The Florida Trail through the Ocala National Forest (Lake Delancy to Juniper Springs)
General Description: Backpacking and camping along the Florida trail through the Ocala National Forest and the Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area.
Starting Point: WGS84 -
N 29 deg 25 min 46 sec, W 81 47 min 22 sec
Lake Delancy. From the intersection of County Roads 315 and 316 in Ft. McCoy go about 8.0 miles east on County Road 316 to its intersection with Forest Road 88. Follow Forest Road 88 about 4.0 miles north to its intersection with Forest Road 75. Follow Forest Road 75 about 1.6 miles east to the federal campground on the northwest shore of Lake Delancy.
Ending point: WGS 84 -
N 29 deg 10 min 42 sec, W 81 deg 42 min 47 sec
Juniper Springs. Located about 4.3 miles west of State Road 19, on State Road 40, between Ocala and Ormond Beach.
Maps: Ocala National Forest (Lake George and Seminole Ranger Districts) Purchase at the Ocklawaha Visitor Center (see contact info).USGS 7.5' Quad Topo Maps: Lake Delancy, FL; Lake Kerr, FL; Salt Springs, FL; Juniper Springs, FL. The topo maps don't show the Florida Trail, but the Ocala National Forest map does.
Juniper Springs Recreation Area: 352-625-3147, Hwy 40, Ocala National Forest.
Ocklawaha Visitor Center: 352-236-0288, 3199 NE County Road 315, Silver Springs, FL 34488.
Salt Springs Visitor Center: 352-685-3070, 14100 N. State Highway 19, Salt Springs, FL 32134
Florida Trail Association, Inc: 352-378-8823, 5415 SW 13th Street, Gainesville, FL 32608.
Some consider the Florida Trail (FT)through the Ocala National Forest to be the the trail's best section. While it's hard for me to say which part of the FT is best, I do enjoy tromping through this national forest area.
The Ocala National Forest
The Ocala National Forest consists of 430,000 acres and is continental USA's southernmost national forest. The Ocala is home to black bears, deer, sandhill cranes, bald eagles, and scrub jays, rare and threatened birds found commonly here. Within the forest are lakes, springs, longleaf and slash pines, scrubby areas, and hardwoods.
The forest trip I've covered here runs 32 miles from the Lake Delancy campground to the Juniper Springs Recreation Area on Highway 40.
The northern part of this trail section runs through tall pines and is quite open. The southern part, however, runs through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area, which consists of pine, hardwood, and especially thick scrub. This area contains some of the thickest woods I've ever encountered. Walking off trail in many places would make about as much sense as trying to walk through a hedgerow several miles thick. If you lose your trail in here, cross-country navigation would be mostly senseless and next to impossible.
In the Juniper Prairie Wilderness, here and there you'll find pleasant open grassy lakes. In at least one area along the trail in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness, there is a clear, fairly deep pond which looks good for fishing and invites swimming.
Camping is allowed throughout the Juniper Prairie Wilderness and other parts of the forest (check with the USDA Forest Service for specific rules about camping, especially during hunting season).
Consider a shorter trek
You don't have to trek the entire 32-miles described here to enjoy this area of the Ocala National Forest. You may wish to park your vehicle at the Juniper Springs Recreation Area and head north for a day (or two or three) of wilderness backpacking and camping. That way, you won't need a shuttle. Besides, the only shuttle I know of in the area caters to kayakers and canoeists, not backpackers.
For additional information on backpacking through the Ocala National Forest (or anywhere else on the FT for that matter), you may wish to contact the Florida Trail Association headquarters in Gainesville.
Last revised April 2006