The reason the Ocala National Forest exists is the Big Scrub. This particular section of the Florida Trail does a great job of immersing you in the ebb and flow of this immense sand pine forest.
You’ll encounter sand pine stands of various ages, including one long segment with a dense understory of Florida rosemary.
Where elevation changes the surrounding habitats, there are prairies, ponds, and islands of longleaf pine within the scrub.
Connecting a first-magnitude spring with one of the more beautiful lakes in the Ocala National Forest, it’s a delightful day hike.
Length: 8.6 miles linear
Trailhead: 29.078871, -81.577816
Fees / Permits: $5 parking fee at Farles. $6 per person fee at Alexander Springs.
Restroom: Vault toilet at Farles. Flush toilet at Alexander Springs.
Land Manager: U.S. Forest Service
Open 24 hours. Leashed pets welcome.
Camping is available at Alexander Springs. Backpackers are welcome to random camp along the Florida Trail except during fall General Gun (deer hunting) Season.
Bears are frequently seen in this area. The National Forest requires you to bear bag or use a bear canister.
To drop a car at the end point: From the intersection of SR 40 and SR 19, drive south 4.6 miles to where you see the sign for Farles Lake. Turn right on FR 535. The road jogs after a half mile and becomes FR 595C. After another 0.9 mile, turn right on FR 595-2 and continue 0.9 mile. The road becomes FR 595. Drive another 1.2 miles – following signs all the while – to get to the parking area. Pay your day use fee at the iron ranger.
For the starting point: Return to SR 19 and drive north to the Y intersection with CR 445A. When it reaches CR 445 in Astor, turn right. Follow CR 445 south for for 5.7 miles to the recreation area entrance on the right, just after the bridge over Alexander Run.
If you choose to park along CR 445 to access the trail, be cautious of soft sand on the shoulders. Do not leave your car overnight along this highway.
Start your hike by following the blue blazes from the campground at Alexander Springs Recreation Area.
You’ll cross CR 445 en route as you walk through sandhills habitat for a half mile to the trail junction with the Florida Trail. Turn right at the orange-blazed junction.
The trail crosses a dirt road and climbs up a hill. Longleaf pines tower overhead as you continue through the forest to cross CR 445 again at 1.4 miles.
The trail rises up into longleaf pine flatwoods and then into the open scrub, a desert-like place with diminutive trees. Listen for the swoosh of wings and a blur of blue as Florida scrub-jays settle into the branches.
The next paved road you encounter is SR 19, at 3.8 miles. Use particular caution crossing here, as traffic moves at high speed.
Just beyond is a short blue-blazed side trail leading to an official trailhead parking area along SR 19. This is an alternate starting point where there is no fee to park, shortening your hike to 4.8 miles.
Framed by rusty lyonia, myrtle oaks, and Chapman oaks, the trail settles into a tunnel of scrub, with some undulations that remind you these are ancient sand dunes.
You pass a sinkhole mostly hidden by the scrub before emerging into a clearing at an old Jeep track. Several Florida rosemary bushes, distinctly rounded, thrive in the open spots under the pines.
After emerging from the forest again to cross a Jeep track in soft sand under a powerline, the trail reaches FR 57 – an old railroad line and graded road – at 4.8 miles.
Tunneling back into the scrub, you’ll notice notable changes in elevation as the trail dips and curves through the scrub forest, slipping past prairie views en route to Dora Pond.
This is a pretty place to camp and a reliable water source at 5.6 miles. Just beyond it is the first junction with a blue-blazed side trail, the Buck Lake Loop.
The loop circles a major lake with a recreation area and group campground on the far side. The recreation area has a pitcher pump and vault toilets at the picnic area.
Passing the second junction for the Buck Lake Loop at 6.7 miles, the trail is flanked by Florida rosemary and short oaks in a dense understory beneath tall sand pines that clatter together when the wind blows.
This is where you immerse deeply in the sand pine scrub for most of the next two miles.
You glimpse a grassy prairie off to the left before the trail comes around to its edge. It usually has a small pond in it.
A few minutes later, the trail emerges onto the road that passes through Farles Prairie Recreation Area, reaching the trailhead with its sweeping view of Farles Lake. This completes the 8.6-mile hike.
NORTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Juniper Springs to Farles Lake
SOUTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs
Our slides from hiking this segment of the Florida Trail
Other trails and destinations along this route
While less than a mile long, the Timucuan Trail at Alexander Springs Recreation Area is the best place to sample the Big Scrub habitats of the Ocala National Forest.
Surrounding one of Florida’s most picturesque first magnitude springs, Alexander Springs Recreation Area provides visitors with many options to enjoy the spring and the woodlands around the spring basin.
The oldest section of the Florida Trail runs 11 miles between between Clearwater Lake and Alexander Springs in the Ocala National Forest, showcasing longleaf pine forests and scrub