Central Florida is home to some impressive theme parks. If you head out east from the main attractions, you can see the real Florida. These small town communities have plenty of outdoor activities to entertain locals and visitors. St. Cloud is one of the best-kept secrets in the central Florida region.
St. Cloud, Florida is often overlooked by the larger communities of Orlando and Kissimmee. Located in northern Osceola County, the shores of East Lake Tohopekaliga borders this small town. St. Cloud was founded as a retirement community for returning Civil War Union soldiers. With this designation, the town became known as the "Friendly Soldier City." Today, St. Cloud has over 40,000 residents in the community. The town offers a mix of history with plenty of outdoor adventures. Its proximity to the central Florida theme parks makes it a popular spot for visitors as well.
For those wanting to get away from the typical tourist spots, St. Cloud has plenty of options. East Lake Tohopekaliga is often referred to as West Lake, Lake Toho, or just Toho. It is the largest lake in Osceola County and acts as the primary inflow of Shingle Creek from Orlando. For those who want to explore nature, Lake Toho is famous for its bass fishing and bird watching.
If you don't want to hop on a boat, Lakefront Park is located on the South end of Lake Toho. This park has a scenic walking path with plenty of benches. You can view the local wildlife including turtles, alligators, and waterfowl. A miniature lighthouse and children's playground are some of the other main draws for the park. Boaters can launch their craft off the west end of the lake by the Big Toho Marina.
Makinson Island is one of three islands on Lake Toho. Initially, the island was to be developed into timeshares. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) purchased the island in 1988. Today, Osceola County manages the land as a natural refuge. The island is opened to the public with a pavilion, hiking trails, and camping sites. You can even see a 34 passenger boat named the "Spirit of Osceola." This historic boat was restored by Mercury Marine and the Walt Disney World Resort.
The Reptile World Serpentarium is one of the most famous tourist spots in St. Cloud. This reptile zoo features more than 75 species of snakes. You can also see a wide selection of turtles, alligators, crocodiles, and lizards. Reptile World was founded by a herpetologist George Van Horn. The venom milking show is one of the zoo's most popular attractions. Behind the safety of a protective glass window, you can witness cottonmouths, cobras, and rattlesnakes milked for their venom.
Partin Triangle Park is located off Neptune Road. This park is the trailhead for the Neptune Recreational Pathway. The lush and shaded park features a pavilion, picnic area, and a playground. You can grab a racket and hit the tennis or racquetball courts. The 5-acre park even has space for your dog to get some exercise. For those with a boat, East Lake Toho is easily accessible from the park's marina.
St. Cloud has many rivers and lakes that cut across the community. If you want to see some of the wildlife and natural sights, you can take one of the airboat tours. These tours will guide you through the marshes and swamps of the area. If you are lucky, you may even spot an alligator swimming by the boat.
For a glimpse into St. Cloud's past, check out Peghorn Nature Park. Established in 1992, the 58-acre park was created as a way to take visitors on a tour of the town's past. The park was named after the Peghorn cattle that once grazed across the land. You can visit an authentic cracker village that shows how the original residents of St. Cloud had lived. Today, Peghorn Nature Park is a protected habitat of many native animals and plants. While much of the area has been developed, you can still experience a little bit of Florida's native wetland.
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