The Ocala Nationwide Forest is acquainted territory to me. However every time I hike it, the appear and feel are a bit totally different. The variations may be seasons, climate, gear, conditioning, or circumstances. That is my first time climbing this as a thru-hiker, and it simply felt utterly totally different to me this time. However that’s a very good factor.
I’ve hiked everything of this part as a bit hiker earlier than, as this space is lower than two hours from my residence. I hiked all all through the Ocala Nationwide Forest as a Boy Scout a long time in the past. I need to admit that not one of the ONF matches the reminiscences I’ve of these early hikes, and that’s to be anticipated. It is a working forest that’s harvested and cleared each thirty years or so. The pine forests develop very quickly in Florida, and so the character adjustments quickly.
The prairies within the Nationwide Forest look essentially the most related. The water ranges can change from yr to yr or season to season, however they give the impression of being the identical to me now as they did a decade in the past. So does the Boy Scout Camp south of the city of Paisley. A few of the highway walks look the identical, however some look totally different. It’s exhausting to determine what the mind considers memorable sufficient to hold on to versus what it rapidly ejects to carry on to one thing extra attention-grabbing.
The few hikers I met to this point on this path to the south all commented on anticipating the Ocala Nationwide Forest part. It’s the birthplace of the Florida Path, and in addition one of many longest woodland sections of path with out highway walks. I don’t suppose I had the identical kind of anticipation of this part that the majority different hikers have for it. As a substitute of eager to see the “nice forest”, I wished to see how my reminiscence held up over time.
However there have been just a few issues I used to be anticipating: The 88 retailer (which I’ve by no means visited), Sharktooth spring (which seems prefer it belongs on the Appalachian Path to me), the Juniper Wilderness (which the final time I hiked was utterly burned out), and Farles Lake campground (the place I obtained Noro or an identical virus on my final journey from the campground water pump). As I mentioned earlier, it’s attention-grabbing what the thoughts decides to carry onto.
Seminole State Forest
This part begins out with a small highway stroll up the entry highway for the park. The park requires a charge for tenting in addition to a day-use charge for hikers. The kiosk has an indication and QR code to go to the web site to pay the charge. I bear in mind there being an iron ranger right here earlier than to simply shove your $3 into and be in your method. My telephone wouldn’t learn the QR code, so I went to the web site manually. However I couldn’t determine methods to pay the day-use charge, solely a tenting charge. I used to be planning on climbing by way of in sooner or later. After losing twenty minutes, I made a decision to simply hike on. If anybody discovered methods to do it, please put up within the feedback part.
Early within the hike is the Shelter campsite. It’s known as that as a result of it has a shelter on it. Fairly descriptive. I’ve by no means stayed in a shelter on the Florida Path earlier than. And at the moment would proceed that development. It’s a three-sider just like an Appalachian Path type shelter. There may be additionally loads of house for tents.
The majority of the Forest is both pine and palmetto or scrub oak – similar to 95% of the remainder of the path. However I do bear in mind one particular function – Shark Tooth Spring. The spring itself is alongside a brief aspect path that goes to the bottom of a cliff. A Florida cliff is only a wall of filth about 25 toes excessive the place the spring has reduce by way of the sand over the course of its historical past. I really like this spring as a result of it is among the few springs on the Florida Path the place you possibly can reliably get good clear chilly water capturing straight out of the bottom. Thus far on the path northbound, it’s the second I can recall after “pipe squirt” spring within the Kissimmee river floodplain.
One different function I bear in mind on this space is a extremely nasty highway stroll on State Street 44. When my spouse and I hiked this space about ten years in the past, a driver swerved off the highway proper in direction of us trying me within the eye the entire time. I should not have fond reminiscences of this part. As I’m nearing the realm the place I count on the highway stroll to start, it by no means begins. The path now crosses the highway and doesn’t comply with the highway. I will need to have missed this path re-route replace over time. I’m pleasantly shocked.
However after I get to the part the place the highway stroll ended, I recognise the home proper subsequent to the path. However the path has modified. The home-owner has had enjoyable constructing a tunnel and adorning his fence. I cease and marvel on the handiwork of the tunnel and discover the treasures it accommodates. He has many chairs, some first support provides, a trash can, and a few water. I really feel like a ten-year-old in a do-it-yourself fort within the woods.
