Weekend in the Corridor: Orlando, with Nakiesa Faraji-Tajrishi


Explore the Corridor in one weekend outside Orlando from the perspective of a nature-loving local

Header photo by Brad Beck Photography.

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Photo by Nakiesa Faraji-Tajrishi, @nakiesa_ on IG

There’s more to Orlando than theme parks, said Nakiesa Faraji-Tajrishi, 34-year-old Orlando-native and outdoor adventure and travel photographer. When we asked Nakiesa to describe her home city in a few words, she said, “Not what you’d expect.”

As a kid, Nakiesa spent summers exploring Orlando’s wild side. She swam in the Florida Wildlife Corridor’s iconic freshwater springs and hiked local trails. Now, she’s rounded up her favorite Corridor spots for an up-close look at Orlando’s nature and wildlife.

Nakiesa shared her guide to exploring the Corridor in one jam-packed weekend, how she ‘Lives Wildly’ and what the Corridor means to her.

Packing List:

  • Hat
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • Bug spray
  • Towel
  • Bathing suit
  • Change of clothes
  • Packed lunch (x2) + snacks
  • Water bottle
  • Hiking or tennis shoes
  • Optional: Camping gear, kayak, canoe, paddle board, inner tube, bike, camera

SATURDAY: Alexander Springs State Park

After docking her kayak on a sandy beach at Alexander Springs, Nakiesa described what she saw: “I’m sitting next to a bridge and palm trees surround me. About five minutes ago, I saw a sandhill crane fly by. On the other side of the riverbank, there’s a mama alligator with her babies. Today the waters are completely clear — you can see all the way to the bottom and the fish swimming by. Turtles are sunbathing, birds are flying, and cicadas are chirping — it’s perfect.”

Q: How do you ‘Live Wildly’ and connect with nature?

NFT: I’m an outdoor adventure travel photographer. I love going hiking, seeing the sunrise or sunset, and taking photos of animals and plants. I have a lot of fun exploring and sharing my outdoor adventures.

Alexander Springs lays within the Ocala National Forest — just an hour north of Orlando — and is one of 600 lakes and rivers in the forest. It’s a first-magnitude, or largest, spring in Florida, and remains a comfortable 72-degrees year-round.

While Nakiesa kayaked on her visit, there’s an activity for every type of ‘wild’ at this park. You can hike or bike along multiple trails, including parts of the Florida National Scenic Trail. The Timucuan Trail takes you on a 0.9-mile shaded loop along a boardwalk through a canopy of hydric hammock, cinnamon ferns and cabbage palms.

You can also swim in the shallow, translucent turquoise waters. Plus, Alexander Springs is the only place in Ocala where visitors can scuba dive. After exploring, relax on the sandy shore with a picnic or camp overnight at one of the 67 campsites.

Q: What does the Florida Wildlife Corridor mean to you?

NFT: It’s life giving. There are animals, water, trees, plants — everything that you could possibly need. Everything that will rejuvenate your soul, you can find in the Corridor. I’m passionate about the Corridor and grateful that we still have a lot of the lands protected because this is my home, and I want to do everything I can to protect it and keep it as beautiful as possible.

To refuel back in Orlando, Nakiesa had a recommendation for every type of food you can imagine. In the mood for ramen? Visit Domu. Tacos? Try Black Rooster Taqueria. Late-night happy hour tapas? Go to Santiago’s Bodega. “Literally THE best sushi you could possibly get in Orlando”? Nakiesa swears by Kadence.

Make sure to get a good night’s sleep for day two!

SUNDAY: Kelly Park/Rock Springs

Start your morning with an iced matcha latte or energizing cold brew from specialty coffee roaster Lineage Coffee Roasting, which has three locations throughout Orlando.

Then, drive just 35-minutes outside the city to one of Nakiesa’s favorite spots to visit — Kelly Park/Rock Springs. “Rock Springs honestly doesn’t even look like Florida,” she said. “It’s extremely tropical, as if you’ve been transported to somewhere in Southeast Asia.”

The park costs just $3 to enter, but Nakiesa recommends also bringing your own inner tube so you can take a float down the park’s natural lazy river. Above you, lush, hanging palm trees encompass the shore, and below, deep, turquoise blue waters cool you off. “No matter the time of year, it’s some of the bluest water I’ve ever seen in my life,” Nakiesa said. You can also canoe, kayak or paddle board along the clear waters.

After floating down the river, picnic, sunbathe or play volleyball on the grassy knoll, or explore wildlife and nature on the soft hiking trails in the nearby forest. On this visit, she saw an alligator and several birds, butterflies and fish (As a reminder, make sure to keep your distance from wildlife during your explorations to ensure a safe environment for you and the Corridor’s animals).

Q: What do you wish more people knew about the Florida Wildlife Corridor?

NFT: Exploring the Corridor has made me more aware of the fragility of our ecosystem. The other day, I was driving down to Miami, and I saw a Florida panther on the side of the road for the first time in my life. That means that they’re getting pushed out. The Corridor connects these lands so that wildlife have passageway throughout Florida. When those lands are separated, it forces animals, like this panther, to come to the highways.

The Corridor has also opened my eyes to how beautiful our state is. This is part of my home, part of me and something that I really treasure and want to protect. Exploring has made me more aware that the Corridor is something that I can protect. It’s not somebody else’s problem. It’s our problem; our home; our backyard.

For another wild adventure, Nakiesa recommended checking out Emerald Cut at King’s Landing, a nearby paddle launch site connected to Rock Springs. The picturesque spot features a small island of palm trees surrounded by lush shrubbery. Besides paddling, you can also climb up the hanging trees and jump into the springs.

End your weekend travels at Redlight Redlight, a local brewery with more than 200 beers on tap. Nakiesa said you can get a passport to keep track of the craft beers you try from all the different countries.

Nakiesa wishes everyone could experience the Corridor like she has. “A lot of people I grew up with never really left Orlando or explored the springs,” she said. “It’s such a shame because there’s so much adventure out there that you wouldn’t think of when you think of Florida. It’s beautiful and I want everybody to experience it.”

Thank you, Nakiesa, for sharing a weekend guide to the Corridor in Orlando!

Do you recommend any other Corridor spots near Orlando? Let us know on social using #LiveWildlyFL so we can share your finds!