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Ocala National Forest: a Local Summer Treasure

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By Loretta Maimone   Follow me: Loretta Maimone on Facebook
Wed, Jul 30, 2014 at 10:01AM

As summer starts to wind down, you might be feeling an urge to get out and have one last summer hoorah. Whether your kids are getting antsy at the thought of school starting, or you’re due for a break, this might be the perfect time to explore a nearby Central Florida gem.

The Ocala National Forest is the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi River, and the second largest in the country, making it the perfect (but often underused) spot for a nature-centric getaway. Here you’ll find pristine springs, hiking trails, and camping spots that deviate from Florida’s traditional beach vacation—and it’s less than an hour away from Mount Dora and other nearby cities!

Families love Juniper Springs, an oasis deep within the “Big Scrub” of the forest that offers swimming, camping, canoeing and kayaking. The clear blue waters here are breathtaking, and will provide a much-needed cool-down, especially on muggy summer days. The Juniper Creek Run is a seven-mile canoe or kayak trip that you can take on your own or with someone a little more experienced; it offers an immersive view of surrounding tropical flora. You’ll also be able to pass through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness, an area untouched by cars and other vehicles, where you might be able to spot animals at play.

For hikers, there are multiple trails available, each unique in its difficulty and experience. The Timucuan Trail is ideal for families or those who prefer a light-paced walk around springs and scrub forest, while learning about the indigenous Timucuan people who used to call the area home. The St. Francis Trail is for intermediate hikers and includes a look at what’s left of a 19th century St. John River port town.

We only covered a bit of the Forest, but there are many more opportunities for families or lone thrill seekers who want to get away this summer—if only for a little bit. Visit http://www.fs.usda.gov/main/ocala/home for more information... and enjoy the rest of your summer!

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