Great Runs in Orlando

Mark Lowenstein
Feb 23, 2016 · 8 min read

Orlando is a major leisure and business travel destination. The running situation there is mixed. It’s possible to get stuck at a hotel near Disney or the Convention Center where it’s unpleasant or even unsafe (no sidewalks) for running. But there has been greater attention to making Orlando more run-able and walk-able. There are some nice parks, lakes, and trails just north of downtown Orlando. Winter Park, a suburb 7 miles northeast of Orlando has great running options: numerous trails, parks, pleasant residential streets, and a pretty downtown/commercial area. In the resort area, Disney has been working to create running routes at its properties. The best bet in that area is Celebration, a planned community a 15-minute drive from Disney. Because Orlando is so spread out, we have grouped our runs into four areas: Downtown, Disney/Universal/Convention Center area, and Further Afield/Destination runs.

Orlando is very flat. It takes some real doing to find some hills.The weather in Orlando can be both appealing and unappealing for runners. November through April is generally delightful for running — mild to warm, with the occasional hot snap or cool snap, and drier than summer. May through September are very hot and humid, with little relief, and there can be periods of heavy rain. Plan hydration carefully. And be wary of thunderstorms — an almost daily occurrence in the warmer months.

The Iconic Routes

  1. Downtown Orlando Tour
  2. Gaston Edwards Park/Orlando Urban Trail
  3. Orlando northern suburbs - Cady Trail/Baldwin Lake/Winter Park
  4. Disney Area
  5. Celebration

The Routes

Downtown Orlando Tour

5 miles. Start: Parking lot at Publix, Lake Eola. MAP

This is a tour of downtown Orlando that can be started from numerous points depending on where you’re staying. Downtown is a mix of urban jungle and some lovely lakes, some with trails around the perimeter. The signature segment of this run is a tour of lake Eola, which is 0.8 miles around. Lake Davis is also a highlight.

Gaston Edwards Park/Orlando Urban Trail

6 miles. Start: Gaston Edwards Park (2 mi. north of Lake Eola) MAP

This is another good option near downtown. This route, which starts at Gaston Edward Park, 2 miles north of Lake Eola, follows lakeside paths and roads, plus the Orlando Urban Trail. The run incorporates 6 lakes: Ivanhoe, Highland, Rowena, Estelle, Sue, and Winya. Other landmarks include the Orlando Science Center, Orlando Museum of Art, and the Botanical Garden.

Cady Way Trail

5.8 miles ONE-WAY. Paved. MAP
Start: south: just north of Fashion Square Mall; north: Cady Way Park

This is some of the closest off-r0ad running to downtown Orlando. Starting at Fashion Square Mall, which is 3.5 miles northeast of downtown, the trail runs nearly 6 miles toward Winter Park, ending at Cady Way Park. A nice connection/add-on is Baldwin Lake, ~1 mile from the southern terminus of the Cady Trail.

Disney Area

If walking the parks isn’t enough and you have an opportunity to sneak out, there are some decent running options in the Disney area. It does take a little research and planning, as some of the hotels inside and outside the Disney resort are on very busy roads and/or don’t have sidewalks. Working with New Balance, Disney has created and identified more than 16 miles of running/walking trails winding throughout Walt Disney World Resort. Allears.net is a great info resource for Disney in general and has a section on running.So here are some suggestions.

  • Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness have a 2.5 mile trail marked in this MAP. There are some other trails in the area, such as the “Swamp Trail”. Parts are quite nicely shaded.
  • Disney Resorts with Jogging Paths: Polynesian, Grand Flordian, (Seven Seas Lagoon), Caribbean Beach, Coronado Springs, Old Key West. Most are 1–2 mile paths around the resorts or small lakes. At the Swan/Dolphin reports, use the Hollywood Studios-Epcot connector path. Page with info
  • Epcot Area. MAP of four route options in this area. A 1.2 mile paved path runs between Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Epcot, passing the boardwalk and Swan and Dolphin resorts (where you can run around the lakes there). MAP
  • Hotel Blvd./Downtown Disney area. Many of the outside the Disney resort hotels are located on Hotel Plaza Blvd., just south of Rt. 535, and near the Disney Springs/Downtown Disney/Pleasure Island complex. It’s possible to run here along Hotel Plaza Blvd., staying left onto Buena Vista Dr. It’s 2.4 miles one way. MAP. It is also possible to run in the Disney Springs complex, with good paths/boardwalks, especially in the morning, before stores open. There’s also a Fit2Run running store there. It is possible to put together ~2 miles within the complex. Note: currently a lot of construction, parts closed off. MAP

Convention Center & Universal Studios Area

4.7 miles between Universal Studios and SeaWorld on International Drive, passing by Convention Center. MAP
Don’t despair if you get stuck at one of the Convention Center hotels. Running along International Dr. is OK — there is a paved path along the way and it is pleasantly landscaped. It’s pretty busy and touristy, but it’s fine for a quick run. We’ve created a map of 4.7 miles north-south from the Loews Portofino Bay/Hard Rock hotel area, passing Universal CityWalk, the Convention Center, and many of the area hotels, to Rt. 528, just north of SeaWorld. Note: no sidewalk on International Dr. south of SeaWorld.

