The Strange World of Ocala National Forest

If you look at the image above, you may have no idea of what it is. What strange country is this in? It’s Fern Hammock Springs in Juniper Springs Recreation Area in Ocala National Forest – one of several springs in Central Florida.

Ocala NF has freshwater springs sprinkled around its huge land mass. The water temperature in the springs is a constant 72 degrees year-round. You can swim in some springs, boat or fish in others and even snorkel.

Danny, Beth and Sawako on the Florida Trail

On my trip to Tampa to speak to the Tampa Garden Club, I stayed with Beth, a hiking friend. We walked through Tampa and St. Petersburg, both lovely cities. On the last day, we drove over to Ocala NF and met another Carolina Mountain Club hiking friend, Sawako.

What a lovely reunion!

The Florida National Scenic Trail goes right through Ocala NF, as it meanders for about 1,300 miles from Big Cypress National Preserve to Gulf Islands National Seashore. We walked a small section of the trail. It was sandy and flat through scrub pines.

Trail to Lake George in Ocala National Forest

The trail to Lake George felt different, mostly because of the huge amount of Spanish moss. From tree to tree, the moss seemed to jump into the air, across the trail and land wherever. More palm fronds and less sand, as well.

We reached the lake in a little more than a mile. Lake George is the second largest lake in Florida, but so shallow, only ten feet in depth. It attracts migratory birds and alligators. When we were there, we only saw several herons in the distance.

I can really understand the attraction of Florida, beyond the allure of the beaches. I was hiking in shorts – I was in shorts the whole time I was there in February. I only put long pants back on in north Georgia.

But I can hardly complain. As I write this in Asheville, it’s over 60 degrees. Wild!

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