Ocala National Forest & Crescent Lake
Nearest City/Town: Ocala, FL
Difficulty: Very Easy
Length: Up to 22 miles
Time: A few hours to a few days
As we mentioned, we spent 3 nights camping at the Crescent City Campground. Aside from watching a couple of goofy Redbox movies (“30 Minutes Or Less” and “Bridesmaids”), we got out to experience some of the abundant nature around Crescent City, including Ocala National Forest and Crescent Lake Conservation Area.
Ocala National Forest (Alexander Springs)
First, we headed to Ocala National Forest to do some hiking in the Alexander Springs area of the forest. After driving for about an hour, we found the trailhead, parked (for free thanks to our National Parks Pass), and set out hiking. It’s a mixed use hiking and biking trail, but we didn’t come across anyone else actually using it.
The full trail is approximately a 22-mile circuit out to a small town and back. There’s a mid-point connection that trims it to about 12 miles. We decided to just walk and turned back when we were ready to go back. All in all, we probably hiked 5-6 very easy miles. Florida isn’t exactly a hilly state. Other than a few downed trees early on the trail that you have to step over, there really isn’t any kind of elevation change.
We were greeted early on with a warning that “Bears are active in this area.” Unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps), we didn’t come across any bears. It was actually just a very peaceful, quiet forest trail with occasional dirt/sand roads crossing it. Sometimes you’re fully shaded by dense tree cover and other times, the trees are sparse and the sun shines down bright and hot. Don’t forget to take water for you and your dog.
If you go, be prepared for a rather sandy experience since that’s basically the entire trail. It’s a very enjoyable hike, overall. The trails are well-marked and the scenery is great. And it’s nice to be able to hike without a lot of other people around.
Here are some pictures from the area, including a few from the drive in of a very quirky art market with huge metal animal sculptures, all for sale for a few thousand.
Crescent Lake Conservation Area
The next day, we took a much shorter 15 minute drive over to the Crescent Lake Conservation Area so that Scott could do some trail riding and Edie and Knox could go for a hike. The area features a 3-3.5 mile loop. Much like Ocala National Forest, there’s little to no elevation change around the loop. It’s actually a dirt road that’s probably still used by park officials.
It’s very sandy and rutted, which makes for a somewhat tiring bike ride since the bike doesn’t move so well over sand. And if you make the mistake of missing the newer loop connection and go the way that the road used to go, it’s downright hellish with deep sandy ruts and downed trees and branches.
It’s a very flat, easy hike, though the trails are not very well marked. Edie and Knox missed the actual trail and just went off randomly walking. Being essentially in the middle of nowhere, even though water was nearby, you couldn’t hear anything but the sounds of the forest. Like Ocala, we had the place to ourselves, so there were no other people, no noise, nothing…it was almost a little creepy.
This probably isn’t an area we’d go back to. There isn’t much to see and there really isn’t much in the way of good hiking or biking. But if you just want a short outing in nature, it works.
Here are some pictures from the area. There are also a couple of pictures at the end of an orange grove and an old abandoned service station (complete with rusty old truck)…very cool!