Boating in Orlando – The Butler Chain of Lakes and Bird Island

The Butler Chain of Lakes is one of the best waterways in central Florida and comprise thirteen (13) freshwater lakes connected by a series of navigable canals. Located in the Orlando area in southwestern Orlando County, there is more than 5,000 acres of water surface with lake depths averaging between 20 and 40 feet.

With the fairly clear water, the Butler Chain of Lakes is popular for freshwater fishing, watersports and recreational boating.  On any given weekend there will be hundreds of boats cruising the lakes as well as dozens anchored just off the shores of Bird Island in Lake Butler. 

These lakes are home to a variety of vessels including bass boats, pontoon boats, watersports boats (including Jetskis) and family cruisers.  There are a few sailboats but with fixed bridges separating Lake Butler from several other lakes, it is not possible to navigate the entire chain.

The thirteen individual lakes in the Butler Chain of Lakes are as follows:

  • Lake Down (900 surface acres)
  • Little Lake Down (23 surface acres)
  • Wauseon Bay (100 surface acres)
  • Lake Butler (1,600 surface acres)
  • Lake Louise (140 surface acres)
  • Lake Isleworth (86 surface acres)
  • Lake Blanche (121 surface acres)
  • Lake Chase (135 surface acres)
  • Lake Tibet (1,200 surface acres)
  • Unnamed lake (14 surface acres)
  • Lake Sheen (656 surface acres)
  • Pocket Lake (126 surface acres)
  • Fish Lake (23 surface acres)

There are 23 canals that connect the 13 lakes in the Butler Chain.  Each canal is considered navigable and averages three to five feet of water depth during most times of the year.

See our video with a time lapse tour of the Butler Chain of Lakes which started from Lake Butler and went south through several canals and to the Orange County Sportsmen’s Association on Lake Sheen.  There is also footage of the boats anchored along Bird Island.

This chain of lakes was formed over time by a series of sinkholes that were created due to dissolved limestone (also know at Karst topography).  It is widely reported that the lakes are spring fed, but rainwater is the main source of water that fills the lakes in the Butler chain.

The Butler Chain of Lakes gives you the feel of “Old Florida” with is natural surroundings, wetlands / marshes and abundant wildlife.  While there are a number of residential homes and communities which surround the lakes on the Butler chain, there is no significant commercial development.

The major public access to the Butler chain are the boat ramps located at R.D. Keene Park (on Lake Isleworth) along Chase Road in Windermere.  This park is fairly small with less than 50 parking spaces so this venue fills up rather quickly.  While there are boat ramps in Lake Down, there is not any available parking for vehicles with boat trailer.

The only other access point is the Orange County Sportsmen’s Association on Lake Sheen which is a private club.

The Orange County Sportsmen’s Association (OCSA)

The OCSA is a private boating and sportsmen’s club that is directly on Lake Sheen which is limited to 1,800 member families.  Located on a 12-acre site on Lake Sheen, this club is truly one of the hidden gems in all of Orlando.

Originally founded in 1931 as the “Panther Club”, this oasis is located within the heart of the Dr. Phillips area along Kilgore Road, just off Apopka Vineland Road.  The OCSA features:

  • Two boat ramps with four launch lanes
  • Fully staffed from opening to closing
  • Ample on-site daily parking for vehicles with boat trailers
  • Two air-conditioned clubhouses (Blaine Hall and Lake Sheen Hall) with covered picnic areas
  • Three freestanding covered picnic pavilions
  • A designated swimming area
  • On-site fuel purchase
  • Sand volleyball court and children’s playground
  • Pool table and ping pong table
  • On-site boat storage for approximately 150 member vessels
  • Air-conditioned restrooms 
  • Member events

One of the great things at the OCSA is that they are very member friendly.  Since the club faces the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, they stay open late during the 4th of July so members can watch the fireworks from the privacy and comfort of the OCSA docks.  Outside of being on Main Street USA, it’s the next best thing.

Membership at the OCSA is just $250 per year which makes it one of the best values in all of Orlando boating.  There is a fairly extensive waiting list so if you are interested in becoming a member, you might just want to get on the list now.

Learn more at:

Lake Butler

At 1,600 surface acres of water, Lake Butler is the largest of all the lakes within this chain and features a number of “mega” sized residences including the “Versailles house” which is currently under construction.

When complete, this mega-mansion will consist of 85,000 square feet on a 10-acre waterfront site, 11 kitchens, 14 bedrooms, three indoor pools, two outdoor pools, a 500 person ballroom, two-story movie theater, 20,000 bottle wine cellar, two tennis courts and a yoga studio.  Owned by time-share mogul David Siegel and his wife Jackie, we’ve been watching this home for years and look forward to finally seeing it finished.  It makes the neighboring mansions look small by comparison.

Lake Butler is home to Bird Island which is a bird sanctuary owned by the Audubon Society.  This pristine island is not open to the public but it is a popular mooring spot for boaters enjoying a day on their boats (and in the water).  

Lake Tibet

Lake Tibet is the second largest lake on the Butler chain at 1,198 surface areas of water.  This lake fronts both the Isleworth Country Club and the Bay Hill Country Club (which features a private marina) both of which are prestigious golf and country club communities in the greater Orlando area which are home to many celebrities and professional athletes.

This lake is the longest of all 13 lakes and has plenty of space for boaters looking for a great day on the water.  Keep in mind that the speed limit on the Butler chain is 36 miles per hour as you will find many boats going much faster than than on Lake Tibet.

Water Sports

The lakes on the Butler chain are some of the best for water sports.  On any given day you will find a number of boats pulling wakeboarders, water skiers and tubes.

There are two fixed water-ski slalom courses on the Butler chain which are located in Pocket Lake and Lake Tibet, both of which are near the southern end of the chain.  Pocket Lake is fairly well shielded from the wind and a great place for water sports as is Lake Blanche.  However, these lakes are both fairly small so there is only room for 4 or 5 boats per lake to safely maneuver. 

Freshwater Fishing

While Lake Tohopekaliga in nearby Kissimmee is one of the more well known spots for central Florida fishing, the Butler Chain is no slouch when it comes to fishing.  The chain is know for its large mouth bass due to the high amount of submerged vegetation as well as grass edges.

In 2019 Florida Sportsman magazine did a feature on “Butler Chain Bass Fishing” which indicated that there is a lot of offer for the freshwater angler.  Click here to read the full article.

Living on the Butler Chain of Lakes in Orlando, Florida

The Butler Chain of Lakes has some of the finest homes and housing communities in all of the greater Orlando area. Some of these amazing neighborhoods and communities include:

  • Isleworth Country Club
  • Bay Hill Country Club (home to the Arnold Palmer Invitational PGA event)
  • Keenes Point
  • Isle of Osprey
  • Chaine Du Lac
  • Lake Butler Sound
  • City of Windermere
  • Windermere Downs
  • Marina Bay
  • Emerson Pointe
  • Cypress Point

Whether it is a permanent residence, second home or vacation property, Orlando is a great place to own real estate.  Between the amazing freshwater lakes, the vibrant downtown area as well as the world renowned theme parks, Orlando could be the perfect spot for you and your family.   

Click here to search for brand new homes in the greater Orlando area as well as throughout the State of Florida.

Jerry Joyce

Jerry Joyce has been a Florida resident since 1988 and has lived in a variety of places in the South Florida area. Jerry is an avid boater & water sports enthusiast, beach aficionado, a lover of great food, muscle car fan and a theme park annual passholder for many years. Some of his favorite places in Florida include the Florida Keys, Walt Disney World, Cedar Key, the Loxahatchee River, St. Augustine and Ten Thousand islands.

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