Are you looking for an unforgettable outdoor adventure? Then look no further than the beautiful Ocala National Forest! With its lush vegetation, diverse wildlife and stunning landscapes, this national park is a nature lover’s paradise.
In this article, we take you on a journey through some of the best hikes in Ocala National Forest, with highlights from each trail and descriptions of the wildlife to be found there. So grab your hiking boots and let’s explore!
St. Francis Trail
The 7.9-mile St. Francis Trail traverses the southeast corner of the Ocala National Forest through pine forests and wetlands along the St. Johns River.
The trail is well-marked and easy to follow. There are several small streams and a few trees along the trail. The scenery is pretty, but not spectacular. This hike is good for people who want to get a taste of the forest without venturing too far off the beaten path. You are likely to see some wildlife, including deer, squirrels, and birds.
The trail has a few steep climbs and descents but is otherwise relatively flat. The terrain is mostly sandy and there are some roots and rocks to watch out for. It’s best to wear sturdy shoes or boots with good tread.
The St. Francis Trail is a great option for those looking for an easy to moderate hike in the Ocala National Forest. With its beautiful pine forests and wetlands, it’s a great way to spend a day in the outdoors.
Be cautious hiking here during general gun hunting season, usually Thanksgiving-New Years, as this area is a popular destination for hunters. Be sure to wear a blaze orange vest if you do.
Backpacking / primitive camping is not allowed during the general gun season in the fall.
Clearwater Lake Loop
One of the most popular trails in Ocala National Forest is the Clearwater Lake Loop. This Moderate trail is perfect for those who want to take in the sights and sounds of the forest, while getting a workout in. The loop takes you around Clearwater Lake, which is teeming with wildlife.
You’re likely to see alligators, turtles, fish, and a variety of birds. The trail also passes by some of the forest’s highlights, including Big Scrub Oak, Longleaf Pine, and Sand Pine scrub.
The Clearwater Lake Nature Trail is a 1.3-mile loop starting at the day-use area. It is an easy walk that traverses the major habitats around the lake, including pine flatwoods, freshwater marsh and oak scrub, providing interpretive information and numerous benches for birding or resting.
Bear Swamp Trail
This swampy, wetland area is home to alligators, otters, and wading birds. The Bear Swamp Trail is an easy to moderate and is a 1.5-mile hike that is perfect for all ages. Be sure to bring your bug spray as mosquitoes can be pesky here!
The trail is fairly flat, so it’s great for all ages and abilities. You’ll start by crossing a bridge over the pond, then head into the woods to see giant cypress trees and wetland plants.
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife, like alligators sunning themselves on the banks of the pond or an otter swimming in the water. Further along, you’ll come across an old growth Bald Cypress tree before entering a grassy meadow.
Take some time to relax here and enjoy views of Bear Swamp Pond. As you return to the loop, look for wading birds such as herons, egrets, and ibises.
With any luck, you might even spot a bald eagle soaring overhead! When you come back to the bridge you crossed at the start of the trail, your journey through Bear Swamp is complete!
Juniper Springs Nature Trail
The Juniper Springs Nature Trail is an easy, 0.8-mile hike through the beautiful Juniper Springs Recreation Area in Ocala National Forest. This short nature trail provides a great introduction to the forest for first-time visitors and is also a perfect option for families with young children.
The trailhead is located just off of Highway 19, and the trail itself is well-marked and easy to follow.
Along the way, hikers will enjoy stunning views of the surrounding forest, as well as a variety of plant and animal life. The Juniper Springs Nature Trail is a great option for those looking for an easy hike with plenty of natural beauty.
The Juniper Springs Nature Trail is part of the Juniper Springs Recreation Area, which includes a variety of activities such as swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, kayaking and fishing. The recreation area also offers camping and picnicking opportunities for visitors.
Hikers should note that the trailhead is located near the swimming area, so they should take caution to avoid any moist or muddy areas while hiking.
There are also several picnic tables located along the trail for those who wish to take a break and enjoy their surroundings.
Lake Eaton Loop trail
The Lake Eaton Loop trail is a 2.2-mile loop trail located in the Ocala National Forest. The trailhead is located at the Lake Eaton Campground, and the trail can be accessed from both the north and south sides of the campground.
The trail is rated as moderate and features several elevation changes. There are also several benches along the trail that offer hikers a chance to rest and take in the scenery.
The Lake Eaton Loop trail offers stunning views of Lake Eaton, as well as a variety of wildlife including deer, squirrels, and birds. The trail is open year-round and is a great option for those looking for a challenging hike with plenty of rewards.
The Lake Eaton Loop trail is a great way to experience the beauty of the Ocala National Forest. Along the trail, hikers will encounter ancient live oak trees, lush green ferns, and a variety of wildflowers.
The trail also offers up close views of Lake Eaton, as well as several benches where hikers can take in the view. In addition to its natural beauty, the trail also offers visitors a chance to spot wildlife such as deer, woodpeckers, and hummingbirds.
Davenport Landing Trail
The Davenport Landing Trail is a 1.6-mile boardwalk and nature trail that leads through some of the most picturesque scenery in Ocala National Forest. The trailhead is located at the Davenport Landing Recreation Area, which is situated on the banks of Lake Apopka.
The Davenport Landing Trail takes hikers through a variety of different ecosystems, including cypress swamps, oak scrub, sandhills, and pine flatwoods.
Along the way, hikers will have the opportunity to see a variety of different wildlife, including alligators, turtles, snakes, birds, and deer. The trail also features several scenic overlooks of Lake Apopka.
