15 Best Things to Do in Ocala National Forest, FL

Ocala National Forest, FL
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Ocala National Forest is one of the three national forests in Florida and is a hotspot and a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and lovers with a passion for nature and wildlife!

Best known for its campgrounds, water activities, and hiking trails, this primitive wilderness regularly attracts tourists and visitors!

This forest in North Central Florida is the oldest standing natural plantation on the entire east coast and is home to an array of animals and plants that you may spot on your visit.

This woodland is also situated next to the city of Ocala, and its surrounding forests are complete with springs, lakes, and rivers you can swim in and explore!

There’s so much to discover in the primeval forest of Florida with breathtaking views and sights to see.

Maximize your visit to Ocala National Forest with this curated list of the best things to do in Ocala National Forest, FL.

Set Up a Camp at Juniper Springs

Trees surrounding the calm waters of Juniper Springs
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Juniper Springs is one of the oldest springs on the entire east coast that is also home to a canopy of oaks and palms to provide you shade while enjoying the bubbling water!

The recreational area surrounding the natural waters was built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and has become an important, significant part of Ocala National Forest since then.

Scenic view of Juniper Springs
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This freshwater spring is also a historic site with a rich background which you can learn all about inside their Mill House.

This mill provides the electricity needed to keep their campground alive and running, along with a lot of other interesting stories that surround this destination.

The location of Juniper Springs provides guests with a variety of leisurely outdoor activities such as bird and nature watching, swimming, and camping.

Boardwalk leading to Juniper Springs
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Though fishing is prohibited in the springs, you may spot a harmless American eel and other marine life swimming beneath the surface.

With the option to set up a tent and camp at this site, you can spend quality time with the entire family as you soak up the relaxing atmosphere at Juniper Springs!

Improve Your Hunting Skills at Ocala Public Shooting Range

This single-station shooting range within Ocala National Forest allows guests to improve and polish up their aim and shooting skills.

Ocala Public Shooting Range is operated by the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR); this facility requires a special use permit to ensure the safety and security of everyone.

With a stretch of over 100 yards from the station to the target, individuals can choose their weapon of choice, including a shotgun, rifle, or handgun.

This facility is unsupervised, so coordination, communication, and cooperation between visitors are observed.

Since this range is also a self-service station, you need to bring your own targets and thrower if you want to practice your shooting skills.

Open from sunset to sunrise, you can drop by anytime as long as you observe safety precautions.

Take a Refreshing Dip at Alexander Springs

The waters of Alexander Springs
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Alexander Springs is one of the few first-magnitude springs you can find in Florida, and it's easily accessible to you through Ocala National Forest!

This freshwater spring is found along the Florida National Scenic Trail, a well-known trail that spans the state for over 1,000 miles.

In this particular section of the trails sits Alexander Springs, where guests are more than welcome to swim, paddle, and enjoy recreational water activities!

Rainforest at Alexander Springs
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Some things you can do here include boating, kayaking, paddleboarding, and even scuba diving, where you can admire the beautiful marine life that thrives in these waters.

This expansive area also provides the opportunity for some simple land activities like picnicking, sightseeing, and birdwatching, where you can possibly spot rare species flying overhead.

Day hikers usually take the trip to the section of the Florida National Scenic Trail in Ocala National Forest, where they can spot various wildlife that lives here.

The crystal clear waters and refreshing aura of Alexander Springs are an experience you wouldn’t want to miss!

Clear waters of Alexander Springs
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Go Wheeling at Ocala Centennial OHV Trail

Stretching over 47 miles in length, Ocala Centennial OHV Trail is a loop trail system that gives guests access to ATVs, UTVs, and motorcycles.

Visitors under 16 years old are required to take a driving test to test their capabilities, but anyone over that age is free to avail of their riding trails.

If you get tired from riding up and down the pathways, feel free to take a break and do other activities available such as sightseeing, fishing, picnicking, and more!

This trail system is also home to an ecosystem that has been deemed to be one of the largest pine scrubs in the world called the “Big Scrub.”

In addition, a wide variety of animals have made this trail their home, so be sure to be on the lookout for them!

Ocala Centennial OHV Trail is one of the more well-known trails in North Central Florida that give you a lot of fun outdoor activities to enjoy with the whole family!