After taking just a few photographs, I transfer on and discover the home-owner outdoors typing extra “decorations” onto his fence. I talked with him for ten or fifteen minutes and uncover he’s the one accountable for the re-route off the highway. He’s my new hero. He’s a really attention-grabbing character and I encourage hikers to cease and discuss with him if he’s outdoors. I’d encourage that for lots of the locals alongside the path. A few of them might not even know that the path exists, however a few of them have intimate data and historical past of the path of their space. Within the phrases of Forest Gump – “Locals are like a field of goodies. You by no means know what you’re going to get.”
The path had been excessive and dry your entire day apart from one small part simply previous the tunnel. I’m positive I might have bushwhacked round it, however I used to be prepared to clean my toes, so I simply took off my sneakers and walked by way of it. That is turning into my favourite technique to cope with submerged sections of the path. Once I obtained to the opposite aspect, I noticed a bypass path that may have prevented it utterly. I used to be completely satisfied to have clear toes, although.
What I used to be not completely satisfied about, nevertheless, was the rain that began coming in direction of the top of the day. I’ve been very fortunate with rain on this journey to this point, so it was inevitable to come across rain. I’m not utilizing a pack cowl, and I’m utilizing a nylon pack, so the pack rapidly absorbs lots of water. All my delicate gear is in dry baggage, so I’m not frightened, it simply turns into a nuisance to sleep on moist gear since my pack is a part of my sleep system.
Boy Scout Camp La-No-Che
One factor I had forgotten about this Boy Scout camp was the wild oranges. There are a number of locations alongside the Florida Path the place wild oranges develop within the woods, however this space has an abundance of them. Industrial orange timber are normally grafted onto wild orange rootstock and the seeds carry the genetics of the rootstock. So when a chook (or hiker) spreads an orange seed, a wild orange tree grows.
The thorns on these wild timber are normally big and the fruit is bitter and really acidic. I sampled a minimum of ten totally different timber in search of one which was not repulsive. As regular, I struck out. It takes a really very long time to get the terrible style out of your mouth. Now I used to be actually lacking the fruit stand man on SR 520. His purple navels had been rocking.
I had additionally forgotten in regards to the loopy zipline tower throughout the lake. What precisely are these Boy Scouts coaching for?
Your complete space is sandy scrub oak with deer moss far and wide. The principle entrance to the camp is a huge subject, and on this specific weekend, the scouts had been having an occasion and there have been a minimum of 100 vehicles and twice as many tents. The path skirts the sting of the sector however stays within the woods. I might see the, however they might not see me.
Leaving the camp is a brief highway stroll on a small highway that leads out to CR 42. The small city of Paisley is a brief highway stroll alongside the CR to a Greenback Common and a pizza joint. Florida Path hikers can buy inventory in Greenback Common since they’re scattered all up and down the path.
Ocala Nationwide Forest South
If not heading into Paisley, then the Clearwater Lake campground is a really brief stroll alongside the county highway to enter the boundary of the Ocala Nationwide Forest. It’s a brief hike to the trailhead from the nation highway. Right here on the trailhead is a kiosk and a plaque explaining that this website is the birthplace of the Florida Path in 1966. From this level northward are the primary official sections of the designated path, earlier than it was a Nationwide Scenic Path.
The opposite milestone for this level is the transition to a different map part on the FarOut app. Because the Florida Path is inside one state, it doesn’t have the handy benchmarks alongside the best way just like the Appalachian Path has with states. On the AT, a brand new state brings a way of accomplishment. The PCT has solely three states, however California is cut up into three digital sections. The Continental Divide has 5 states. The Florida Path solely has map sections of 200-ish miles every to designate when a milestone is reached.
The path instantly turns to one of many signatures of Ocala – huge pines and grasses. The opposite two signatures are sandy pine scrub and open prairies. The path is dry, the climate is heat, and the elevation is delicate. Many of the Florida trial is fairly flat, however right here in Ocala are historic dunes that give mild rolling hills that offer you a little bit little bit of a variation in elevation. It’s not a lot, nevertheless it’s totally different.