Celebration

Miles of pleasant roads and trails. MAP with various options

Celebration, FL is a master planned community, opened 20 years ago, named by Forbes as one one of the “most beautiful towns in America”. The homes are lovely with porches facing the street, the roads are quiet and lined with sidewalks, and there are numerous community sites along the way. This is a worth it place to use as a destination run, and it’s only a 15-minute drive from the Disney complex. The Celebration Town Hall Marathon runs at the end of January and is very popular.

Further Afield/Destination Runs

Orlando is very spread out. Since most travelers to Orlando have a car, we thought it would be worthwhile to point out some favorite running spots in the Orlando area.

Blue Jacket Park/Baldwin Lake.

6 miles NE of downtown. 1 mile around park; 2.5 miles around lake. Info

A worthwhile destination if you’re staying downtown and looking to get off the road. 15 minute drive from downtown and a nice tour around the lake. Also a running track in the park. Also connects to the Cady Way Trail, just to the east of the lake, which continues another ~5 miles north toward Winter Park.

Winter Park Tour

7.5 miles. Start: Downtown Winter Park @ Park Ave. & Morse. MA

Winter Park is a pleasant suburb 7 miles north of Orlando. There is a pleasant downtown with restaurants and bike shops, parks, lakes, and pretty residential streets, and a few different trails. We’ve put together a “highlights of Winter Park” run, which includes the cute, shaded Park Ave., a jaunt out to Lake Maitland and the Kraft Azalea Garden, and some of the lovely residential streets west of the lake and east of the Winter Park Village Mall.

West Orange Trail

22 miles ONE-WAY. Paved. Join at any section, esp. Winter Garden. MAP

Popular for biking and running, the West Orange Trail is a world-class rail trail through urban and suburban sections of Orange County. The trail runs from the Killarney Station trailhead on SR50 west of Oakland, through Winter Garden and to Apopka, ending at Welch Road. A spur at Killarney Station connects to the South Lake/Minneola Scenic Trail.

Cape Canaveral/Cocoa Beach

6.5 miles ONE-WAY, following half-marathon route from Cocoa Beach Pier to Orlando Beach. Make it longer or shorter. MAP
Good side option: W. Cocoa Beach Causeway (Rt. 520), 3.5 miles ONE-WAY

About 70 miles east of Orlando, the Cape Canaveral/Cocoa Beach area is a worthwhile destination if you have a time. Cape Canaveral is quite a site and the tour is really interesting. And if you like beach running, Cocoa Beach is one of the greats in North America. You can run for nearly 10 miles along this wide beach, and at mid to low tide, the surface is firm and fantastic for running. It’s the site of the USA Beach Running Championships. And once you clear the main part of somewhat honky-tonk Cocoa Beach, it’s really quiet. Our route follows the course of the “Run on the Beach” half marathon and 10k (May), which starts at Cocoa Beach Pier and heads south for 6.5 miles, turning around at Nielson’s Surf Shop at Orlando Beach. A fun alternative activity is to rent a ‘beach bike”, and do that activity or combine it with a run. A good side option is to run across the W. Cocoa Beach Causeway, which is 3.5 miles ONE-WAY.

STAY

Orlando is a major leisure and business travel (conventions) destination, and there is no shortage of hotels. A quick hotel guide for access to decent running, by area:

  • Downtown: stay near Lake Eola, or near Gaston Edwards Park (Hilton Doubletree), for access to downtown & Orlando Urban Trail run. There are NOT that many hotels near Cady Trail or Baldwin Lake.
  • Disney. Note above info on the Disney resorts with jogging trails. Best option is Disney Wilderness Lodge or hotels near there for access to extensive trails there. Another option is to stay near Celebration, toward the southern end of the Disney Resort.
  • Convention Center/Universal. Lots of hotels on International Drive, with good access to running on International Drive.

Running Stores and Group Runs

Downtown.
Fleet Feet. Pub runs Wednesdays, meet at Grafitti Junction
Fit2Run, Florida Mall. Group runs Tuesdays 6:45 & lots of other events.
Track Shack. Close to downtown/Gaston Edwards Park.
Group Runs Monday 6pm.

Disney/Universal/Convention Center
Fit2Run in Disney Springs is the only dedicated running store in the resort/conv. ctr. area. Group Runs: Tuesdays, Thursdays 7pm in Celebration. Meet at Imperial Food and Wine.

There are several athletic/shoe factory outlet stores in the mall just to the west of Universal Studios.

Orlando Suburbs. See map for some of the other run stores north of Orlando.

Orlando Runner’s Club has group runs at 7:00am on a Sunday morning.

Events

Full run calendar.

Many of the major running events in Orlando are the RunDisney events. About 5–10 events per year. More info.

Disney Marathon. First week in January. The signature annual running event.

Disney Princess Half Marathon. February. Girls/Women only, various other lengths.

Star Wars Half Marathon The Dark Side. Half Marathon starts 5am in the dark.

Disney Wine & Dine Half Marathon. November.

Celebration Marathon and Half Marathon. January. Popular.

OUC Half Marathon. December.

Events

Orlando Runner’s Club at 7:00am on a Sunday morning — do it!

Great Runs

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