Just south of the Withlacoochee River lies the Two Mile Prairie Tract of Withlacoochee State Forest, where the Johnson Pond Trail provides a walk through sandhills and oak scrub, touching on prairies along the way. The most notable stop is the trail’s namesake, Johnson Pond, a birder’s delight.
Location: Citrus Springs
Length: 2.7 miles
Lat-Long: 29.005133, -82.384067
Type: Linear with loop and spur
Fees / Permits: none
Difficulty: easy to moderate
Bug factor: low to moderate
There are benches along the trail and at the overlook on Johnson Pond. Leashed dogs welcome.
Follow SR 200 south of Ocala. At the junction with CR 484, continue 6.2 miles south on SR 200 to the Withlacoochee River bridge. Immediately after crossing the bridge, turn right onto CR 39, between the two gas stations. Drive 2.6 miles to the trailhead on the left side of the road.
Starting at the kiosk, pass through the split-rail fence and follow the trail as it swings left onto a jeep road into the sandhill habitat, where young longleaf pines rise to touch the sky. After 0.5 mile, the trail makes a sharp right past a bench. Thickets of saw palmetto cluster under the turkey oaks. Turning left, the trail passes through a stand of gnarled old sand live oaks, past a prairie edged by longleaf pines.
By 0.7 mile, you reach Johnson Pond, a broad, marshy flatwoods pond with lily pads floating on the open water. An observation platform provides a perch for watching the colorful birds that frequent the pond, including purple gallinules and green herons. The trail continues along the edge of the lake past a set of picnic benches.
Where a jeep road comes in from the right, the trail makes a left. Another left leads you into an oak hammock behind the pond cypresses on the south side of the pond, as the trail leaves the jeep road to follow a pine-needle-strewn path along the cypresses. Emerging to follow a soft sand ridge, the trail turns right over a rock causeway and intersects a blue-blazed trail from the left at 1.2 miles. It’s an equestrian trail that shares the right of way for the next 0.2 mile.
After you pass a barbed-wire fence on the left, the hiking trail turns away from the horse trail, to the right and downhill along the orange blazes, descending through a live oak hammock towards what once was a rosemary scrub. Perhaps prescribed burns caused its demise, or a change in how water flows across the landscape. Only a couple of Florida rosemary remain in this once-thriving spot, and the dense carpet of deer moss formerly found beneath the oaks has vanished entirely
At 1.9 miles, you reach a bench. Keep to the right to walk through more stretches of rosemary scrub. After rising up and over a hill cloaked in longleaf pine and wiregrass, the trail drops down through turkey oaks and pines to complete the loop. Continue straight ahead to return to the parking area.