It’s not easy to get to the shoreline of Lake George in the Ocala National Forest. As the largest of the lakes in the St. Johns River chain of lakes, it stretches up to five miles across.
Anglers will slip in at the fish camps on the east shore and putter along a floodplain landscape that intrigued botanists John and William Bartram as they paddled along it in the 1700s and reported botanical finds back to England.
But on foot, this is the only approach available along the western shoreline. It was designed and built by a now-retired forest ranger who took us out here hiking many years ago.
As you’ll see, the Lake George Trail is a celebration of the beauty of the river’s shoreline, not simply a place for panoramas of open water but also for the astounding botanical beauty of the habitats edging the floodplain.
Resources for exploring the area near Silver Glen Springs
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Location: Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area
Length: 2.3 mile round trip
Trailhead: 29.246359, -81.642983
Address: 5271 SR 19, Salt Springs
Fees: $8/person weekdays, $11/person weekends
Restroom: Portalets at the parking area
Land manager: National Forests in Florida
Open daily 8-8. No pets or bicycles are permitted.
Be cautious of the lakeshore as you approach it at several points along this hike. Alligators and snakes commonly sun along the shoreline.
Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area is operated as a concession by Adventure Ocala. Questions about the recreation area should be directed to 352-625-3147.
From its intersection with SR 40 at a traffic light in the middle of the Ocala National Forest, follow SR 19 north for 5.9 miles, passing Juniper Wayside en route. The entrance to Silver Glen Springs is on the right across from the Yearling Trail sign.
After entering the recreation area past the General Store, look for the Ocala National Forest kiosk on the left as the main trail trends downhill towards the spring.
Before you reach the fence surrounding the spring, look left. Flanked by by ancient live oaks atop massive middens of fossilized snail shells is the sign for the start of the Lake George Trail.
Turn left. Follow the broad, deeply shaded footpath under a stand of unusually old and gnarled cedars.
To the right, a hardwood hammock fills a bowl along the edge of Silver Glen Run. You can see water sparkling through the gaps in the trees.
After you cross a service road that provides access for canoeists to the spring run, the trail winds under enormous live oaks.
Passing a bench, enter a dense hardwood hammock of sweetgum, hickory, and cedars. Immense loblolly pines rise like pillars from drifts of pine needles.
Where a beaten path joins in from the left, continue straight under a bower of grapevines draped between sweetbay magnolias in a bayhead.
Netted chain and woods ferns thrive around the culverts that drain these bayheads and wet flatwoods towards the St. Johns River. Walk through a cathedral of oaks, its floor a swath of saw palmettos.
Passing another bench, the trail drops down into the cool shade of sweetbay magnolias, then rises up into the familiar environment of the Big Scrub—edged by rusty lyonia and sand pines, broken up by groves of gnarled sand live oaks.
After 0.8 mile, reach a junction with a spur trail. Turn right to walk beneath the canopy of oaks towards the open sky at the end of the corridor.
At a clearing along Lake George, a bench commands a sweeping view of Florida’s second-largest lake, almost 72 square miles in size.
It is an important piece of the northward-flowing St. Johns River, the widest point of its chain of lakes on the way to the Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville.
Mats of hydrilla float past cattails in the shallows. Laden with Spanish moss, live oaks arch over the water, a smooth mirror reflecting their forms. Saw palmettos grow right up to the water’s edge.
Return back along this spur trail under thick draperies of Spanish moss. When you get back to the main trail, turn right.
The trail continues through a compelling corridor of sand live oaks with curtains of Spanish moss obscuring the sky above.
Edged by saw palmetto, the footpath is relatively broad. As the palmetto crowds in, the trail curves and passes under a low overhanging oak limb.
Climbing a mild rise under the shade of a large Southern magnolia, it passes under another low limb and slips between hickories and oaks in a hardwood hammock.
Near an old concrete marker, the trail becomes grassy. Cinnamon ferns spill into the footpath.
The understory is very dense, so it’s almost a surprise to pop out into the light streaming off Lake George at a sign declaring it the second largest lake in Florida, 5 miles wide and 18 miles long.
Cypress knees crowd the shoreline here. Slip up towards the edge of the lake at one of its broadest points for a view across to the eastern shore.
The trail begins following the shoreline of Lake George at this point. Benches provide more opportunities to revel in the view, framed by moss-draped cypresses.
Following the lakeshore, the trail stays up on a moderate bluff along the water, where wild citrus adds its scent in the winter months.
A brisk breeze blows off the watery expanse. It’s nearly five miles to the far shore. From an observation point on a high bluff, take in the sweeping vista. Yes, those are alligators cruising the shallows.
As you continue down the trail, it curves away from the lake briefly into the shade of a forest. When you reach the split-rail fence, look to the northeast, and you can see the remains of an old boathouse.
A marsh extends off to the right, busy with the chatter of wading birds. The trail ends here after 1.3 miles. Turn around and return the way you came, savoring the walk back along the lake.
Without taking the side trail on the return, it’s a 2.3 mile hike.
Learn more about more activities at Silver Glen Springs as well as the other hiking trail available at this recreation area, the Spring Boils Trail.
With a strong aquamarine hue accented by refracted rainbows as sunlight plays across the ripples on its sandy bottom, Silver Glen Springs is a first-magnitude spring in the Ocala National Forest.
See our photos of the Lake George Trail
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
5.3 miles. On Pat’s Island, discover the landscape and the history that inspired Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to write her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Yearling in 1938.
10.6 miles. Marvel at a mosaic of ancient scrub forest, vast prairies, and pine islands while crossing the Juniper Prairie Wilderness
9.6 miles. Sweeping along the shoreline of one of the largest prairies in the Ocala National Forest, this section of the Florida Trail lingers on prairie panoramas