72.2 miles Ocala & Palatka
If there is one place that is the heart of the Florida Trail, it is the Ocala section, where the trail first began. In October 1966, Florida Trail Association founder Jim Kern and a handful of hikers with a dream painted the trail’s first blaze at the beginning of this segment at Clearwater Lake. It quickly grew to the state’s first 26-mile section for backpacking.
Now, with more than 72 miles of unbroken wilderness hiking through sandhills, prairies, pine flatwoods, and the beautiful Big Scrub, the Ocala section is a prime destination for backpackers who want to spend a week on the Florida Trail. The footpath is well maintained and well worn, and signage at road crossings helps you figure out exactly where you are. Although there are a number of designated campsites, you may camp anywhere you wish, as long as it’s not deer hunting season.
When other parts of the Florida Trail are under water, the Ocala is not. This is a high and dry section of trail, which also means that water sources are very limited in certain areas, particularly north of The 88 Store.
Wear a bright orange shirt or vest during hunting seasons in the Ocala National Forest. Check the FWC website for hunting season dates. During general gun (deer) season, backpackers must use designated campsites and recreation areas (fee camping). Random camping is permitted at all other times.
A bear bag or bear canister is required for backpackers in the Ocala National Forest. There have been many bear incidents centered around Hidden Pond, so it is now closed to camping and undergoing restoration.
This is an excellent section of the Florida Trail for hiking and backpacking with dogs. Dogs are not allowed in the recreation areas at the springs, but they are permitted to be in the campgrounds at those recreation areas.
Resupply for long distance hikers isn’t easy through this section, so be sure to stock up in Paisley if northbound, or in Palatka if southbound. The 88 Store has some basic munchies and ice cream, but not enough for a resupply, so the only viable resupply is at Salt Springs, 2.5 miles off the main trail via a blue blaze.
During the winter months, the “Rainbow People” migrate into the forest and set up primitive camps, often along the Florida Trail. These folks live a nomadic lifestyle much like followers of the Grateful Dead used to do. Use your smarts when you meet non-hikers; if the situation is uncomfortable, keep moving.
The muffled “thunder” you sometimes hear are when bombs are being dropped on the Pinecastle Bombing Range south of Juniper Springs, a tradition started with training for fighter pilots in World War II. Low-flying bombers may also startle you on weekdays near Farles Prairie and Juniper Springs.
It’s generally smart to leave a car behind the gates of a recreation area or campground than at a roadside crossing or trailhead. Vandalism has been reported at both the SR 19 and Clearwater Lake trailheads over the years. Recreation areas do charge a fee for leaving cars overnight. Call ahead to confirm costs.
- Florida Trail, Alexander Springs to Farles Lake- Get acquainted with Big Scrub on this 8.4-mile stretch of the Florida Trail in the Ocala National Forest as it rises through longleaf pine forests to meet the world’s largest sand pine scrub, punctuated by a variety of ponds and prairies. Connecting a first-magnitude spring with one of the more beautiful lakes in the Ocala National Forest, it’s a delightful immersion into the woods.
- Florida Trail, Buckman to Rodman Dam- Paralleling a segment of the Cross Florida Barge Canal, the Buckman Lock to Rodman Dam hike on of the Florida Trail sticks to a high berm for most of the 5.3 miles.
- Florida Trail, Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs- 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
- Florida Trail, Hopkins Prairie to Salt Springs- A six-mile-long prairie, a vast marshland in the middle of the dry Big Scrub, Hopkins Prairie is a beauty spot along which the Florida Trail lingers on this 9.5 mile section.
- Florida Trail, Juniper Springs to Farles- Winding along and around a mosaic of both dry and wet prairies that make up the Farles Prairie complex, this 8.5 mile segment of the Florida Trail provides a deep immersion into the Big Scrub
- Florida Trail, Juniper Springs to Hopkins Prairie- 10.6 miles. One of the few designated wilderness areas that the Florida Trail traverses, the Juniper Prairie Wilderness in the Ocala National Forest is a wildlife-rich mosaic of ancient scrub forests, pine islands, and broad open prairies.
- Florida Trail, Ocala National Forest- 72.2 miles. Of all of the sections of the Florida Trail statewide, the Ocala National Forest is both the oldest section of the trail and the most compelling for backpackers.
- Florida Trail, Pat’s Island to Hidden Pond- One of the most scenic segments of the Florida Trail, the hike from Pat's Island to Hidden Pond immerses you in the Big Scrub en route to an oasis in Florida's desert.
- Florida Trail, Rodman to Lake Delancy- Providing a fine balance between the Big Scrub habitats and breathtaking old-growth longleaf pines, the Florida Trail from Rodman to Lake Delancy is simply superb.
- Florida Trail, Salt Springs to The 88 Store- 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
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Florida Trail Videos (Ocala)
- Friends in the Forest- We met Ruth at the Florida Trail Association Conference in March and spent time hiking with her on the Panhandle Trace. At both events, she invited us to come hike in her backyard and visit. With five hikes left for Five Star Trails Gainesville and Ocala, we headed to North Gainesville, staying at the Best […]
- Hiking the Juniper Prairie Wilderness- For immersion into the world's largest sand pine scrub forest, take a journey along the Florida Trail through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness. It's perennially a getaway for backpackers thanks to its natural beauty.
- In Their Footsteps- A historic moment for the Florida Trail: the reunion of three of the original trailblazers, 40 years after they painted the first blazes of the Florida Trail heading north from Clearwater Lake in the Ocala National Forest.
- Mountain biking and the Florida Trail- It's Florida Biking Month! Which makes it a good time to talk about bikes and the Florida Trail, and how to ride your bike to, but not on, our statewide National Scenic Trail when it's in the woods.
- Relocation of the Florida Trail near The 88 Store- According to trail maintainers in the area, the Florida Trail has been relocated in the vicinity of The 88 Store in the Ocala National Forest. The thru-trail now passes directly behind The 88 Store and within sight of FR 11 south of CR 316 for a short stretch, making it easier to access services at […]
- The Florida Trail: A History- How to order a copy of The Florida Trail: Florida's National Scenic Trail, our limited edition full-color coffee table book that tells the comprehensive story of the first 50 years of routing, building, maintaining, and enjoying our statewide National Scenic Trail.
- The other side of Farles Prairie- What's it like to do trail research? Here's a typical day out on the trail for us when we're tracking down relocations of the Florida Trail or finding new trails to add to this website.