Two trails, one trailhead. The Lake Eaton Trail is in the heart of the Big Scrub, part of the “Lake Eaton Trails” on the northeast side of Lake Eaton in the Ocala National Forest.
From the air (or satellite photo) you can see Lake Eaton is one of the larger lakes in the Forest. There are several access points to it. This one requires the longest walk, but it’s a satisfying trip.
It’s a gradual downhill from sand pine scrub to the forested edge of the lake and out onto boardwalks that provide panoramas of this beauty spot, and then a gentle ascent back to the trailhead.
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Location: Lake Eaton
Length: 2.3 mile loop
Restroom: Vault toilet at trailhead
Land manager: Ocala National Forest
Leashed dogs welcome. Use insect repellent here for chiggers, ticks, and the mosquitoes that persist around the lakeshore.
It’s warm in the scrub, so carry more water than you normally would for a hike of this length.
From Interstate 75 in Ocala, follow SR 40 east through Ocala and Silver Springs. Right after you cross the long, tall Ocklawaha River bridge, you reach the traffic light at Nuby’s Corners. Turn left and drive 8.6 miles north along CR 314. Soon after you pass CR 314-A, look for FR 50 on the right, the first major unpaved road beyond past the paved turnoff for the FWC Youth Camp. Drive uphill and turn right. The trailhead is on your left. Sand can be soft on this access road at times.
Cross the forest road you came in on to reach the trailhead kiosk. Keep right at this junction to walk counterclockwise around the loop.
Not far down the trail is a bench surrounded by a variety of scrub plants, including Chapman oak, sand like oak, and the fragrant silk bay. You hear the calls of Florida scrub-jays in the distance.
The trail crosses a firebreak and continues ever downwards towards the tall pines that define the skyline ahead. Fallen branches are cloaked in a fuzzy blanket of gray-green shield lichens.
This is Florida’s desert, underlain with ancient sands that gleam white in the sun and reflect heat. At a half mile, a second bench sits among the scrub oaks.
As the trail descends beneath a shady canopy of oaks, pines, and sweetgum, dried leaves crackle like cornflakes underfoot.
The pines rise taller, signaling the edge of the denser hardwood hammock along the lake edge, as the trail comes up to the first boardwalk out to the lake.
The boardwalk, which can be slippery if covered in needles, leaves, and lichens, works its way through floodplain forest to the cypress-lined shore.
It emerges at a view of Lake Eaton and a cove dotted with water lilies after 0.8 mile.
Return to the main trail. It stays along the rim of the floodplain forest, and the closer it gets to the cypresses, the worse the mosquitoes are.
The trail stays on a broadening path that feels like an old road from pioneer days in the forest.
A side trail leads to the next boardwalk, which offers more of a panorama of the middle of the lake.
This boardwalk has a bench and some frontage to allow a loop back to the main trail.
Back on the main trail, walk beneath stately cabbage palms, with standing water in shallow depressions around the trail.
The final lake access is is down a boardwalk to an observation platform over a small cove in Lake Eaton at 1.3 miles. This is a good birding spot.
Leaving this final boardwalk, turn right. The trail continues along the floodplain for a short distance more, then turns left at a fence that directs the footpath back uphill into the scrub.
One of the main reasons for walking the trail counterclockwise is to guarantee more shade on the return from the lake.
The footpath drops through a little swale, perhaps dipping off to a hidden sinkhole. The forest is heavy on scrub oaks and sand pine and rather dense.
Older sand pines create a very tall canopy, with muscadine grape and paw-paw beneath them. After a rain, a fresh pine needle smell rises from the duff.
Sand pines rise against the deep blue sky. Another trailside bench tempts you with the opportunity to sit and drink some water.
Climbing upward into open scrub, the trail leaves the shade and develops a distant horizon line.
The trail closes the loop at the kiosk. Continue straight ahead to end this 2.3 mile hike at the parking area.
This same trailhead provides access to the Lake Eaton Sinkhole Trail in the opposite direction.
See our photos of the Lake Eaton Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
11.5 miles. North of Lake Eaton, immerse in the world’s largest contiguous sand pine scrub, the Big Scrub, on this Florida Trail segment that tunnels into miles and miles of scrub forest
5.5 miles. Amid giant ferns and towering trees, feel small along the Florida Trail in a lesser-known corner of the Ocala National Forest
10.4 miles. Crossing a patchwork of scrub ridges and longleaf pine islands, the Florida Trail makes its way southwest of Salt Springs around Lake Kerr to The 88 Store