Description - Ocala National Forest is centrally located in the state near the high-tech theme parks. Consequently, the Forest entertains more visitors on an annual basis than any other national forest in the state. Towering palms, large live oaks and scrubby sand pines dominate the last remaining traces of forested land in the Central Travel Region. The Forest does boast the world's largest continuous sand pine scrub ecosystem. Ocala also boasts four designated wilderness areas, some of the most scenic segments of the Florida National Scenic Trail and several huge bodies of water including Lake George, Lake Kerr, Lake Ocklawaka, Lake Dexter, and Lake Dorr. A visitor center greets western arrivals, introducing them to the potential year-round recreation available in Ocala National Forest. Twenty-three developed and undeveloped recreation areas offer access to fishing waters, multi-use trails, nature study, wildlife and birdlife observation possibilities.
Copyright: USDA Forest Service
Ocala National Forest
- Between the river boundaries of the Ocala National Forest, visitors will discover towering palms, large live oaks and scrubby sand pines dominating a scrub oak ecosystem with clear cool springs, coastal lowlands, swamps and hundreds of tranquil lakes and ponds fringed with lush, tropical vegetation.
Popular attractions in the National Forest include the Lake George Trail and the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail. The Lake George Trail originates at Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area for a two-mile journey along the shores of Lake George. The Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail is 22 miles long, but shorter loops can be accessed at the halfway point. Riders can enjoy a winding trail through towering longleaf pines and stately live oak domes. At the north end of the trail, visitors will find Alexander Springs Recreation Area. Snorkeling and scuba diving in Alexander Springs are excellent ways to enjoy the abundant fish and swaying underwater vegetation. Another favorite snorkeling spot is Silver Glen Springs offering similar sights. Clearwater Lake can be found at the south end of the trail, where camping and swimming are just as popular as hiking along the nearby Florida National Scenic Trail.
Wildlife enthusiasts will not be disappointed in Ocala National Forest. It is home to a variety plant, animal and birdlife. The threatened Florida scrub jay is observed regularly while sightings of the red-cockaded, downy, red-bellied, red-headed and pileated woodpeckers are common. Big-game include black bear and white-tailed deer. Osprey circle overhead while northern bobwhite and wild turkey inhabit the deep, sandy soils.
Recreation - For the visitor looking for swimming, picnicking, tent or RV camping, the most highly developed campgrounds in the forest are Salt Springs, Alexander Springs and Juniper Springs. Ocala National Forest also offers opportunities for scuba diving, snorkeling, hiking, biking, horseback riding, discovering interpretive hikes, fishing, boating, paddling, and off-road vehicle use. There are also opportunities to water-ski, launch a boat and enjoy a refreshing shower at the end of a fun-filled day. Several concession areas and public telephones are provided. User fees are charged at a handful of destinations. See Florida National Scenic Trail for details pertaining to Ocala's scenic segment.
Climate - Florida experiences mild, comfortable winters and warm to hot, humid summers. Summer Fahrenheit temperatures average in the mid to high 80's (28 - 29 Celsius). Winters are mild and dry with temperatures averaging 58 - 64 degrees Fahrenheit (14 - 18 Celsius). Precipitation for the central area averages anywhere from 56 inches to less than 52 inches per year. The region offers a great warm escape for outdoor recreation during the cold northern months. August and September are peak months of the hurricane season that lasts from June 1 through November 30.
The Ocala National Forest is located north of Orlando, Florida, and east of the city of Ocala. The Ocala has offices in Umatilla and Silver Springs. The Headquarters for the National Forests of Florida is located in Tallahassee. State Highways 40, 19 and 314 lead through the Forest.