Although the springs are the big draw at Alexander Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest, there are a variety of options for outdoor recreation here that can keep you busy for days.
First, it’s a popular destination for families thanks to the broad and shallow spring basin, which has a sandy bottom and is crystal clear.
More than 56 thousand gallons per second bubble up from the headspring, which has a rocky entrance that slopes to about 25 feet in depth.
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Trailhead: 29.079006, -81.577921
Address: 49525 CR 445, Altoona
Fees: $8 weekday/$11 weekend per person day use fee
Restroom: At the concession area. Changing rooms provided.
Land manager: National Forests in Florida
Alexander Springs Recreation Area is operated as a concession by Adventure Ocala. Open daily 8-8. Leashed dogs and bicycles are permitted in the campground, but not in the day use area.
We strongly suggest you don’t leave anything lying around on a picnic table or chair in the day use area as raccoons have been known to make off with towels, clothing, and food.
Fishing is permitted downstream from the swimming area. A valid FWC freshwater fishing license is required.
This is by far the busiest of the recreation areas in the Ocala National Forest, and will close its gates when maximum parking capacity is reached. A reservation system for parking is planned.
We’ve found it best to visit early on a weekday, particularly if you want to swim or snorkel, or make your visit part of a camping trip.
From SR 40 westbound in Astor from the Astor bridge, turn left on CR 445-A to meet CR 445. Turn left. Continue 5.8 miles, crossing a highway bridge over Alexander Creek just before the entrance comes up on the right. We’ve seen Florida black bears twice along this section of highway. From SR 19 in Altoona, drive north 5.2 miles and turn right on CR 445. Follow it 5.1 miles north to the recreation area entrance on the left.
When the recreation area has reached capacity, additional visitors will be turned away unless they hold camping reservations for that evening.
About the Spring
From the day use parking area at Alexander Springs Recreation Area, all visitors make their way along an accessible walkway to the concession area.
It’s here you’ll find the restrooms and changing rooms, camp store and gift shop, and a small concession serving food.
It’s also where you check in to go scuba diving, or to rent a kayak or canoe for a paddling trip.
Beyond it, an accessible walkway leads through the picnic grove down to the open area along the spring basin.
As the springs – the main spring and many little bubblers – generate their own micro-climate year-round, the natural vegetation along its edge feels a bit tropical.
A retaining wall separates the grassy slope with the picnic area and sandy sunning area from the spring. Use the steps provided to enter the water.
The main spring basin is very broad and clear. A large shallow area with a sand bottom tapers into the depths.
The headspring is towards the northeast corner of the basin, obvious from its turquoise color.
Snorkelers will find an array of fish here. Scuba divers are welcome, but must register at the concession and pay an additional fee.
Despite the natural coolness of the water, a year-round 72 degrees, alligators are frequently spotted in the basin. Keep alert when in the water.
Don’t go past the floats marking the edges of the swimming area, and avoid getting into any vegetation on the edges.
That is where alligators and other wildlife are most likely to be.
Starting at the edge of the spring in the day use area, the Timucuan Trail is one of the best short loops in the Ocala National Forest for stepping you through the broad variety of habitats found here.
At a minimum, follow its boardwalk section through the woods behind the spring, where tiny streams make their way out to the broad run.
Providing two observation decks along the way, this trail offers your best views of the spring run by foot.
Because of its location in the day use area, dogs are not permitted along it.
For a longer hike, you can tackle a piece of our statewide Florida National Scenic Trail.
If you walk out the front entrance to CR 445, look across the road to the Alexander Springs sign and you’ll see a blue blaze and a yellow diamond. This half-mile connector trail leads to the Florida Trail.
Leashed dogs are welcome along this hike. When you get to the trail junction, a right turn will put you on the Alexander Springs to Farles Prairie segment, which crosses CR 445 south of the springs, and SR 19 several miles later.
A left turn takes you southbound towards Clearwater Lake. This is a much longer segment but has some bridges along it you can use for turnaround points for a scenic round-trip hike.
Backpackers can leave a car behind the gates at Alexander Springs for a $7 per night fee.
Biking is permitted in the campground but not anywhere else inside the Alexander Springs Recreation Area.
Off-road cyclists can cross CR 445 and follow the same blue-blazed trail as hikers follow to the Florida Trail to reach the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail, which starts where the blue blazed trail ends.
This 21.1 mile trail is blazed with yellow diamonds. It follows singletrack through a roller-coaster of sandhills topped with longleaf pines. An intermediate crossover breaks the trail into two loops.
The Alexander Springs loop is 11.1 miles, and the Clearwater Lake Loop is 10 miles.
Paddling Alexander Run is one of the main reasons many people visit Alexander Springs. As the spring run meanders through an untrammeled wilderness, it is a delight to canoe or kayak.
The creek is wider than some of the other nearby spring-fed waterways, like Rock Springs Run and Juniper Run.
Largely surrounded by floodplain forest, it has islands in a number of places that divide its flow. There are vast marshy patches where alligators and wading birds may be seen.
We’ve had the pleasure of making the journey by setting up a shuttle with friends using a take-out point at 52 Landing, five miles downstream.
If you rent a canoe or kayak at the concession, no shuttle is available, so you must paddle out and back. The bridge at SR 445 is suggested as a turnaround point if you do, for a little more than a 2 mile trip.
Rentals are only available seasonally, shutting down during the winter months. Call ahead if you plan to rent their equipment. Cost runs from $20-45, depending on time rented, plus deposit.
The campground extends away from the front entrance and swimming area in a series of four loops with 67 sites.
No hookups are provided, so tent campers should be aware that RV campers will run generators at night for air conditioning.
Sites cost $31. Each includes a picnic table and water spigot.
These are some of the more nicely shaded sites in the Ocala National Forest, being tucked into the woods. Each loop has a bathhouse with showers.
Backpackers coming off the Florida Trail should try to reserve a site in Loop A, since it is closest to the front entrance and to the swimming area.
Bears frequent this campground. Raccoons are known to steal food and belongings. Food should never be left unattended and anything with a scent should be stored in your vehicle.
What’s it like when your life revolves around hiking and suddenly you can’t? That’s what I’ve quietly struggled with for the past five months before and after knee surgery.
Alexander Springs is one of four first magnitude springs in the Ocala National Forest. Learn more about what you can see and do in the Ocala National Forest.
See our photos of Alexander Springs
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
With a campground and lakeside day use area at the southeast corner of the Ocala National Forest, Clearwater Lake Recreation Area offers an easy loop hike and access to the Florida Trail.
Protecting the western shore of Lake Akron in Paisley, Ellis Acres Reserve offers rolling pastures and woodlands along its 4.3 miles of trails.
One of Central Florida’s most scenic and easy-to-follow day hikes, the 7.9-mile St. Francis Trail traverses the southeastern corner of the Ocala National Forest