US 27. After about 20 minutes, Lake Louisa will be on your left.
BEST part: Along the hiking trails you’ll easily find tangerine, orange, and sour orange trees. Sour oranges will be coming into season in the next month or so, although they’re hard to find in the grocery store. Happening upon these large, bumpy-skinned, lemon-like oranges is a delight for anyone who loves the taste of sour orange pie.
WORST part: The park is lovely and large, but the cabins on a lake make the experience altogether wonderful. Best to choose a chillier night to spend the night or else the fireplace goes to waste while the mosquitoes lie in wait outside the cabin.
MAGIC Question: Entrance costs $4 per person or $5 per car; entrance fee waived with camping reservations. Cabins cost $120 per night; tent and RV camping costs $24 per night. The park also has primtitive camping at $5 per person.
Contact Cathy Salustri at