The Ocala National Forest has an outstanding array of natural pools and canoe runs to complement its beautiful landscape. Located near Orlando, Florida, Ocala National Forest has the world's largest sand pine scrub forest along with its 600 lakes, rivers, and springs. Despite having a desert-like appearance, the sand pine scrub forest has life breathed into it by the various waterways and islands of longleaf print located throughout the Ocala National Forest.
The forest is the most southern in the United States and was the second National Forest created east of the Mississippi under President Roosevelt on November 24, 1908. The forest has three first-magnitude springs open to the public as well as a variety of historical sites that are keen spots for those looking to explore on their camping trips.
For anyone looking to explore on their next RV trip, Ocala National Forest is perfect. The abundance of water means that visitors have the option to go swimming, snorkeling, or diving in the crystal clear waters regardless of the time of year. The four RV campgrounds in the forest give visitors easy access to other recreational activities like hunting, fishing, hiking, OHVing, and horseback riding. We have highlighted some top campground choices below.
The Ocala National Forest is easily accessible for RVs or trailers up to 35 feet in length. The forest is located around 15 miles east of Silver Springs, which is one of the nearby towns and also the edge of the forest boundary. As you enter the Ocala National Forest, you will either pass over Ocklawaha River from the north or the St. Johns River if you approach from the eastern side.
Getting to the forest is easy. It can be accessed via Interstate 95 in Ormond Beach or by Interstate 75 in Ocala. Both routes require around 15 miles of highway driving before getting to the park where you will find the recreation entrance on your left.
The Ocala National Forest is easy to navigate with an RV or a trailer. The Alexander Spring and Salt Spring Campgrounds are well signposted and accessible by well-kept roads. For campers, you can not camp next to your car, and the tent areas are a short distance from the parking area.
Salt Springs is the biggest campground in Ocala National Forest. If you are looking for a full hookups for your RV, this is the only campground you can use. The campground has 106 sites for either trailers or RVs and a tent area for up to 54 tents. Also be aware that the 35-feet length restrictions apply here.
The entire campground is fortunate to receive a lot of shade and has many facilities, including bathrooms, drinking water, picnic tables, and parking. It also has fantastic access to a range of recreational activities. All of the sidewalks and boardwalks throughout the campground are fully accessible.
Due to its popularity, the beautiful campground requires a reservation before arriving. Make sure to leave yourself plenty of time in winter as this is the busiest season. You can stay at Salt Springs for a maximum of 14 consecutive days over 30 days. Like in the rest of the forest, dogs are welcome but should be kept on a leash at all times. However, they are not allowed in swimming areas.
The Alexander Spring Campground is the second largest in the Ocala National Forest. For those looking to enjoy the crystal clear spring water, this site is perfect as they are just a short walk away. It also has several picnicking areas throughout which are located in shaded areas for everyone to enjoy.
There are 67 spots for either tents or RVs to enjoy. You can also bring a trailer, but the 35 feet limitation applies throughout the campground. Some of the campsites must be reserved, and others are available on a first-come, first-served basis. To avoid disappointment in the busy months, you would be best to book your spot. For RV enthusiasts, it is essential to note that there are no hookups available, but there is a dump station for waste.
The campground boasts easy access to fishing spots and swimming spots. It also has hot showers, drinking water, and picnic tables for people to enjoy. There is also a small store that sells snacks, firewood, some groceries, and an array of beach items.
Ocala National Forest is perfect for mountain bikers, and the Paisley Woods Trail is an expansive 22-mile loop that takes you to the south-east corner of the forest. The route traverses sand hills that navigate around the longleaf pines found throughout the forest. The soft sand can often be challenging to navigate through so be prepared for some difficulty at times. The Paisley Trail is marked with yellow diamonds and at times crosses paths with the hiking-only Florida trail, so be aware. You can access the trail at Alexander Springs and Clearwater Lake trail heads.
With the abundance of lakes and rivers at Ocala National Park, it has become a prime destination for those wanting to do water activities. The crystal clear waters of the first-magnitude springs are ideal for swimming and are an excellent spot for relaxing. Alexander Springs, Clearwater Lake, and Fore Lake are just a few of the many well-known places for swimming. Open water scuba diving is also permitted at Alexander Springs, but a license is required. For those looking to water ski, Lake Door is the designated area for this and has the necessary facilities to support entering the water.
There is a diverse marine life throughout the 600 lakes and rivers at Ocala National Forest. You can visit Lake Eaton for a spot of bass fishing or Beakman Lake for some more enclosed fishing. If you enjoy river or stream fishing, then go to Alexander Run to enjoy the crystalline waters along the Timucuan Trail. As per Florida regulations, you must have a fishing permit unless you are using a bamboo pole or are under 16 years old. For those with a boat, Mill Dam has a ramp so you can access the water.
Throughout the Ocala National Forest, there are opportunities to learn about nature. You can find visitor centers at Salt Springs, Ocklawaha, and Pittman. All of the locations have helpful information including maps and guides of the local area. Depending on the time of day there will also be friendly staff on hand to teach you about the local area. The Pittman Visitor Center is in the vicinity of an old pioneer settlement and is held within an old cabin.
The Ocala National Forest has a variety of hikes that suit people of all abilities. The Timucuan Trail is just 0.9 miles in length and is a stark reminder of the old way of life settlers used to enjoy. It also displays the best of the scrub forest as well as a look at the spring pools. For those looking for a more substantial challenge, the 8.4-mile National Scenic Trail immerses you entirely in the Big Scrub and is a small part of the extensive Florida Trail. It is crucial to bring water as refill stations are scarce among the routes.
The Off-Highway Vehicle trails at the Ocala National Forest have been built for visitors to enjoy them at slow speeds and enjoy the surrounding scenery. The Ocala North OHV Trail providers riders with 125 miles of riding trails to enjoy. Seventy-six miles of the trail is for all OHV owners to enjoy, but there are some restrictions in parts which are just for motorbikes and all-terrain vehicles. The trail can be enjoyed throughout the day, but a permit is required to ride the trail. Avoid going off-trail as it damages conservation efforts in the area