This segment of the Florida Trail is the oldest and longest lasting, now commemorated by a Florida Historic Marker at the trailhead. Blazed in October 1966, this was the first official segment of our statewide trail.
The trailblazers who built the original route here were the first-ever Florida Trail Association work crew of trail maintainers, organized and led by Florida Trail founder Jim Kern.
Traversing beautiful, moderately hilly stretches of longleaf pine forest with an open understory, this piece of trail meanders around wet prairies and through hydric hammocks, and slips through scrubby flatwoods en route to one of the largest springs in Central Florida.
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Length: 10.5 miles linear
Fees: None to hike. $6 per person day use fee at Alexander Springs
Restrooms: At Alexander Springs Recreation Area
Land manager: Ocala National Forest, Seminole Ranger District
There have been break-ins and vandalism of cars at this trailhead. This is one of the few Florida Trail trailheads in the Ocala National Forest that is within walking distance of a small community, and we’ve witnessed trash dumping and other vandalism in the forest as well.
Especially if you wish to leave a car overnight when backpacking, do so behind the gates of Clearwater Lake Recreation Area, a half mile farther up the entrance road from this trailhead. There is a small fee for parking.
As an alternative to parking at Alexander Springs, park along the road shoulder at the trail crossing along SR 445. Parking at the Clearwater Lake trailhead is free. Do not leave cars overnight in either location.
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.
Clearwater Lake: Follow SR 19 north from Eustis or SR 42 west east from DeLand. The entrance to Clearwater Lake Recreation Area is just west of the town of Paisley and just east of the historic cemetery at Paisley. It is well marked. The Clearwater Lake trailhead is the first turnoff on the right along the entrance road to the recreation area.
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.
Starting from the Clearwater Lake trailhead at the Historic Marker, follow the blazes north. The Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail quickly diverges from the footpath before the Florida Trail reaches a series of mounds and a sweeping bowl in the forest.
Climbing out of the bowl, the trail is in classic Florida longleaf pine habitat, with pines that rise like columns to the sky and a slight roll to the landscape. Look for colorful wildflowers peeping out of the wiregrass in spring and fall.
Cross an equestrian trail coming in from Paisley before coming to a side trail leading to services in the small town around 1.5 miles. Long distance hikers use this for resupply.
Undulating terrain makes the hiking both interesting and challenging. By 2.7 miles, pass a nice dry random camping spot under the pines. The pine forest stretches on in every direction with a very open understory.
A shift in your surroundings happens when the trail starts working its way around a series of open wet praries. By 4.8 miles, walk through the easement for the power transmission lines that cross the forest.
At 6.6 miles, cross FR 6. This is the unpaved connector road between Alexander Springs and Paisley, so it sees random traffic. Continue into the forest on the north side of this road, where the trail makes a swing west.
Once you enter the floodplain forest drainage of Alexander Run, a series of boardwalks leads through lush hydric hammocks. These dense palm forests are usually always swampy except in the driest of seasons.
Cross FR 69-4.8, two hard-packed clay tracks that lead to a takeout point for paddlers on Alexander Run. The trail rises back up into the longleaf pine forest before reaching the blue-blazed side trail to Alexander Springs. This is 10 miles into the hike.
If you are ending your hike at Alexander Springs, turn right. Walk a half mile through the forest – where you’ll see spots where hikers have random camped – before emerging behind the recreation area sign along CR 445. Cross the highway to enter the recreation area at the gate.
If you’ve left your car here at the end of the hike, be sure to have proof of payment for parking your car with you when you walk in past the entrance station.
NORTHBOUND: Alexander Springs to Farles Lake
SOUTHBOUND: Camp La-No-Che
See our photos of Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs
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
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.
Protecting the western shore of Lake Akron in Paisley, Ellis Acres Reserve offers rolling pastures and woodlands along its 4.3 miles of trails.