The Ocala National Forest in Central Florida encompasses about 387,000 acres of highlands, coastal lowlands, wetlands, and swamps. The forest has four protected wilderness areas you can explore: Alexander Springs Wilderness, Billies Bay Wilderness, Juniper Prairie Wilderness, and Little Lake George Wilderness. With more than 600 lakes, ponds, streams, springs, and two rivers, there are many opportunities to enjoy canoeing, kayaking, water skiing, swimming, and fishing. Other favorite activities include snorkeling, hiking, horseback riding, and mountain biking. The forest is also abundant with wildlife, including Florida black bears, alligators, foxes, bobcats, otters, and the gopher tortoise.
The St. Francis Trail Loop takes you through floodplain forest and pine flatwoods. The terrain is uneven, and there are palmettos alongside the log bridge crossings. A wide variety of fungi can be seen along this trail section.
Length: 2.8 miles
The Timucuan Trail takes you past natural springs and scrubs and then down from the Bluffs to the beach by Blackrock Trail. Along the way, you will see a canopy of cabbage palms, Southern magnolia, lots of wildflowers, and driftwood trees. The trail ends with a view of Amelia Island.
Length: 6.3 Miles
The Davenport Landing Trail is an interpretive trail that leads to a former steamboat port. Enjoy shaded areas as you pass through flatwoods, saw palmetto, longleaf pines, scrub oaks, and bamboo. Bracken fern, blueberries, Southern magnolia, holly, and pignut hickory are some of the plants you will see along the way.
Length: 1.2 miles
Intensity: Easy to Moderate
The Clearwater Lake Nature Trail is a loop that begins and ends at the Clearwater Lake Recreation Area beach. The trail passes through pine flatwoods and scrubs along the edge of the lake. The soft and sandy trail offers many opportunities for birdwatching.
Length: 1.3 Miles
The Yearling Trail is aptly named as it was the site for filming the movie “The Yearling.” There are several historic remains of artifacts and homesteads. You will see a giant sinkhole, scrub jays, and possibly a black bear. Use caution as you will likely encounter a snake or two along the way.
Length: 5.5 Miles
The Lake Eaton Trail begins from a high point in the Big Scrub and takes you through scrub oak and sand pine scrub to the edge of the lake. Several boardwalks and observation decks allow you the best view of the lake as well as opportunities for birdwatching. Red-cockaded woodpeckers and bald eagles are often sighted, as well as numerous waterfowls.
Length: 2.3 Miles
Bass are plentiful in the forest lakes, especially in Lake George and Lake Kerr. Trophy-size bass is the norm, and smaller lakes are good for panfish.
Geocaching is a popular pastime in Florida with several active caches in the Ocala National Forest. There is an earth cache located in Alexander Springs Recreation area, and this would be a fun way to explore the spring.
The Florida Trail offers wonderful opportunities for nature watching. You may see American bald eagles, ospreys, everglade snail kites, Florida scrub jays, Southern bald eagles, wood storks, or red-cockaded woodpeckers. The best time for birdwatching is in the early morning as the sun rises. The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway runs through the forest, and bears are most active at dawn and dusk.
The best time of the year for stargazing in Florida is wintertime on a clear night. The nearby Hopkins Prairie campground opens Oct. 1 and offers 21 sites that can be booked for stargazing with low light pollution. Orlando’s Crosby Observatory has a refractor telescope that will enable you to see the planets, Jupiter’s moons, galaxies, and Saturn’s rings.
Address: 40929 State Road 19, Umatilla, FL 32784
Fee: Entry fee (per vehicle) $5
Whether you are looking for an adventure or a way to relax away from the city, the Ocala National Forest offers thrilling springs, beaches, lakes, rivers, and much more. With an RV, you have the freedom to explore all 600 miles of forest.