Ocala National Forest
Encompassing more than 600 square miles in North Central Florida, Ocala National Forest is bursting with adventure. Hike the Florida Trail, camp in the deep woods, spend a lazy day at a cool, bubbling spring, paddle a spring run, a lake or a river. Even if you are just out for a Sunday drive, Ocala National Forest will satisfy the urge to explore new destinations. Ramble the forest roads, stop anywhere and take a hike. From vast Florida sand pine flatlands and cypress-studded wetland prairies to densely wooded oak hammocks and colorful palm-shaded sub-tropical oases, the variety of eco-systems to explore is mind-blowing. There are things to do every day of the year in Ocala National Forest.
(Ocala National Forest, photo courtesy of peechierana.weebly.com)
There are several springs accessible to visitors in Ocala National Forest, the most popular of which may be Juniper Springs. With a constant temperature of 72 degrees year around, the forest’s springs are magnets for people in summer and manatees in winter. Day use activities in the Juniper Springs Recreation Area include picnicking, swimming, snorkeling, bird watching, hiking, and paddling a spectacular spring run that runs through a shady sub-tropical forest.
(Silver Glen Springs, photo courtesy of fs.usda.com)
Juniper Springs has a scenic spring run, and the 4.5-mile Salt Springs Run is considered one of the best paddle trails in the state. Both abound in lush vegetation and bountiful wildlife. Be forewarned, though, that there is no take-out at the end, so you will have to paddle back against the current to the launch point at the Salt Springs Marina in the Salt Spring Recreation Area. Salt Springs Run dumps its mineral-infused water into Lake George, second-largest lake in Florida and part of the St. John’s River system. If you’ve paddled this far, then you should paddle a little further north into Salt Springs Cove and enjoy its magnificent shoreline.
(Juniper Rapids, photo courtesy of fs.usda.com)
A 66-mile segment of the Florida Scenic Trail twists its way through the Ocala National Forest, and there are numerous trailheads, including access points in the Salt Springs Recreation Area and the Juniper Springs Recreation Area. While most of the forest is wide open to hikers and backpackers, Miami RV Rentals would suggest that you stick to the designated trails. This is, after all, the largest pine woods forest in the world.
(Ocala National Forest, photo courtesy of floridahikes.com) Although bicyclists can ride any of the hundreds of miles of forest roads, the only designated off-road trail in the Ocala National Forest is the challenging Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail, a 22-mile single-track loop through the deep woods and rolling hills. Marked with yellow diamonds, it intermittently intersects the hiking-only orange-blazed Florida Trail. Blue-blazed connector trails connect the loop with both the Alexander Springs and Clearwater Lake trailheads.
(Ocala National Forest, photo courtesy of letsbewild.com) There are more than 100 miles of equestrian trails running through Ocala National Forest, the most popular of which are the One Hundred Mile Trail and the Lake/Alachua/Marion County (LAM) trail, which is 34 miles long. With nearby Ocala being the center of Florida’s horse industry and ranches, it’s only natural that you would have a place to ride in the forest. The beauty of the Ocala National Forest is that you don’t have to stick to the trails if you don’t want to. You can pull your trailer over to the side of any forest road, as long as you leave room enough for other vehicles to pass. Many equestrians park along forest roads where they intersect with the trails. There is designated trailer parking available for both the LAM Trail and the One Hundred Mile Horse Trail at the forest’s Swim Pond Trail Head, where you will also find primitive campgrounds.
(A Paso Fino on a the trail ride, photo courtesy of ocalatrailrides.com) There are numerous RV sites for campers, most with electric and water hookups. Pets are also allowed at a handful of the RV sites, just make sure you check before going.