The Bear Swamp Trail provides a glimpse into the ancient forest that edged the shores of Salt Springs when botanist and explorer William Bartram visited the “amazing crystal fountain” in 1774.
This easy 1.3-mile loop is worth a visit to the recreation area in itself, as it’s a microcosm of habitats you’ll find in the Big Scrub.
Location: Salt Springs
Length: 1.3 mile loop
Trailhead: 29.356367, -81.732083
Fees/Permits: $6.00 per person day use fee
Restroom: At the campground and swimming areas
Land Manager: U.S. Forest Service
Dogs are NOT permitted at Salt Springs Recreation Area. While they have been permitted in the past in the campground and on this trail, visitors have reported that the gate staff will not let day users bring dogs in.
Day use hours vary by season, but the recreation area opens daily at 8 AM. By camping here, you get a jump on all outdoor activities.
While the U.S. Forest Service is the land manager, the recreation area is operated by a concessionaire, American Land and Leisure. Their number is 352-685-2048 for any direct questions regarding your visit.
From the Salt Springs Plaza along SR 19 in the Ocala National Forest, drive south 1/2 mile to the entrance to the Salt Springs Recreation Area on the left. Enter and pay your day use fee.
Turn left and follow the road into the campground. Turn right on the first one-way lane leading away from you. Turn right and follow the one lane road along the edge of the campground until you come to a parking area on the left. Park and walk over to the trailhead sign, next to a building that used to be a restroom.
Start by walking down to the kiosk. Turn right and keep left at the fork as you walk through a hardwood forest with hickory, dogwood, elm, and oak. Massive southern magnolias tower overhead.
As you meander along the path, elements of the Big Scrub appear, including tall, slender loblolly pines and rusty and shiny lyonia. You pass through a towering grove of loblolly pines.
At 0.6 mile, the boardwalk appears, ushering you into Bear Swamp. Birdcalls echo through the trees as you walk in dense shade.
You discover the object of this quest: an ancient cypress, close enough to touch, with a girth a good nine feet around. Look straight up, and you can see that the crown broke off this monster of a tree, no doubt a sacrifice to a hurricane in the past.
How did this cypress survive logging? Its surface is flawed and lumpy from massive galls, which would not go well through the sawmill.
As you continue a few more feet down the boardwalk, you can see another giant cypress in the distance. It is taller and even more magnificent than the first.
Well up its trunk, it has a huge gaping crack down the center, the perfect place for an army of raccoons to hide. A branch that comes out above the hole is thicker around than the girth of any of the trees surrounding this one in the forest.
Continue a little farther to see a third ancient cypress off to the right. It’s humbling to be in the presence of such giants.
The boardwalk ends. Continue your walk through mixed hardwood and scrub forest, passing a natural “container garden” of resurrection fern atop a snag
Wander beneath the shade of lyonia, loblolly bay, and southern magnolias on the walk back to the campground, completing the loop at the kiosk at 1.3 miles. Turn right to exit.
See our slides of the Bear Swamp Trail
More to explore around Salt Springs
Deep in the Ocala National Forest, the Davenport Landing Trail leads you on a scenic loop to a historic landing and archaeological site along the Ocklawaha River.
An immersion in both sandhills and scrub awaits on this 7.4 mile hike along the Florida Trail between Lake Delancy and Lake Kerr, an excellent section for fall wildflowers and wildlife watching
Amid a patchwork of scrub ridges and longleaf pine islands, the Florida Trail makes its way northwest of Salt Springs around the vastness of Lake Kerr on this 10.1 mile section
Trail Map (PDF) Salt Springs Recreation Area