Rent a Cabin at Sweetwater Cabin

Originally built in 1934, this establishment has been standing strong and opening rental opportunities to guests who wish to have a comfortable stay within Ocala National Forest!

Its convenient location makes it the ideal place to spend the night in this national forest, being primitive enough to get a good night’s rest but near enough to the surrounding wilderness where you can stay in touch with nature.

This rental area has its very own amenities, some of which include its own freshwater spring, a swimming pool, and canoes for rent!

The ecologic nature of the surrounding area is sure to give you a relaxing stay where you can enjoy leisurely walks along the trails, take in the view at the observation deck, or simply sit on their screened porch.

Because of the popularity of this cabin, rooms get booked quite fast, so be sure to make a reservation ahead of time to ensure accommodations for you and the family!

Watch Out for Black Bears at Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway

Road sign of Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway
DanTD, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Florida is known to be home to a wide number of both plant and animal species, and Florida Black Bear Scenic Way shows you the wilder living creatures!

This route was officially given recognition as a Scenic Byway designation in 2008 for its picturesque views, habitat connectivity, and staying true to its name, for the black bears that have the highest population density in this region!

Florida black bears were once placed on the endangered list of species back in 1974; fortunately, due to the protection and conservation measures that have been put in place, they were able to repopulate and were removed from the list!

This byway leads guests around a mosaic of sites and recreational hotspots you can traverse and explore that are sure to give you unforgettable memories.

If a walking tour or a hike around this trail is not for you, scenic driving through Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway is an option you can definitely check out!

Make sure to bring a camera and snap some pictures at this trail system!

Go Horseback Riding at the Ocala One Hundred Mile Horse Trail

Staying true to its name, this horseback riding trail spans over one hundred miles that’s been divided into three sections that you can traverse.

The first section stretches for 40 miles and is marked by red blazes called the Flatwood Trail, the second another 40 miles marked by white blazes called the Prairie Trail, and the final 20-mile stretch called the Baptist Lake Trail marked by blue blazes.

Horse riding is one of the most common activities you can do in Ocala National Forest, making it a fun yet efficient way to explore the surrounding area!

In addition to the horses, guests also have the opportunity to spend the night on their campgrounds!

Don’t forget to bring your own tents and other necessities so you can roast some marshmallows over the campfire while you tell scary stories.

Enjoy a Nature Retreat at Doe Lake Campground

Tent camping at Doe Lake Campground is one of the most sought-after activities at this venue, where you can get back in touch with nature!

Centered around a classical and restored dining hall built in the 1930s, this campground is best for equestrian activities that can be enjoyed solo or in large groups.

The location of this establishment gives you a beautiful view of the surrounding flora and fauna, including pines, oaks, and other groves that will relax you!

Water activities such as boating, fishing, and kayaking can be done on Doe Lake, where you can soak up the magical waters of this pristine lake.

Accommodations run out quickly due to the high demand of Doe Lake Campground, so be sure to book a reservation ahead of time!

Explore the Depths of Wildcat Lake

View of the Wildcat Lake
DanTD, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Found within the Big Scrub in Ocala National Forest sits a 258-acre lake known as Wildcat Lake!

This lake runs deeper than most, reaching as deep as 43 feet below the surface, making it ideal for freshwater fishing.

Wildcat Lake is known for being home to a variety of fish, but the largemouth bass is the most common species that live in this lake, even growing up to as large as 14 pounds!

Guests also have the option to swim the depths of this lake as long as they exercise safety precautions or go waterskiing for a more adventurous approach!

Boating is another common sport you can do here where you can explore or cruise around the water, scouting the far reaches and shallow rims for other marine life!

Wildlife thrives at Wildcat Lake, so be sure to be mindful of your surroundings.

Spend the Night at Mill Dam Lake Resort

Sitting between two beautiful lakes is Mill Dam Lake Resort, a resort and residential property where you can book a stay while on your visit to Ocala National Forest!

Found on the borders of this forest, its location allows for a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, nature walks, scenic rides, and more.

With the intent to provide rest and relaxation to all who drop by, Mill Dam Lake Resort is a fully functioning resort with a lot of amenities for you to enjoy!

Some of their accommodations include mobile homes, RVs, and cabins which you can reserve upon booking.

Their lake is also ideal for fishing with the variety of species of fish that live here, so be sure to drop by and bring your fishing rod with you!

