Ocala National Forest

I’ve been wanting to go back to the Ocala National Forest since the last time I was there about 8 years ago, but it never seemed to work out. So I made a point of going this year, which is where I spent this past weekend. I reserved a campsite at the Salt Springs Recreation Area for Friday and Saturday night. Leaving around noon on Friday for my 5-hour trip up to the middle of the state, I made my first stop in Apopka, where I played a couple fun rounds at a brand new disc golf course on a former executive ball golf course. I then drove over to Mt. Dora for a couple more quick rounds at the course there before arriving in Salt Springs just before 8 pm. After setting up camp, I went over to the Bass Champions Restaurant and Lodge for some steamed shrimp. I didn’t get the greatest night sleep due to the drunkards in the site next to me, but I got my Saturday morning off to a great start.

I drove about half an hour south over to Alexander Springs Recreation Area, where I went on a beautiful two-hour canoe ride. I then hiked around for another hour or so before heading west to Juniper Springs Recreation Area. I was also hoping to go canoeing there, but I got there too late for the 5-hour 7-mile canoe trip. But I did enjoy the nice hiking trails there. I also recall camping here the last time I was in the forest.

I then continued west towards Silver Springs, where I made an unplanned stop at the Silver Springs Theme Park. My father’s taken me here a couple times about 15 years ago, but I forgot how fun and cool it is. There are three different glass-bottom boat rides that go along the natural springs, where over 100 movies have been filmed, including the Tarzan movies from back in the 1930’s. I also enjoyed the animal exhibits, in particular, the grizzly bears. It’s amazing how big they are and I’m so glad I didn’t come across one in the wild when I was in Yellowstone last year. There’s also a cool ride called the Lighthouse, which gives you a bird’s-eye view of the park and springs.

My next stop was just down the road at Silver River State Park. I got in another 4 miles or so of hiking and even checked out the pioneer cracker village, even though all the buildings were closed by the time I got there. My last stop of the day was at the Fore Lake Recreation Area, where I snapped a couple pictures before heading back to the Bass Champions Restaurant for a lobster dinner. After a long day, I was more than ready to hit the sack, so I relocated my camp site to a quieter spot, where I finally got a good night’s sleep.

I spent Sunday morning hanging out at the campground and the surrounding rec area, where I went on a couple nice 2-mile hikes before heading out. I then went over to Silver Glen Springs Recreation Area, where I embarked on another fun 2-hour canoe trip into Lake George. I was also hoping to do the hike along the lake, but heavy storms a couple days earlier downed several trees and closed off the trail. However, I did get in the springs for a refreshing 15-minute swim. The water felt incredible, and I could have stayed in there all day. I started to make my way out of the national forest and remembered a great hiking trail somewhere along the road, but couldn’t seem to remember where it was. I was a little bummed out about it, but I did happen to accidentally come across the Heart Island Conservation Area, where I went for a nice drive along the dirt road.

As I started to slowly make my way south back towards home, I came across De Leon Springs State Park, which I don’t recall going to before. While there, I went on a 1-hour eco/history boat tour that went into Lake Woodruff. I also checked out the Old Spanish Sugar Mill, which is now a restaurant where you can make your own pancakes. The offer was tempting, but the place was packed and the wait was quite a while. So I continued south, where I stopped in the historic section of Deland for a bit. My next stop was a couple hours south in Orlando, where I played the tough 9-hole course at the University of Central Florida. I used to play the original 18-hole course here about 10 years ago, but this was my first time on the new layout amongst the sea of thick palmetto bushes. Luckily, I didn’t lose any discs, and it made my last stop of my trip at the fun course in Cocoa at F. Burton Smith Park a walk in the park.

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