Camping In Ocala/marion County
Set up camp in breathtaking Ocala/Marion County.
Home to the Ocala National Forest, the second largest national forest in the state, Ocala/Marion County boasts some of the best camping, hiking and recreation in the entire country. Take in the sights, sounds and scents of untouched Florida on a getaway under the stars you wont soon forget.
Ben’s Hitching Post Campground
Located next to the Ocala National Forest in Silver Springs, Ben’s Hitching Post Campground offers pet-friendly lodging for visitors to the forest. The campground has RV sites with full electric, water and sewer connections and sites for tents with water only. Campers can enjoy restroom, shower and laundry facilities, an outdoor swimming pool, shuffleboard courts and an indoor meeting facility with a pool table. Potluck dinners are also offered at the campground on select dates during the year.
There Are Some Limits On Dispersed Camping
Dispersed camping is not allowed near developed recreation areas or less than 100 feet from streams and other water sources.
Its best to choose a previously used site. Plants, soil and wildlife are impacted by new campsites.
Make your campsite less visible, so other visitors can experience a wild setting. Avoid camping in the middle of a clearing or meadow.
Be aware of forest boundaries, and seek permission before camping on private property.
Hunting Season: The 2020-21 General Gun Season runs from Nov. 7 until Jan. 24. Hunting in the forest is regulated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. If you are hiking or camping in the backcountry during deer season, wear bright orange shirts or vests.
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Juniper Springs Recreation Area
Named as Reserve Americas Top 100 Family campgrounds, offers campers a relaxing and shade-filled campsite near Floridas majestic natural springs. At Juniper Springs, you can swim and snorkel, as well as hike on the nearby trails. Of particular interest is Juniper Run, a 7-mile waterway where you can canoe your way downstream and admire the birds and wildlife along the way.
Overall its a beautiful place to visit, the springs are crystal clear and if you like to kayak this place is for you. A wonderful weekend getaway.Aslynn A.
- Price: $15-24
Swimming In Springs And Lakes
Its hard to consider water recreation at Ocala National Forest without thinking of the sublime freshwater springs. In fact, The Florida Rambler recommends visiting them as the number one thing to do in Ocala. With a cool, consistent temperature of 72 degrees and crystal-clear aqua-colored waters, the springs can take the heat out of the hottest Florida days.Alexander Springs offers both swimming and scuba-diving, or meandering along the boardwalk trail beside the bubbling Juniper Run to the tranquil in its stone-edged CCC-built pool. Salt Springs and Silver Glen Springs offer additional spring swimming opportunities.
Many lakes including Clearwater Lake and Fore Lake also have designated beaches for swimming and are popular fishing destinations, too. For a complete list of places to swim, click here.
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What To Do In The Forest
If youre visiting Ocala National Forest, most activities revolve around immersing yourself in the wild. You dont have to be an experienced outdoorsperson to enjoy the forest, though. There are hundreds of recreational options for everyone, but below youll find an overview of the top things to do.
Ocala National Forest Cabins
Photo by Forest Service, USDA from www.fs.usda.gov
Want to stay in a more comfortable room inside Ocala National Forest? Worry no more! you can book the cabins that are ready to cater to your basic needs. Large and small families will definitely enjoy staying here.
There are two cabins in Ocala National Forest. First is Lake Dorr Cabin. This cabin is situated on the south end of Lake Dorr and can accommodate up to 10 persons.
The second one is the Sweetwater cabin, which can accommodate up to 12 persons. The Sweetwater cabin overlooks Sweetwater Spring, so you will definitely enjoy looking at the freshwater spring that flows into Juniper Run.
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Get Your Glamp On: Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo
Interested in the adventurous spirit of camping but not so keen on roughing it? Book a glamping teepee at Westgate River Ranch Resort & Rodeo, about an hour and a half drive from Jupiter.
The spacious canvas teepees are permanent fixtures, installed on platforms in a wooded area. Each is fully furnished and air-conditioned but still offers the rugged feel of campingâalbeit with luxury linens and a nightly campfire lit for you by the staff. A private bathroom facility with a shower is located a short walk away. With names such as Roaming Buffalo and Soaring Eagle, the teepees are modeled in an authentic Native American style and furnished with rustic touches such as stone fireplaces, cowhide furniture, and cast-iron claw-foot tubs.
The 1,700-acre ranch is also launching two new options for camping in style this month: luxe Conestoga wagons, which sleep up to six in a 495-square-foot replica of a traditional eighteenth-century covered wagon, and luxury glamping tents, which differ from the standard teepees in that they are larger and have full en suite bathrooms.
Camping rates for Conestoga wagons start at $759 luxury teepees begin at $379 . 3200 River Ranch Blvd., River Ranch 863.692.1321
Where Is Ocala National Forest
Ocala National Forest is in central Florida, directly west of Ocala city. Visitors can access the forest easily from several major Florida cities, including Orlando, Jacksonville, and Tampa. The Ocala National Forest is in the heart of Florida and includes more than 600 lakes and rivers. While visiting, you can enjoy swimming, fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, canoeing, and boating.
