Special Places

Protecting the world's largest contigious sand pine scrub forest, a desert-like environment atop ancient sand dunes that stood well above the waves of primordial seas, the  Ocala National Forest is full of special places, from our four major springs to hundreds of lakes and ponds, islands of longleaf pine, and sinuous waterways that breathe life into an otherwise arid environment.  Botanical wonders as well as archaelogical and historic sites are waiting around the next bend. Come explore the Ocala National Forest!

Highlighted Areas

Alexander Springs Recreation Area

There are only 27 first-magnitude springs in Florida, and Alexander Springs is by far one of the easiest for visitors to enjoy. A broad and naturally gently sloped spring pool becomes a natural water park when visitors come to picnic, swim, and play. The water 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.

 


Salt Springs Recreation Area

Salt Springs Recreation Area is one of the recreational jewels of the Ocala National Forest. The recreation area is located in the lush, semi-tropical setting of central Florida. Within the recreation area is a natural spring rising from vertical fissures (cracks) from deep within the earth. The presence of potassium, magnesium and sodium salts give the waters in the spring a slight salinity. Hence the name Salt Springs.


Mill Dam Recreation Area

In the shade of live oaks overlooking 168-acre Mill Dam Lake, Mill Dam Recreation Area offers two different experiences for the public. Between March 16 and September 30, it's a day use recreation area with a large swimming area and sandy beach accessible by wheelchairs. For the remainder of the year, October 1 - March 15, it becomes a group campground / recreation area for both day use and tent camping.


Doe Lake Recreation Area

The Doe Lake Recreation Area is centered around a classic 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps dining hall that has been historically restored. This beautiful building sits atop a grassy hill overlooking the clear waters of Doe Lake. Restoration efforts are the result of an agreement between the Friends of Doe Lake and the Forest Service.  A bath house, including showers, was built in the same architectural style.


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 at 52 Landing. 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.


Clearwater Lake Recreation Area

With a shaded campground, a day use picnic area and beach, and a nature trail throughout the pine woods and scrub around Clearwater Lake, Clearwater Lake Recreation Area is a quiet getaway along the southeastern edge of the Ocala National Forest, just outside the community of Paisley.


Lake Dorr Recreation Area

Along the northwest shore of Lake Dorr, Lake Dorr Recreation Area is set under the deep shade of an oak hammock. Offering RV camping, Lake Dorr also has a boat ramp and picnic area overlooking the lake.


Juniper Springs Recreation Area

Showcasing sparkling springs in a subtropical setting, Juniper Springs is one of the oldest and best known recreation areas on the East Coast. Located between Ocala and Ormond Beach along SR 40, this complex of swimming and picnic area, campground, and trails was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The setting is unlike any other found in the United States, with hundreds of tiny bubbling springs and massive springs gushing out of crevices in the earth beneath a dense canopy of palms and oaks, an oasis within the heart of the desert-like Big Scrub.


Lake Delancy West

Lake Delancy West provides an OHV recreation area along Lake Delancy with OHV corrals, access to numerous marked OHV trails along the Ocala North OHV Trail System, and camping along the lake. The recreation area also serves as a trailhead and designated campground along the hiking-only Florida Trail.


 


Juniper Run

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 7-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.


Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area

As the sun shines, rainbows play across the bottom of the crystal-clear spring basin at Silver Glen Springs, a beautiful spot along the edge of the Big Scrub of the Ocala National Forest, with a spring run that pours out into Lake George, the largest of the St. Johns River Chain of Lakes, north of Astor.  Both a popular day use recreation area and an important archaeological site, Silver Glen Springs showcases the delicate balance necessary between enjoyment of the outdoors and preservation of irreplaceable resources.


Juniper Prairie Wilderness

Protecting the heart of the Big Scrub, the 14,283-acre Juniper Prairie Wilderness is perhaps the best known of the four wilderness areas in the Ocala National Forest thanks to its frontage and prominent signage on SR 40 - the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway - and SR 19.

As a wilderness area, it remains roadless, untouchable by motorized vehicles or equipment. This special designation provides certain challenges in a flammable habitat such as the sand pine scrub for which our forest is famous, since firefighting options are limited. As a result, portions of the wilderness may seem denuded after a forest fire. But the scrub regenerates quickly, pushing up saw palmetto and young sand pines to provide shade and habitat for wildlife. The wilderness contains a mosaic of habitats bound together by the flow of open prairies, many with ponds, across the landscape. By hiking, backpacking, or paddling through the wilderness, you can enjoy the flora and fauna of pine flatwoods, hardwood swamps, shallow lakes, grassy prairies, sand pine scrub, oak scrub, sinkholes, and sawgrass marsh.


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.


Yearling Trail

Take a trek back in time to Pat's Island on the Yearling Trail, a walk through the Big Scrub to an island of pine that the Long family once called home. This interpretive trail system leads you past a variety of historic structures, including an old cattle dip vat, a cistern, the remains of several homestead sites, and the Long family cemetery. In the center of it all is a giant sinkhole where the pre-1900 settlers collected drinking water.


Fort Gates Ferry

Although not managed by the Forest Service, the Fort Gates Ferry is a site of historic importance and is reached via forest roads east from Salt Springs. This site is a narrows in the St. Johns River north of Drayton Island and has been home to a ferry crossing for nearly two centuries. The current ferry is a 1910 Sharpie sailboat piloting a 1930s barge that can hold two cars. The crossing is part of the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway.


Areas & Activities

Highlights

  • Visitor Centers
    Stop in at a visitor center to pick up maps, get recreation suggestions, and more!
  • Wilderness Areas
    There are four designated wilderness areas in the Ocala National Forest, two of which are popular recreation destinations.
  • Black Bear Scenic Byway
    Hit the high points of the Ocala National Forest along our own National Scenic Highway.
Fort Gates Ferry

Historic Fort Gates Ferry