Part of the Florida State Forests Trailwalker program, the Bear-N-Oak Trail at Indian Lake State Forest is a 1.6-mile loop circling Indian Lake, a major karst feature in the Ocala Limestone. The lake is directly connected to the Floridan Aquifer.
Purchased to protect a portion of the upland recharge area for Silver Springs, Indian Lake State Forest covers more than 4,440 acres.
Most of the forest is accessible through an equestrian trail system. This hiking trail showcases the gem of the forest, the lake itself.
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Location: Silver Springs
Length: 1.6 mile loop
Trailhead: 29.271983, -82.056583
Restroom: Vault toilet at the camping area
Land manager: Florida State Forests
Leashed dogs permitted. Open for day use only unless you’ve reserved a campsite in advance. The pavilion by the lake may be reserved by groups and for special events.
The day use area provides an alternative entrance to this trailhead, which is small and often fills up with cars. Please do not block the gate when parking.
Although this trail is hiking only, we’ve observed both equestrian and cyclist use.
The trailhead for the Bear-N-Oak Trail is north of Silver Springs along CR 35 (Baseline Road), on the east side of the road 2.2 miles north of the traffic light at its intersection with SR 326, and 4 miles north of the traffic light in Silver Springs at SR 40.
At the trailhead, you’ll find a kiosk with a map of the loop. The trail starts on either side of the kiosk.
Take the left fork to follow our descriptions clockwise around the loop, saving the most fascinating karst features for last.
Starting off in a healthy sandhill habitat, the trail quickly loses elevation as it drops into the deep shade of a hardwood forest.
The trail slips out to the ecotone between the enormous live oaks on the edge of the hardwood forest and the sandhills to the north.
Enter an open area where cypress trees loom overhead. This is the north end of Indian Lake Prairie, and was once part of Indian Lake.
Ignore the side trails and continue straight ahead across the white sand to the forest beyond, where the trail climbs a hill.
After a quarter mile, the trail turns sharply, tunneling through scrub forest before emerging into a deeply shaded climax sandhill forest dominated by laurel oak.
A open space shaded by massive live oaks is straight ahead at a half mile. This is where the primitive campground and vault toilet are located.
The trail jogs around it to the right to circle a large oak. It comes to the sandy shoreline of Indian Lake.
“Hat rack” cypresses, pond cypress trees that have formed with broad bases and stunted tops, speak to the limestone that is very near the surface here.
Indian Lake is a not a true lake, but a karst window. It is not directly fed by a stream, but rises and falls depending on the amount of water in the aquifer below.
It is very deep, up to 85 feet deep in the middle. A new picnic pavilion has been built in place of the one we encountered on our first hike here.
You’ll find picnic benches along the shoreline and some porch swings placed in the oaks along the edge of the lake.
A low canopy of oak limbs covered in resurrection fern creates a picturesque spot as it arches over the footpath.
Cross a bridge over the outflow of Indian Lake through a cypress strand.
Watermarks on the cypress trunks indicate just how high the water can get when the aquifer rises and the lake spills over.
Enjoy the view of the far shore of Indian Lake -- and its stand of hat rack cypress -- from the south shore after a mile of hiking.
The trail continues into the woods above the sandy edge of the lakeshore to circle around a sinkhole filled with cypress knees.
Keep alert for karst features throughout the forest. The trail is flanked by a variety of sinkholes, some in a line that indicates the location of an underground stream.
One deep sinkhole is hidden behind a screen of saw palmettos to the left. Views of Indian Lake Prairie open up from from beneath a canopy of live oaks.
At 1.3 miles, the trail turns sharply to leave the lake and prairie and enters the hardwood forest.
Ignore what looks like a side trail to the right, since the trail was relocated to the left to showcase several more sinkholes in this deeply shaded area.
In winter, you can see the stark contrast between this forested area and the sandhill habitat beyond it. It’s obvious you’re hiking in a bowl of forest below the sandhills.
Emerging from the shade into the sandhills after 1.6 miles, you cross over a power line easement from which you can see the trailhead.
Follow the trail up to the kiosk to complete the loop.
See our video of hiking the Bear-N-Oak Trail
See our photos from the Bear-N-Oak Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Silver Springs – one of the world’s largest and deepest springs – pours out more than 550 million gallons every day. Silver Springs State Park protects not just the spring but the river’s six mile floodplain as well.
Forest Map (PDF) Reserve Campsite Official Website