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Ocala National Forest Springs
Fun fact: there are 600 springs in Ocala National Forest, so when we say there is a lot to explore in this forest, we mean it! The most popular springs in Ocala National Forest are Juniper Springs and Alexander Springs.
You can reach Juniper Springs on State Road 40 which crosses the forest below Lake George. For Alexander Springs, you can reach it by driving to County Road 445, nine miles west of Juniper Springs.
Not only enjoying the beauty and pristine water, but you may also swim in the springs, as long as youre staying in the area where swimming is allowed.
This is to prevent any unwanted events, as the springs are also a natural habitat for other animals such as alligators. However, there have not been any problems reported in a pool where swimming is allowed.
Where Can I Camp For Free In Ocala National Forest
Free dispersed camping is allowed throughout Ocala National Forest. Follow all standard boondocking protocols, such as leave no trace. Only camp in established dispersed camping sites or areas that will not damage vegetation, and check-in with a ranger to understand camping expectations.
You cannot camp in developed recreation areas or within 100 feet from streams and other water sources. Avoid camping in the middle of a clearing or meadow as well. Additionally, camping is only allowed in designated campsites during hunting season.
Overall, Ocala National Forest is a great place to get away from the crowds that typically flock to Florida in the winter months.
Have you had the opportunity to make use of Ocala National Forest camping? Would you prefer to stay in an established campground or utilize the option of dispersed camping? Drop a comment below to let us know!
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Hiking Trails And Boardwalks
Hiking has become a national pastime in the recent months, and the American Hiking Society suggests that during the outbreak of COVID-19, hikers stay within 50 miles of their homes. Hiking is one of the best ways to experience the wildlife of Ocala, especially blackbear, deer, foxes, and tortoises. There are dozens of trails available for hikers, from portions of the 1500-mile Florida Trail, to short, elevated boardwalk jaunts.
A complete list of day-hikes can be found here. If youre not sure where to start, here a few highlights to consider:
Lake Dorr Recreation Area
A quiet, peaceful campground, Lake Dorr Recreation Area is located just along the northwest shore of Lake Dorr in the Ocala National Forest. This spot is set in a shady location and offers RV spaces, tents, and showers. If you enjoy boating, Lake Dorr has a boat ramp for easy access to the water. There is also a picnic area that overlooks the lake and the surrounding oak trees.
This place is right on the lake, quiet and beautiful. Its affordable and the camp hosts are very friendly!Emily J.
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The Best Free Camping In Florida
Want to save money while camping in Florida?
Then free camping is for you! Scattered across nationalforests, water management districts, equestrian camps, and more, the best freecampsites in Florida are not only free, but they are also among the mostbeautiful and secluded in the state.
Heres everything you need to know about free camping inFlorida.
Keep It Local: Jonathan Dickinson State Park
You donât have to drive far for some of the best camping the Sunshine State has to offer. In Hobe Sound, outdoors enthusiasts will be thrilled by the 16 different natural communitiesâincluding rare environments like coastal sandhills, upland lakes, and scrub forestsâof Jonathan Dickinson State Park. At 11,500 acres, itâs the largest state park in Southeast Florida and happens to be the closest campground to Jupiter.
Overnight options include family, group, primitive, and equestrian campsites. Those looking for a traditional campground experience can make reservations at Pine Grove, located near the ranger station on the east side of the park, or the 52-site River Campground, located about 4 miles from the park entrance. Both have restrooms with hot showers,a washer and dryer, water, electricity, a table, and a grill.
Aside from camping, activities in the park include horseback riding, fishing, wildlife viewing, bird-watching, peddling Camp Murphyâs 9-mile network of mountain bike trails, paddling the Loxahatchee River, and even hikingâthe ancient sand dune known as Hobe Mountain, which towers 86 feet above sea level, is the highest natural point south of Lake Okeechobee.
Camping at Jonathan Dickinson costs $26/night for tent camping , plus tax and a $6.70 reservation fee. If youâre hesitant to spend the night in nature, you can book one of the parkâs 11 furnished cabins for $95/night , $85/night . 16450 SE Federal Hwy., Hobe Sound 772.546.2771
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Ocala National Forest Hunting
Photo by Forest Service, USDA from www.fs.usda.gov
One of the most popular activities in Ocala National Forest is hunting. The hunting and fishing activities are managed by Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission , as the Ocala National Forest is a wildlife management area.
You must own a valid Florida hunting license to hunt in the Ocala National Forest area, and all hunters must follow all regulations outlined by FWC.
In hunting season, you can use hunt camps to experience hunting activities to the fullest. Hunters must obtain a special permit for hunt camp use, which you can get offline at local outfitters or online from the FWC website. There are three hunt camp areas offered: Clay Lake Hunt Camp, Farles Lake Hunt Camp, and South Tower Hunt Camp.
Florida Trail Day Hikes
In addition to backpacking the entire Florida Trail across the Ocala National Forest, you can tackle it in pieces as day hikes, thanks to the many trailheads and access points along the route.
While less than a mile long, the Timucuan Trail at Alexander Springs Recreation Area is the best place to sample the Big Scrub habitats of the Ocala National Forest.