The Nationwide Forest is crisscrossed with backcountry and ATV roads, so it’s probably not the wilderness really feel that it may very well be. There are normally not too many hikers that I’ve seen on these trails through the daytime, however I do are inclined to see weekend hikers close to the campground areas. It’s a well-visited forest, nevertheless it’s giant sufficient that it doesn’t really feel crowded in any respect. It’s nothing just like the zoo of McAffee knob or the White Mountains on the Appalachian Path.
Designated campsites within the Forest are frequent sufficient, however there are nonetheless loads of areas for dispersed tenting. I favor dispersed tenting, not simply to keep away from the crowds, however to keep away from the crowds which may not be so good with leave-no-trace tenting. Ocala has loads of wildlife that may like to steal your meals. Bears have been problematic in sure areas previously and the bears know the place the official campsites are. I feel they’re issued maps at delivery. If not utilizing a bear canister, hanging your meals is required right here.
Alexander Springs is a State Park on a brief aspect path. It’s your typical State Park campground and the spring could be very good and is a feeder to the bigger St Johns River. I’ve stayed right here on bikepacking journeys, however by no means from the Florida Path. The aspect path is barely half of a mile, however when I’m within the nationwide Forest, it simply appears becoming to camp within the Nationwide Forest.
Farles Prarie might be the biggest and most recognizable function of this part. It’s a wide-open prairie that helps a year-round lake that’s good for swimming. The path skirts across the east aspect of the lake for about 4 miles. The path had just a few mud patches right here and there. Some are avoidable, some are usually not. I ended up taking my sneakers off and wading twice simply to not attempt to discover some loopy route round it. Embrace the muck.
The south finish of the prairie has highway entry, a chosen backcountry campsite with picnic tables and fireplace rings, and a pitcher pump. The lake makes an honest water supply. Once I handed by way of this time, the deal with of the pump was lacking. However I used to be in a position to carry the plunger by hand to get it to pump water. It’s a deep nicely pump, so the plunger could be very lengthy and really heavy. It was fairly a exercise, however I obtained some good water. I nonetheless filter all of the water I get from Florida pumps, nevertheless. Not all of them are reliable. Not less than the water right here is nice clear odor-free water.
Crossing State Street 40 marks the doorway into the Juniper Wilderness and Juniper Springs State Park. The path crosses the doorway highway into the State Park proper close to the ranger’s station. You’ll be able to pay the doorway charge to make use of the services, which lately are principally the springs and picnic/tenting space. They’ve showers, however the canoe leases and concessions are nonetheless closed post-covid. Canoeing the Juniper River is among the high canoe paddling within the state due to its crystal clear water and undisturbed habitat. For those who elect not to enter the park, there may be nonetheless water on the ranger’s station and they’ll allow you to use their restroom and cost your electronics.
The wilderness, being a wilderness, has guidelines regulating how they handle prescribed burns and mechanized tools for upkeep. Which in each instances is none. There was a devastating fireplace that ravaged this space about ten years in the past. I final hiked it the yr after the hearth and it felt like I used to be climbing on the moon. There was little or no vegetation on the bottom, and the remaining timber had been charred sticks. The solar was insufferable.
However this time, the vegetation has recovered fairly properly. This part used to get rave critiques, and it most likely doesn’t have almost the appeal it used to, however a minimum of it’s now not just like the moon. It seems like Florida now, which is a superb enchancment. This part is scrub, and it is probably not the undisturbed scrub like different sections within the Ocala Nationwide Forest (huge scrub), nevertheless it does have some hidden gems.
A type of gems is Hidden Pond. Many of the ponds or lakes within the space are simply regular ponds. However this one is spring fed. It’s not an enormous outflow of a spring and doesn’t feed a river, nevertheless it does imply that the underside of the pond is sweet and sandy and never lined in muck. That is an A+ swimming gap. I didn’t swim in it this time, however different individuals had been. I simply sat on the sandy financial institution underneath the quilt of scrub oaks and ate lunch. It’s a very good place to get lined in ticks, too, for the reason that wildlife likes to go to this pond, too.
