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Ocala National Forest

Lake George Ranger District- Millions of visitors escape to this forest, which is one of central Florida's last remaining traces of forested land.
Seminole Ranger District- Millions of visitors escape to this forest, which is one of central Florida's last remaining traces of forested land.

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General Information

Ocala National Forest
Copyright: - US Forest Service
Ocala National Forest
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.

Attractions - 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.

Location - 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.

Current Conditions & Trip Reports

Trip Reports:
Add your own trip Report! Newly re-released feature. One of the most popular features on Wildernet, trip reports allow you to share your experiences with others. This is an invaluable resource for determining what to expect on your outdoor adventure, so please participate! To prevent spamming, you must be a registered user of Wildernet in order to submit a trip report

Filed By: Matthew Laflamme (Atlanta, GA)
Number of People Encountered: 25-50 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: My family has owned property on Lake George across from Ocala and I've been in boats in that area since before I could walk. If you are paddling and put in at Salt Springs, you should be able to make it the length of Salt Run to Lake George. The entire trip is beautiful and best done during the week when there are fewer power boats. There is a great deal of wildlife - including some large alligators. If you are accessing Salt Run with a power boat, you will be able to explore the nothern area of Lake George. You can circumnavigate Drayton Island and Hog Island. At the far north end of the lake, west of where the St. Johns runs towards Palatka is Big Muddy - an area with a "run" up into it. I recommend it for the pristine beauty and regularly active wildlife. This is not a big area with the Water Ski and Jet Ski crowd owing to the facts that the area is very rural, somewhat difficult to access and rife with alligators. Along the entire shore line in this area motorboat speed is restricted because of the manitees. Personally, I've never seen one but I know folks who have so they are there. This area is very popular with sport fishers. Regardless, most everyone you encounter is friendly/respectful. Another good neighboring outdoor area for families is the Welaka State Forest and associated camping and equestrian areas. If you take the Ft. Gates Ferry across the St. Johns you'll be right in the 'hood. I greatly appreciate the other posts here - you've got me ready to buy a GPS and take my Jeep over to the other side of the lake. This is a beautiful area that I've been blessed to be able to escape to and enjoy for over 40 years. Enjoy and be safe!

Filed By: John Hayes (High Falls, NY)
Number of People Encountered: 11-25 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: Went for a short hike to Lake Eaton. The signs in the forest warned of alligators. I set up my camera on my tripod to get a sunset on the lake and sat andwaited for the light to change. A cloud came along and obscured the sun, and I began to pack up and leave, when suddenly I was startled by a creature climbing a tree 15 feet away: A black bear cub! I was astonished! I went to put the camera back on the tripod, all the while mindful that mama might show up. I managed to compose the shot, set the apeture, shutter speed, focus and shoot! The portrait is on my website under a category entitled (tounge-in-cheek): "Don't You Wish You Were Us?" I was SO HAPPY to have this encounter! The cub climbed a little higher and WENT TO SLEEP IN THE CROOK OF THE TREE! I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to hike at Ocala! John Hayes

Filed By: jane & eric (st petersburg, fl)
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: while riding our quadrunners down a trail from Delancy West campsite, we 1st encountered a huge tortoise outside of his hole...he was massive. Further down the trail, a large fox ran across our path, later 3 beautiful deer. But the highlite was coming over the top of a hill and upon decending, we came to an abrupt halt when we saw what appeared to be a solid black cow standing sideways, spanning the entire width of the trail. The "cow" looked up at us 2 times when we realized it was not a cow at all but the biggest black bear I have ever seen!!! Thankfully we both chose the option of reverse when we purchased our bikes and we used that gear quickly and eargerly. Although we were shaken, we also realized what an unlikely treat we had observed. We now plan to gain as much knowledge as we can about preserving and respecting this beautiful animal. Thank you for allowing us the outlet to share with others what we enjoyed togther.

Filed By: Kris (DeLand, FL)
Number of People Encountered: 25-50 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: The Ocala National Forest is awesome for animal sightings. To date I've seen every "rare" Florida animal on my list EXCEPT for a Florida Panther. Yesterday saw my first bobcat--a huge, shaggy beast near the Big Scrub Campground on Forest Rd. 588, off Rtes. 19 & 40. Magnificent. I almost always see otters, bald eagles, scrub jays, sandhill cranes, foxes and even an occasional black bear. The bobcat adds immeasurably to my delight ofthe forest.

More Information

Contact Information:
Ocala National Forest, 325 John Knox Rd , Tallahassee, FL, 32303, Phone: 904-942-9300

Additional Information:
Central Florida - Central Florida was once the cattle and citrus farming capitol of Florida. Today, it is well known for its high-tech theme parks. However, outdoor enthusiasts need not search far to find an extensive list of natural attractions.
Florida National Forests & Parks - Florida's National Forests and National Parks contain a unique diversity of plants and animals, and numerous developed recreational facilities. Four National Forests and eleven National Park lands are located throughout the state.

Ocala National Forest - Official agency website.
U.S. Forest Service - Official agency website.


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