WINTER PARK, FLA. >> “Pause friend let beauty refresh the spirit,” are the words inscribed on the exedra at Kraft Azalea Park near Florida’s Lake Maitland.
You can’t see them while kayaking on the lake, but the message certainly rings true while enjoying the peace and quiet that comes with a morning on the water.
Winter Park — a 15-minute drive northeast of Orlando — has a chain of six lakes all connected by narrow, man-made canals. You could easily drive through the city and miss them, so in one sense — these gems are hiding in plain sight.
Recently, I set out with Peace of Mind Kayak Tours to experience all of the beauty — both man-made and natural — to be found on the Winter Park Chain of Lakes.
I met co-owner and guide Joe Koerner at Dinky Dock to launch our single kayaks into the refreshing waters of Lake Virginia.
Koerner proved to be a fun and knowledgeable guide, identifying plants and birds as we went along and also detailing some of Winter Park’s history.
He pointed out a house formerly owned by NBA player Horace Grant, which at one time was one of the largest in Winter Park. More recently, Koerner said it was dwarfed by a humble 27,000-square-foot abode on Lake Osceola.
Koerner also said that during Winter Park’s beginnings in the late 19th century, lakefront land was selling for just $2 per acre. Across the lake from the 27,000-square-foot mansion, we saw a 2.25-acre empty lot selling for $6.5 million.
Oh, how the times have changed.
A unique perspective
Koerner said that when he first moved to Winter Park in 1988, business slowed down for restaurants and shops during the hot summer months as wealthy homeowners fled north for cooler conditions.
As we paddled across Lake Osceola, we passed the house formerly owned by Mr. Fred Rogers, a Pittsburgh native who attended Rollins College.
As we approached the Venetian Canal that would take us north to Lake Maitland, Koerner talked about the appeal in exploring the chain of lakes.
“It’s surrounded by Orlando and Winter Park, but out here, you’re away from it all,” Koerner said.
Plus, if you can’t participate in the lives of the rich and famous, you can at least get a glimpse of how they live from a unique perspective out on the lakes.
When we reached Lake Maitland, we paddled past Kraft Azalea Park, glancing up at the birds flying overhead.
Over near the Isle of Sicily, we saw where the comedian Carrot Top and Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers both have houses. Ahem, mansions.
Ultimately, the tour proved to be as informative as it was relaxing. I enjoyed hearing about some of Winter Park’s storied history while also taking in the sights and sounds of nature.
Peace of Mind Kayak Tours offers daily experiences on the Winter Park Chain of Lakes and beyond. Adult tickets for the two-hour tour are $40 and tickets for children 3-13 are $33. Alternatively, you can rent a single or tandem kayak for a half day, a full day or even a week.
For more information, go to peaceofmindkayaktours.com.