Ocala Nationwide Forest North
The exit of the wilderness rapidly brings you to the opposite giant prairie within the forest, Hopkins Prairie. This one is even bigger than Hopkins, with almost six miles of path alongside the shoreline of the numerous lakes that fill the prairie. Each of those prairies are good locations for sunsets and sunrises for those who can time it that method. I traditionally attempt to camp someplace on the shoreline of every so I can snag each experiences.
However this prairie additionally has a semi-developed campsite alongside the southeast shore simply after you method the prairie from the south. There are about thirty websites that run $12 per day and there’s a resident camp host. Every website has a picnic desk and a bear field, however no water and no electrical energy. The water comes from a single rotary pump, which gave me some kind of Noro-like virus about ten years in the past. The identical pump is right here, with the identical nasty metallic-smelling water. I skipped it this yr.
That is additionally one of many areas which have had issues with bears previously, so the brand new bear containers are a pleasant addition. There are many good timber for hanging bear baggage, but when sufficient individuals get lazy and the bears get hungry, then it creates an issue that lasts for years. It is a place that developed that downside. It’s the solely campsite on your entire Florida Path that I’m conscious of with official bear safety units.
In case you are into bats, additionally they have a really giant bat home on the north finish of the campground. In case you are right here to catch a sundown, arrange close to the bat home to get a two-for-one present.
The remainder of the north part is alternating areas of tall pines and scrub oak. I favor the pines. Scrub oak can get tight and make you’re feeling claustrophobic within the woods. I favor large open areas. There are many hills, each within the scrub and pine areas.
That is the primary part to offer resupply choices since Paisley on the southern entrance to the Forest. For those who want full service, then a three-mile aspect path can take you to Salt Springs. This city has a number of eating places and an precise grocery along with Greenback Common and comfort shops. Most people who enterprise into this city are usually not upset. There may be an RV park and a campground, however I have no idea if they’re pleasant to hikers or not.
The opposite resupply possibility is the well-known 88 Retailer. It is just 20 yards off the path and has laundry and a bathe for a charge. The shop itself is basically only a bar. They do have some resupply like snacks and soups, however it’s lower than even a smaller comfort retailer. They do have some frozen meals like hamburgers, burritos, and pizza that you would be able to cook dinner, however it’s not actually a meals cease. Additionally they settle for resupply containers, and that is the route I went. They’ve a pleasant giant lined space along side the constructing for hikers, so everybody who hikes the Florida Path finally ends up coming right here a minimum of for a fast break.
The western route by way of central Florida that goes by way of St Cloud and Dunnellon reconnects with the jap route only a half mile north of the 88 Retailer. So even the western route hikers find yourself going to the 88 Retailer by way of a brief half-mile blue blaze path. Oddly, the blue blaze path is proven on the jap map within the FarOut app. It’s a complicated little blooper.
The remainder of the forest continues the pine-and-grass habitat, steadily transitioning again to wash oak habitat as you close to the northern boundary of the forest. Whenever you exit the forest, you might be deposited out at Rodman dam on the Ocklawaha River. The river right here is a huge lake. The path takes you on the roadway on the high of the earthen dam with views for miles throughout the lake. There are restrooms on the far finish of the dam with a clear water provide and picnic space. The spillway of the dam was crowded with fishermen that seemed to be catching fairly just a few fish.
Choose One Emotion
Nostalgia was most likely the predominant emotion I felt on this part of the path. The Ocala Nationwide Forest and Suwannee River are the 2 sections of the Florida Path that I’ve hiked a number of instances. It is sort of a snug shoe to me.
And though the majority of the forest seems the identical yr after yr – Farles and Hopkins Praries, the scrub oak forest, and the tall pines on grass-covered hills. There may be nonetheless a chance for brand new experiences. The Juniper Wilderness regarded utterly totally different to me. As a working forest, logging can change the character of an space immediately.
However for me, 95% of the trial regarded precisely the identical. I felt relaxed as I made my method by way of the forest. There may be nothing that I’d change. That is residence to me.