In less than a mile, you experience all of the major habitats of the Ocala National Forest—and can cool off with a swim. Noted for its clarity, Alexander Springs gushes out of a subterranean crevice to quickly form a broad waterway, Alexander Run. Down near the headspring, your adventure begins. Although it’s short, the Timucuan Trail is one of my favorites in Florida thanks to the diversity of habitats you see within a half-hour’s walk. From spring-side hydric hammocks and floodplain forest to the sand pine scrub that the surrounding Big Scrub is noted for, this 0.9 mile hike has it all. It’s an integral part of the Alexander Springs Recreation Area, which offers swimming, camping, canoe and kayak rentals and shuttles, and access to the Florida Trail as well.
Location: Alexander Springs, south of Astor
Length: 0.9 mile
Fees / Permits: recreation area entrance fee
Difficulty: low to moderate
Bug factor: moderate
Dogs are NOT permitted in the Alexander Springs day use area, which means you cannot take your dog on this trail. They are permitted in the campground
A $5 per person entrance fee applies. This is a short enough hike to enjoy in the summer, since you can cool down in the spring afterwards. Be cautious of poison ivy (and ticks in the warmer months).
From SR 40 east of Astor, turn south on CR 445A and follow the signs. After 0.4 mile, turn left on CR 445 and continue south into the Ocala National Forest for 5.7 miles to the recreation area entrance on the right, just after the bridge over Alexander Run.
Start at the large Timucuan Trail sign. A boardwalk leads into a lush hydric hammock, deeply shaded by cabbage palms that grow in profusion in the shallow waters surrounding the spring. Clusters of cinnamon ferns rise from patches of land between clear, sand-bottomed rivulets. You feel as if you’ve walked into a lush jungle, and so it was for the Timucua who once lived along the banks of this spring. Interpretive signs relate information about the habitat and its inhabitants.
You come to a junction with a rough sand footpath. Follow the footpath as it climbs up into an upland forest, where dogwood, oaks, and magnolia grow on a high bluff along a flowing creek. The trail drops down to cross the creek, curving into the shade of a palm hammock to cross a long boardwalk across a crystalline stream. On the other side of the boardwalk, roots invade the footpath and the soil may be squishy.
Up, up, up you go, through an upland forest and up into the Big Scrub, where gnarled sand live oaks provide shade beneath the tall sand pines. The sweet aroma of silk bay fills the air, which is thick with humidity. As the trail drops down out of the scrub, it enters another grove of extremely tall cabbage palms. Dark green needle palms fill the understory. You reach another boardwalk at 0.4 mile, where a stand of ancient cypress reminds you of the passage of time between the era of the Timucua and the bathers in the spring today. A side trail leads off to the right to a small sinkhole-like depression.
Dropping into a forest of magnolia trees, the trail curves left and the air gets heavier and damper—you know the spring is close. At 0.6 mile, the trail meets a boardwalk at a T. Turn right to take a short trip down to the boardwalk’s end, where an observation platform on Alexander Run gives you a sweeping view of the waterway as it comes around the curve. Turn around and follow the boardwalk as it keeps close to the shore of the run. Another side trail leads to an observation deck. Continue through the younger hammock, crossing a sand bottomed stream as you reach the end of the loop. Turn right to exit.