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.
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Trailhead: 29.078871, -81.577816
Length: 8.6 miles linear
Fees: None to hike. $6 per person day use fee at Alexander Springs. $5 to park at Farles Lake
Restrooms: Vault toilet at Farles. Flush toilet at Alexander Spring
Land manager: Ocala National Forest, Seminole Ranger District
If you choose to park along CR 445 to access the trail, be cautious of soft sand on the shoulders. Parking at the SR 19 trailhead is free.
For safety reasons, do not leave cars overnight in either location. Overnight parking is no longer allowed at Farles Lake Recreation Area.
Random camping is permitted except during general gun (deer hunting) season. Wear bright orange if hiking during any hunting season. Check the link at the bottom of this page for hunt dates.
If camping, protecting your food from animals is necessary. Bears are frequently seen. The Ocala National Forest requires that you either bear bag or use a bear canister. Raccoons will also try to steal unprotected food and gear.
Alexander Springs: From the junction of SR 19 and SR 42 in Altoona, drive north along SR 19 to CR 445. Turn right. Follow this road through the forest up to the Alexander Springs Recreation Area on the left.
You can also approach this recreation area via SR 40, turning south on CR 445A in Astor and south again on CR 445. Follow the signs.
Farles Prairie Recreation Area: Continue north along SR 19 (or south from CR 445A / SR 40) to the sign for Farles Lake, which is 4.6 miles south of SR 40 along SR 19. Turn west. 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.
Start your hike by following the blue blazes from the campground at Alexander Springs Recreation Area. If you’re already on trail, subtract a half mile from the mileage.
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, Farles Prairie to Juniper Springs
SOUTHBOUND: Florida Trail, Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs
Our slides from hiking this segment of the Florida Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Surrounding one of Florida’s most picturesque first magnitude springs, Alexander Springs is a prime destination for a summer swim or snorkel