The Florida Trail

Ocala National Forest
Trail at a Glance
Length : 61 miles
States : Florida
Difficulty : Moderate
Season : Late fall to spring
Use : Moderate
Condition : Fair to good
More : Florida Trail Association

The Ocala National Forest, located in north central Florida, is a place of contrasts. On one hand, it has the remnant of rolling, sand-pine scrub hills that once covered much of the central state. Sand-pine scrub is a forest type that grows on fast draining sandy soils. This habitat is often surrounded by scrub oaks and other plants that tolerate the dry conditions. Lands like this are easily developed and have all but disappeared in Florida, adding value to this sand-pine scrub forest—the world's largest. Attendant species such as the scrub jay are equally appreciative of this habitat, upon which they are dependent.

On the other hand, Ocala has numerous natural lakes and springs. Shallow lakes, scattered throughout the forest, are watery oases among the drier hills. Grassy prairies, offering far-reaching views, often surround the lakes. The springs of the Ocala are world famous. Juniper Springs and Alexander Springs have clear, alluring waters in a semi-tropical setting. Recreation areas, with swimming, nature walks, canoeing, and camping, have sprung up around these springs.

Through these beautiful yet contrasting areas runs a 60-mile segment of the FT. The FT connects Clearwater Lake in the south with Lake Ocklawaha in the north. This section passes by many springs and lakes and through the unique sand-pine scrub. Many hikers consider this portion of the FT, once known as the Ocala Trail, as the crown jewel of the entire Florida National Scenic Trail system. An added hiking bonus is the walk through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness, which captures the Ocala at its most primitive. Backpackers can easily end-to-end hike the entire Ocala, but can resupply at Salt Springs if they choose. The FT passes by several national-forest campgrounds in addition to numerous backcountry camping opportunities. Water can be obtained from both natural lakes, a few creeks, and developed campgrounds.


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