Bryan Lindenberger

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Sunday, September 29, 2019

Top 8 Nature Trails and Hikes Near Ocala: Marion County, Florida

Find this list at Google Maps.

Salt Springs Observation Trail

Salt Spring Observation Trail Entrance
This two mile loop through Ocala National Forest leads to an observation deck overlooking Salt Springs Run, connecting Lake George and Lake Kerr, fed by Saint Johns River.

It’s one of those nice places where there are always people – an attractive jogger on a morning run, a nice little family with their dog – but never crowds or noisy tourists.

The trail is short. You get back to your car after only 2 miles of hiking, but the observation deck can hold you for awhile watching boats and birds.

There are a few pines, but this area of the forest is mostly old growth with lots of leafy evergreens.

With so much else to see in the area, it’s a definite must stop.

Images and trail maps.

Silver Springs State Park

Silver Springs State Park Trail Entrance
Silver Springs State Park offers glass bottom boat tours, kayaking and more at the main entrance on East Silver Springs Boulevard, but your best entrance for hiking is the one mapped here.

It’s amazing how close to town you can be while still feeling away from it all for hours.

Trails include Sand Hill Trail near the entrance, Sink Hole Trail with plenty of signs to help you learn about and recognize local flora and fauna, and the River Trail and Swamp Trail which meet great views at Silver River.

Silver Glen Spring Recreation Area

Silver Glen at Salt Springs
Silver Glen Springs in Salt Springs, Florida, offers canoe rentals as well as snorkeling and swimming in some beautifully clear spring waters. We’re hear to talk about the hiking, and though the two trails are short, they’re worth the price for great views of Lake George and some wonderful wildlife viewing.

And why not bring along a swimsuit? After a hike, that water looks mighty inviting!

There are crowds at the springs in the summer, so I recommend waiting for a warm day some other time of year if you go for the swimming. The trails seem to never be crowded, so there is a good chance of seeing many animals without them being spooked by people.

Silver Springs Connector Trail

Silver Springs Connector Trail Entrance
Part of the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, this short, 3-mile there and back trail is great for a hike, jog, or a run any time of the year and not far outside of Ocala, Florida.

The look and feel of this subtropical forest of sabal palm and laurel oak will make you wish it were raining with its organic and earthy feel.

Just two and a half miles from Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area, in case you want to make more of a day of it, you’ll find the entrance with an easy to spot sign and ample parking just off of Fort Brooks Road (FL-40) on NE Highway 315 in Fort McCoy, just outside of Ocala.

The trail is easy to follow, and you will find yourself alone among the cabbage palm, laurel oak, and southern magnolia.

Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area

Pine Forest in Early Morning Fog
Dozens of miles of trails. Entrance is easy with plenty of parking either from either County Road 315 or from 326, and while the White Blaze Loop offers 6 miles of great hiking or biking from either end of the conservation area, there are many miles left to see.

Entrance is easy with plenty of parking either from either County Road 315 or from 326, and while the White Blaze Loop offers 6 miles of great hiking or biking from either end of the conservation area, there are many miles left to see.

In early morning hours I have spotted many deer and also a boar, so use sensible caution. The trails are ideal for either hiking or off-road biking. I did both and could hardly believe I was the only person there on a Sunday. If you want a great outdoor opportunity not far from town, this is ideal.

Chernobyl Memorial Forest Loop

Hiking Chernobyl Memorial Forest
This portion of the Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area at the south entrance offers a 5 mile loop great for hiking and horseback riding with opportunities to deviate from the main trail. I’ve provided my hiking map below which plots once such deviation, and I found it very worthwhile with great birding opportunities and a diversity of plant life.

You will access this portion of the restoration area from the south entrance parking lot (Google map below to get you there) rather than the north entrance. I prefer this Chernobyl Memorial Forest entrance for a day of hiking.

The trail is a mix of packed earth, short grass over packed earth, and some portions of sweet sand that may prove prohibitive to off-road biking unless you are up for a challenge.

Gore's Landing Unit WMA

Ocklawaha River in Ocala National Forest
You might confuse Gores Landing Unit WMA with the park just a quarter mile up the road from it, Gores Landing. Gores Landing, the park, offers fishing, picnic area, and amenities for only $5 per car with an additional $5 for overnight camping.

The Wildlife Management Area discussed here is purely for fishing, hunting, and of course hiking.

Starting at the main trail head, veer right at the first break you reach in a small clearing, and it will lead you to a very nice spot along the Ocklawaha River. I saw plenty of fish in summer and spring, and the view is beautiful with bird sightings year around. There and back will take you just under 3 miles, and there are other trails to follow.

Orange Creek Conservation Area, South Tract

Young Pine Trees at Orange Creek Conservation Area
On County Road 318 just east of Fl State 301 near Citra, this is one of those hiking and horseback riding areas that you are prone to drive by daily without thinking to make a stop. In fact, I did just that for close to year.

It’s an amazing area for hiking south of Hawthorne and Gainesville and north of Ocala once you do stop. If there is a downside, it’s that the trails are maintained by machine tilling up the soil which, in this area, creates a lot of soft, sweet sand to trudge though. But the trails are wide enough to walk along in the grass in these recently tilled area.

While the sand is too soft for enjoyable biking in the woodsy trails, a main dirt road will provide the workout you crave, and there are few better places for hiking or horseback riding in the area.

Locate and explore more hiking and nature trails at >> Live Florida Beauty.