Special Places

Protecting more than 1.2 million acres of public land, the National Forests in Florida are home to many special and unique places, including wilderness areas, botanical areas, freshwater springs and scenic waterways. Here are a few for you to explore.
 

Yellow wildflowers in the front with red car on road and pine trees in the background. Two people on a boardwalk overlooking sinkhole filled with water.
Munson Hills Icon Several people riding mountain bikes Sunset over Ocean Pond with black silhouette of trees on the right.
Man and woman sitting in chairs on beach looking out across lake. Icon for Salt Springs
Man wearing snorkel and mask taking underwater selfie in crystal clear water. Children playing in clear lake with trees and blue skies in the background.

 

Highlighted Areas

Sweetwater Cabin

A cabin in the forest.

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), this classic example of 1930s CCC architecture is perched above a chalky blue spring - Sweetwater Spring - that creates a stream feeding Juniper Creek. It is one of the most popular and secretive getaways in the Ocala National Forest. Sweetwater Cabin is available for weekly rentals that includes your own spring to splash in off the deck out back.

Due to high demand, Sweetwater Cabin rental reservations are awarded through an annual computerized lottery selection process. The lottery is open from January 1 -May 31 each year. 

For more information on reserving this historic cabin contact Adventure Ocala.

History

Built in 1934 by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a recreation cabin, Sweetwater Cabin was occupied by the film crew shooting The Yearling, starring Gregory Peck, in 1945 while on location on Pat's Island, just to the north. The cabin is surrounded by the Juniper Prairie Wilderness (area is unavailable) and has direct access via canoe to Juniper Run (area is unavailable).


Alexander Run

Bubbling forth from Alexander Springs into Alexander Creek, this popular canoe run starts at the Alexander Springs Recreation Area and continues for about six miles of paddling to the take-out on the north shore. The run is broad and swift, with many small islands and little dry land to bank on for the first several miles. A paddling trip is the easiest way to experience the heart of the Alexander Springs Wilderness.

Nature Viewing

  • Birding is excellent all along Alexander Creek, whether from the seat of your kayak or the observation decks along the Timucuan Trail. Expect to see wading birds of all sorts, including Louisiana herons and limpkins.

Mill Dam Recreation Area

Mill Dam has been a popular destination for generations. In the shade of live oaks overlooking the 168-acre Mill Dam Lake, Mill Dam Recreation Area offers two different experiences.

  • March 16 - September 30 -- This area is a day-use recreation area only with a large swimming area and wheelchair-accessible sandy beach.
  • October 1 to March 15 -- This area is a group campground / recreation area for day-use and tent camping.

This site is operated by Adventure Ocala.


Juniper Run

Kayaker drifting down a spring with vegetation on both sides.

Named one of the top 25 canoe runs in America by ReserveAmerica and typically a high point of a visit to Florida, Juniper Run is a narrow, winding waterway set under a dense canopy of old-growth forest and few places solid enough to get out of your canoe. The seven-mile journey starts just below the springs and follows the spring run through the heart of the Juniper Prairie Wilderness to a take-out off SR 19, well before the run empties into the St. Johns River at Lake George. Juniper Run is popular year-round. Please keep in mind that temperatures may be cool in the winter and afternoon thunderstorms may be frequent in the summer. 

Boating

  • Canoeing and kayaking are the only permitted activities along Juniper Run. The waterway varies greatly in depth and width and passes under many low-hanging trees in the first several miles. Pull-off and take-out points are very limited due to the narrow channel and the nature of the surrounding terrain. Rafts, johnboats, inner tubes and other inflatable items are prohibited to protect the environment, provide public safety and ensure a more pleasant wilderness experience.

Wildlife Viewing

  • The dense, jungle-like forests surrounding Juniper Springs and Juniper Run - as well as the waterway itself - are home to wildlife that you might not commonly see elsewhere. Among the more interesting residents of our natural communities are the albino gray squirrels seen near the Mill House, the otters that play along the edges of the spring run, and the American eels that migrate out to the Sargasso Sea to spawn, returning to Juniper Springs to live. Just before the take-out point near SR 19, the waterway broadens to encompass wetlands teeming with wading birds and wildlife, providing a different perspective on paddling in Florida.