Other Things to Do Nearby

Experience Glass Bottom Boat Rides at Silver Springs State Park

Entranceway of Silver Springs State Park
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A popular recreational area and tourist attraction are found in Silver Springs, a neighboring community known as Silver Springs State Park.

This facility is best recognized for its glass-bottom boat rides that take tourists across the largest spring in America.

Here, you can get a glimpse of the magnificent underwater world that thrives while safely inside your vessel!

People on a glass bottom boat at Silver Springs State Park
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You can find historic structures, breathtaking, serene gardens, and other wildlife at this local favorite tourist attraction.

You also have the option to do other fun activities on their campgrounds, take a nature walk or hike around the surrounding area, or spend a night or two in their cabins.

Their rentals run out quickly, so be sure to call ahead of time and book a room!

An empty glass bottom boat at Silver Springs State Park
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Take a Tour Around Salt Springs Marina

Ocala National Forest is surrounded by a number of communities and districts, including Salt Springs, which is less than a 30-minute drive!

This community is home to Salt Springs Marina, a popular paddle trail and spring that provides lots of fun water activities for the entire family!

Connecting and running through several lakes, this establishment also takes tourists on a guided tour across these waters, where you can learn all about its history.

This full-service marina is a recreational gem in the heart of Salt Springs, where you can enjoy the natural mineral spring of this venue or rent their canoes, kayaks, pontoons, and more to get out into the open waters.

Keep an eye out for manatees swimming by since they’re often spotted near this area!

Rich in history that dates back to the 1900s, it was once believed that this spring had “medicinal healing powers,” attracting a great number of visitors and tourists!

Pay a Visit to Farles Prairie Recreational Area

In Altoona, a 30-minute drive from Ocala National Forest, you can find Farles Prairie Recreational Area, a facility that takes pride in its prairie area that provides a multitude of outdoor recreation!

One of the most common activities includes trail riding, whether on OHVs or ATVs, which allows you to cruise the area efficiently!

Their boat ramp is available where you can launch your boats, whether canoe or kayak and get out into the open water.

Picnicking is another activity that you can enjoy; with the surrounding environment and relaxing atmosphere, you’re sure to appreciate the natural beauty of the East Coast while eating a tasty snack with family and friends.

Take a walk along this beautiful prairie at Farles Prairie Recreational Area and get back in touch with nature!

Meander through the Trails at Spring Boils Hiking Trails

Name sign of Spring Boils Hiking Trails
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In the nearby community of Fort McCoy, Spring Boils Hiking Trails is a 3-mile interpretive trail that weaves around a spring basin in this forest of the East Coast.

This hiking trail is home to a cove of tiny bubbling springs in which you can take a refreshing dip in!

Flowing into the river of Silver Glen, this spring is also an important archaeological site as well with preserved natural resources that you wouldn’t want to miss.

This trail was once a village site before it was opened to the public as an outdoor recreational facility.

Whether you’re a seasoned hiker or you enjoy taking leisurely walks, Spring Boils Hiking Trails is the go-to destination for you!

Cruise the Tracks at Wandering Wiregrass OHV Trail and Trailhead

Also, within the community of Altoona, Wandering Wiregrass OHV Trail and Trailhead is found towards the southeastern corner of Ocala National Forest.

Their trail stretches over 17 miles and loops around, providing a track for visitors to ride on their OHVs and ATVs.

Along this track, you can find pine habitats, flora and fauna, and even some animals by the side of the road who have made this trailhead their home.

Though open all day, year-round, the best time to visit this venue is during the fall and winter months with the cooler temperatures to ensure a comfortable experience as you hike or take a ride around this primitive campsite.

Be sure to observe proper safety regulations and precautions while wearing safety equipment to give yourself and your fellow visitors an enjoyable time while cruising through these tracks!

Final Thoughts

Ocala National Forest is best known for being a hotspot for outdoor recreation and activities, especially with its surrounding communities that provide a variety of things to do and sights to see!

The thriving wildlife, flora and fauna, and freshwater springs are things you wouldn’t want to miss as you take a trip to this woodsy area situated in North Central Florida!

Whether you’re here on a nature retreat to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city or simply want to immerse yourself in the natural terrain of this forest, Ocala National Forest is the ideal place to go!

Get the chance to take a walk, go on a hike, swim in the spring, or ride an ATV through this forest by booking a trip now!