The Davenport Landing Trail is an easy hike that is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. The trail is open year-round from sunrise to sunset.
Lake George Trail
Ocala National Forest is a beautiful place to explore and one of the best ways to do so is by hiking the Lake George Trail. This trail is 10 miles long and takes you through some of the most stunning scenery in the forest.
You’ll see plenty of wildlife, including alligators, turtles, and birds. The trail also has several highlights, such as a boardwalk through an alligator-filled swamp and a suspension bridge over a river.
This trail is great for all levels of hikers and can easily be done in a day. Be sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and bug spray. Also, keep an eye out for any snakes or alligators – they may be hibernating, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry.
Alexander Springs Loop
The Alexander Springs Loop, 12.4-mile loop trail, is a great hike for those looking to explore the Ocala National Forest. This loop takes you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the forest, including Alexander Springs, which is one of the highlights of the hike.
The trail is well-marked and easy to follow, making it a great choice for those new to hiking or looking for a relaxing stroll. Along the way, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to see wildlife, including deer, squirrels, and birds.
The Alexander Springs Loop is a great way to get outside and enjoy all that the Ocala National Forest has to offer.
The loop can be started at either the Alexander Springs Recreation Area or Juniper Springs Recreation Area, and there is ample parking at both locations.
The trail winds through a mix of hardwood hammocks, pine flatwoods, and scrubby sandhills. As you make your way around the loop, you will pass by several large springs that offer plenty of opportunities for swimming and relaxing.
In addition to the springs, there are many scenic overlooks along the trail where you can take in beautiful views of the surrounding area.
For those looking for a longer adventure, you can also extend your hike by taking a detour to Salt Springs Recreation Area or Clearwater Lake.
Both areas offer an array of outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, fishing, and more. No matter how long you choose to stay out on the trail; this loop is sure to provide an unforgettable experience in Ocala National Forest.
Florida Trail: Alexander Springs to Juniper Springs
The Alexander Springs to Juniper Springs section of the trail is one of the most popular sections, due to its stunning scenery and abundance of wildlife.
This section of the trail is approximately 30 miles long and can be completed in 3-5 days. The trail is a 17.1-mile point-to-point trail.
One of the highlights of this section of the trail is Alexander Springs, which is one of the largest natural springs in Florida.
The spring produces crystal-clear water that stays a consistent 72 degrees year-round. Visitors can swim in the spring, relax on the beach, or take a canoe or kayak out onto the lake.
Another highlight of this section is Juniper Springs Recreation Area. This area features a number of different trails that wind through some of Florida’s oldest-growth forests.
There are also several camping sites available for those who want to spend more time in this beautiful setting.
The Timucuan Trail is a 9-mile hike through Ocala National Forest that takes you through some of the most breathtaking scenery in the area.
Along the way, you’ll see plenty of wildlife, including alligators, turtles, and birds. You’ll also find several highlights, such as Big Tree Trailhead and the Ocklawaha River.
Ocala National Forest is a beautiful place to hike, with plenty of wildlife and breathtaking scenery. The Yearling Trail is a great option for those looking for an easy to moderate hike with plenty of interest along the way.
This 5.3-mile trail takes you through some of the best parts of the forest, including sandhills, scrubland, and wetlands. You’re likely to see plenty of wildlife along the way, including deer, turtles, and alligators.
The Yearling Trail is a great option for those exploring Ocala National Forest at their own pace.
Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail
The Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail is a beautiful, easy-to-follow trail that winds through the woods and along the creeks in Ocala National Forest.
The highlight of this trail is the chance to see wildlife, including alligators, turtles, snakes, and birds. The trail is also a great place to take in the scenery of the forest and get some fresh air.
This trail is A day well spent in the woods for mountain bikers, at a 22-mile loop through the southeastern corner of the Ocala National Forest
Campgrounds in Ocala National Forest
The Ocala National Forest is home to a variety of campgrounds that offer breathtaking views and opportunities to see wildlife. Here are some of the highlights:
Big Scrub Campground: This campground is located in the heart of the Ocala National Forest and offers stunning views of the surrounding area. There are also a variety of hiking trails nearby that offer up close encounters with wildlife.
A Visual Story: Our 7 Favorite Campgrounds in Ocala National Forest FL
Juniper Springs Recreation Area: This recreation area is located in the northeastern part of the forest and offers a variety of camping options, as well as access to Juniper Springs, one of the most popular attractions in the forest. The spring is known for its clear blue water and beautiful surroundings.
Salt Springs Campground: This campground is located in the southern part of the forest and offers direct access to Salt Springs, one of the largest natural springs in Florida. The spring is famous for its crystal clear water and provides a great spot for swimming, fishing, or just relaxing.
Wildlife in Ocala National Forest
There is no doubt that Ocala National Forest is one of the most beautiful places in Florida. With its many hiking trails, natural springs, and clear waters, it’s easy to see why this forest is such a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts.
But what really makes Ocala National Forest stand out is its wildlife.
Read More: 10 Animals We Saw While Camping in Ocala National Forest, FL
The forest is home to black bears, white-tailed deer, alligators, and even wild turkeys. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a bald eagle or two.
Whether you’re hiking through the woods or paddling down one of the many rivers, you’re sure to see some amazing wildlife in Ocala National Forest.
Ocala National Forest is an incredible destination for hikers, campers, and adventurers of all kinds. It’s packed full of wildlife and offers plenty of opportunities to explore the outdoors.
We hope our list of 10 breathtaking hikes has inspired you to plan your next outdoor getaway in Ocala National Forest. So grab your backpack and hit the trails! You won’t be disappointed by what you find there.