This site is operated by Adventure Ocala


Alexander Springs Recreation Area

Several people snorkeling in clear blue water.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Only 27 first-magnitude springs exist in Florida, and Alexander Springs is by far one of the easiest to enjoy. A broad and naturally gently sloped spring pool is a constant 72°F and extraordinarily clear. Ripples play across the sand bottom as small fish dart about. Surrounded by a floodplain forest of maples, sweetgum and cabbage palms, this recreation area feels almost tropical.

Camping

  • 67-unit campground accommodates tents and RVs up to 35 feet. Some campsites are first come, first served. Others are reservable by calling 1-877-444-6777 or at recreation.gov.
  • Maximum stay is 14 consecutive days in a 30-day period.
  • No electrical, water or sewer hookups. Hot showers and dump station
  • Concessionaire sells snacks, groceries, ice, charcoal, firewood, beach items and personal items.

Backpacking

  • Alexander Springs is one of several refreshing stops along the Florida National Scenic Trail. A 0.5 mile blue-blazed trail leads from the camping area to the main Trail, which is blazed orange. Alexander Springs to Clearwater Lake is 9.7 miles south. Alexander Springs to Farles Lake is 7 miles north.

Boating

  • An on-site outfitter rents canoes for the paddle down Alexander Run into the Alexander Springs Wilderness. You’ll need to paddle back to the springs unless you’ve arranged for your own take out farther downstream.

Nature Viewing

  • Birding is fabulous along Alexander Run.

Picnicking

  • Plenty of picnic tables are available under the oaks, all within sight of the splashing fun of the springs.

Scuba Diving

  • Alexander Springs is the only place in the Ocala National Forest where scuba diving is permitted. Open water diving enables you to explore the broad mouth of the spring.

Swimming

  • Alexander Springs is one of the best swimming holes in the Ocala National Forest, with a gently sloped beach leading into the gently sloped spring basin.

Walking the Trail

  • Day hikers will appreciate the shady Timucuan Trail, a 0.9-mile interpretive loop with a boardwalk through a jungle of palms along the spring run and more challenging terrain leading into the Big Scrub.
  • Enjoy the beauty of a turquoise spring basin on a walk around Alexander Springs. A paved path leads along the south side of the basin from the canoe launch to the trailhead for the Timucuan Trail. There, the interpretive trail continues as a boardwalk through the lush palm hammock along the spring's edge to observation decks along the spring run.

 


Clearwater Lake Recreation Area

A lake behind bushes and trees.Enjoy a quiet getaway along the southeastern edge of the Ocala National Forest, just outside the community of Paisley. A longleaf pine forest and wiregrass ecosystem surrounds the 32-acre lake and provides a beautiful, shaded, wooded setting for the campground, a day-use picnic area, beach and a nature trail.

Boating

  • Paddle your canoe or kayak across our placid waters in search of a quiet spot along the reedy shoreline. It's slightly more than a mile circuit around the edge.

Camping 

  • Nicely shaded, the 42-space Clearwater Lake Campground provides breezy lakefront sites. It accommodates both trailers and tents, and has bathhouses with showers.

Fishing

  • Cast a line from your campsite or wade out into the grassy shallows for a chance to catch both bream and catfish.

Hiking & Backpacking

  • 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.

Mountain Biking

  • Explore 22 miles of singletrack along the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail between Alexander Springs Recreation Area and Clearwater Lake Recreation Area.

Swimming

  • A swimming beach along Clearwater Lake provides a place for families to frolic in the water.

This site is operated by Adventure Ocala.


Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway

Providing more than 60 miles of exploration by car, the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway - a National Scenic Byway- is a network of scenic roads between Silver Springs and Ormond Beach, including SR 40 through the heart of the Ocala National Forest.

The Byway traverses some of Florida's most pristine ecosystems. Included within the corridor are many public lands such as Juniper Springs Wilderness Area, Silver River State Park, the Cross Florida Greenway, Florida National Scenic Trail and the Tiger Bay State Forest. The route also crosses several waterways, which have received special designation because of their uniqueness, including the St. Johns River, an American Heritage River and the Ocklawaha River, an Outstanding Florida Waterway.

For more information visit the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway website at www.floridablackbearscenicbyway.org.


Recreation Areas