Visiting Ocala National Forest? 8 Things You Can’t Leave Without Doing
With its location in Marion County in north-central Florida, three miles east of the city of Ocala, Ocala National Forest is filled with unrivaled natural beauty waiting for you to explore. Its beautiful crystal clear springs, rolling hills, and hiking trails scream adventure.
The forest provides great outdoor fun for young and old alike, and thanks to the great Florida weather, it is explorable all year round. Did you know that Ocala National Forest has over 600 bodies of water?
So if you want to visit this forest area, here are a couple of activities you can’t leave without doing.
The Ocala National Forest undoubtedly has the best camping sites in Florida, allowing hikers and tourists to spend quality time in nature. The camping grounds are secure and spacious, with room for numerous families. You might end up bonding with other campers and creating lifelong friendships.
Here are the three best campsites in Welcome sign Alexander Springs Ocala National Forest.
● Juniper Springs Recreation Area
The Juniper Springs recreation area has three campsites to choose from. The campgrounds are found near a creek and spring, making it the perfect spot to relax as you take a swim and grill your meat and vegetables.
● Salt Springs Recreation Area
If you are a large group, you’ll need a large campsite. And what’s better than Salt Spring Recreation Area? This site is rated the largest in Ocala National Forest and has a range of activities to keep you busy, from swimming in the spring to hiking, snorkeling, fishing, and boating.
You can prepare for your trip by reading the leading resource for advice on kayaking to enjoy a wholesome experience.
Salt Springs offers full-service sites with hook-ups and a dump station among the three areas. There is also a tent-only area.
● Alexander Springs Recreation Area
Alexander Springs is a famous camping ground as it offers camping, swimming, canoeing, scuba diving (for certified divers), hiking, birding, and wildlife viewing.
You can take a dip in the beautiful, clear springs, which stay at a comfortable 72 degrees all year, rent a boat or kayak, and explore the surrounding areas.
If you prefer camping with the convenience of modern amenities, you can bring a tent that has an AC port. This will allow you to stay cool during hot summer nights while enjoying the beauty of the Ocala National Forest.
The Ocala National Forest is filled with trails ideal for hikers at all levels. Before you start your hiking, though, ask a local ranger for advice on the most suitable route for you. Here are the most common trails in the area.
● Florida Trail
The Florida Trail extends for roughly 67.1 miles. It is best for beginner hikers as no significant hills and valleys exist. The course, however, is quite long, proving a challenge to some.
Many opt to hike for several days as they camp at different campgrounds. This allows them to section the trails and travel each section per day till they finish. Others opt to do day trips of a few miles at a time.
● St. Francis Trail
At 7.8 miles, the St. Francis Trail is not nearly as long as the Florida Trail. It is situated along the river, providing great views of wildlife coming to take a drink. The track will also cross a couple of log bridges and some rough, uneven terrain, so you’ll have to watch your step. It gets a bit swampy during the rainy season, so you may be required to wear waders.
● Juniper Springs Recreation Area Trail
Are you looking for a trail to help you reach your daily steps? Then Juniper Springs Recreation Trail is what you need. This 1.3-mile trail is an easy hike, making it excellent for all skill levels. You can go for a walk with your family as kids can also manage the distance. It will be a great time to bond and make memories with your family.
● Lake George & Spring Boils Hiking Trails
Lake George Trail is a 2.4-mile out-and-back hike. The trail provides incredible views of Lake George. The short Spring Boils Trail, a 0.4-mile track, leads to tiny bubbling springs at a hill base, creating a waterway that flows into Silver Glen Run.
● Yearling Trail
The Yearling Trail is located right across the road from Silver Glen Springs.
This trail inspired author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to write The Yearling, an award-winning novel. The novel was later transformed into a movie, with Pat’s Island appearing in various scenes of the film.
The trail gives you a chance to go back in history and take a look at the Reuben and Sara Jane Long family home, a historical landmark. You will also get to see a cistern, a cattle dip, and a family cemetery.
3. Swimming in the Springs
As you explore the Ocala National Forest, you may find yourself getting sweaty and dusty. You can relax by swimming in one of the many springs found in the forest. The cool, crystal clear waters give you a relaxing sensation like no other while still providing a view to die for.
● Alexander Springs
Alexander Springs is a pleasant 72 degrees all year-round. The spring has clear waters flowing along the gentle slopes providing endless hours of fun and play. The spring is surrounded by a forest canopy, providing shade. If you are planning to wake up by the springs, you can rent some camping gear and spend a few days engaging in fishing and other water sports activities, such as kayaking and canoeing.
● Juniper Springs
Juniper Springs is one of the best-known and oldest springs in the Ocala Forest. The spring area includes camping and trails, making it all the more enjoyable. Canoeing in this area is a favourite activity for many. You can rent a canoe and explore the spring. You can also have a good swim in the spring as you enjoy the beautiful scenery.
● Silver Springs
Are you looking for both a good swim and a great view? Then Silver Springs is right for you. The surrounding area is full of picnic spots, ideal for families and couples. The spring is excellent for swimming, kayaking, boating, and fishing.
● Rainbow Springs
The deep blue waters of Rainbow Springs are a major Ocala Forest tourist attraction. The springs are especially loved for swimming due to the water depth of between five to eighteen feet.
The spring also provides a great snorkeling spot where you can see many fish and turtles simply chilling out. Some people have also been known to go artifact diving since the forest was inhabited for over ten centuries.
● Salt Springs
Salt Springs has the largest campground in Ocala National Forest, making it a favorite place for campers. You can engage in various water sports activities, including swimming, boating, fishing, and snorkelling. You can also go hiking.
4. Rent a Cabin
If you don’t enjoy camping, you can enjoy nature and wilderness while staying in one of the cabins in Ocala National Forest. There are two cabins in this forest:
- Lake Dorr Cabin, which is near Lake Dorr. This cabin can hold up to 10 people.
- Sweetwater Cabin, located near Sweetwater Spring, can hold up to 12 people.
These cabins are ideal for families or a group of friends. The best part is they have facilities such as a swimming pool, access to springs, and boats and canoes for hire.
These rooms get booked out pretty fast, so don’t wait until the last minute to book, as you may have to be put on a waiting list.
5. Horse Riding
With nearby Ocala being the center of Florida’s horse trade industry, horse riding is a must-have for the area’s residents.
The forest has horseriding trails that span over 100 miles. And this trail is divided into three sections, making it easy for riders to explore the forest.
Ocala National Forest has only one off-road trail designated for biking. The trail is popularly known as the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail and is 22 miles long. The path passes through the forest, allowing you to bask in the unique flora and fauna, as well as the springs and rolling hills. If you steer off the path, you can backtrack to Alexander Springs or the Clearwater camping site and pick up where you left off.
This biking trail is ideal for experienced bikers as it is marred with shrubs and sandy hills that present a challenge for beginners. The biking trail has a yellow diamond marking and sometimes intersects with the hiking trail marked with orange. So don’t confuse the two.
Another reason many visit Ocala National Forest is to view the wildlife, unique flora, and fauna. Ocala National Forest has the most significant number of black bears, so while exploring, beware. All-in-all, carry your camera to snap some memorable moments.
Are you planning a trip to Florida? Please do not leave without visiting Ocala National Forest, as it presents you with a wide range of activities to do. This is especially so for outdoor lovers; you can take a dip in the many springs, hike, canoe, horse riding, or go camping.
And don’t forget to capture these moments for memories. You can post on your social channels to shed light on the beauty of Ocala National Forest.
Have you been to Ocala National Forest? What fun activities did you engage in? Share in the comment section.