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Lake In The Forest Black Bear Resort
It is difficult to get any closer to the Ocala National Forest than Lake in the Forest Black Bear Resort in Ocklawaha. The resort is in the heart of the national forest, and it offers pet-friendly camping with RV and tent sites, as well as cabins. There is a two-night minimum stay required at the resort. Aside from the outdoor activities that are available in the national forest, the resort offers guests a heated outdoor swimming pool, fishing and boating on the lake, a playground and a miniature golf course.
Biking The Ocala National Forest
Hundreds of miles of forest roads are open to cyclists throughout the Ocala National Forest. Only one dedicated off-road trail exists: the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail.
The Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail shares a trailhead at Clearwater Lake with the Florida Trail. The Florida Trail is not open to cyclist use in the Ocala National Forest.
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Ocala National Forest Florida
Ocala National Forest, north of Orlando, might be inland from Floridas coasts, but water is still very much part of the experience here. Streams and lakes abound in the forest, and several springs including Juniper Springs and Alexander Springs Creek make this vast area of pine forests, live oak groves, grasslands, and swamps one of the most popular national forests in the country. Thats all the more reason to enjoy it after the summer crowds depart with the mild Florida temperatures, you can even enjoy straight through winter.
The 67-mile National Florida Scenic Trail bisects the park, but you can hike along plenty of shorter loops and offshoot trails, as well. Youll find extensive mountain-biking opportunities, but the real draw here is the water. Canoe or kayak down the springs the seven-mile Juniper Springs Run is ranked as one of the best runs in the nation. You can also cool off in the lakes and snorkel in the clear water.
You have multiple campgrounds to choose from. Juniper Springs Recreation and Campground, located inside the Ocala National Forest, has 78 campsites, plus hiking trails and a historic mill house. Campsites are $22 per night, reservable here. Each campsite is equipped with a picnic table, fire ring, grill, and lantern post. Campsites can accommodate motorhomes, trailers, and tents. Restrooms with hot showers are available.
Ocala National Forest Cabins:
The Forest Service itself offers a handful of rustic cabins that provide visitors a way to enjoy the natural beauty of the Big Scrub without the need to rough it. Here are a few local favorites:
Sweetwater Cabin. This secluded forest paradise is located about halfway down the run. Built in the mid 1930s as a Civilian Conservation Corps project, it was later the home for the crew of the 1945 movie The Yearling starring Gregory Peck. The film won two Oscars in 1947. The book by was modeled after the Long family, which lived on nearby Pats Island. The cabin sleeps 12 people, has a full kitchen and facilities, along with a private deck over Sweetwater Spring. Since its off-limits to canoeists and kayakers, youll have the place to yourself. If youre lucky enough to win the lottery, that is. The forest service gives away 52 weeks stay each year in a lottery starting January 1st. If you win the lottery, youll pay $800 per week. Call 625-0546.
Elite Resorts at Salt Springs is situated on the shores of Little Lake Kerr, one of the forests fishing hotspots. The 70-acre RV park has 475 sites and 38 cabins. The cabins are 2 bedrooms each and sleep up to 12 people. Full sized kitchen and cable TV are included. The resort has a variety of amenities. For information call 1-800-356-2460.
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Salt Springs Recreation Area
Image from The Dyrt camper Yankee D.
This recreation area receives its name from the nearby natural mineral spring. Campers who visit the Salt Springs Recreation Area spend their time swimming, fishing, snorkeling, boating, and hiking. Explore the Bear Swamp Trail, fish on Lake George, or stay near the campground and play basketball or horseshoes. Salt Springs is the only campground in the Ocala National Forest with full RV hookups.
Very clean and neat place. A lot of space, so kids can play. We enjoy watching crabs, turtles, and big fishes in the spring. Springs has a good shallow area where kids can play inside the water.Diana M.
Free Camping Sites In Florida
The state of Florida has ample campgrounds for people, but a few come without any charge levied. Regardless of the nature of the landscape, all sites are beautiful and have a raw flavor of nature. But, since they are free, you might find some of the places crowded at times. Both primitive and RV camping are allowed and it is always better to be careful as you might spot alligators and bears occasionally. Also, carry a mosquito repellent with you.
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Escribano Point Wma Bayside Campground Santa Rosa County
The picturesque location near Pensacola offers you a view of the Blackwater Bay as the campsites are nestled beautifully along the shoreline. There are two camping sites, namely, BaysideCampground, and Bayou Campground . A permit for using the site as your campground is mandatory. Bear-resistance trash cans and portable toilets are there but you wont find electricity or drinking water.
Gear You Need For Free Camping In Florida
Free camping requires pretty much the same gear as normalcamping.
That said, because of its often-primitive nature, a fewextra pieces of equipment are required whether youre in a tent, a camper van,or an RV.
Then, specifically for long-term dry camping, many campersoften bring a portablepower device, campingshower, and portabletoilet. At the very least, you should know how to go to the bathroom inthe woods as most free campsites in Florida dont have bathroom facilities.
Finally, its essential youre familiar with the leave no trace principles. Most importantly, packout all of your garbage to leave your free campsite ineven better condition than it was when you first arrived.
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