Primitive camping in Florida

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Best of the Adventure Adviser
Week of December 26, 1996-January 1, 1997

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Primitive camping in Florida
Question: Do you know of any backpacking destinations or primitive campgrounds in north or central Florida?

Liz Townsend
Gainesville, FL
[email protected]

Hike among the cypress trees in Ocala National Forest
Adventure Adviser: I'd recommend hoofing it along a bite-size section of the 1,300-mile Florida National Scenic Trail, the only through-hike in the country that passes through a subtropical region, making it ideal for winter forays into the backcountry.

A good five-day, 67-mile chunk starts from Rodman Dam in central Florida's Ocala National Forest and heads south through cypress swamps and sandpine scrub and wiregrass thickets (choice bobcat, armadillo, and woodpecker habitat) to Lake Delancey at mile 7. From there, it's 15 miles into the wetlands of Hopkins Prairie to Juniper Springs, Charles Lake, and another 60-plus natural ponds. Don't panic: Boardwalks keep you dry through most of the mucky, wet stuff. Juniper Springs has 79 drive-in or walk-in camping sites to choose from for $10.75 to $12.75 per night; call 352-625-3147 for more details.

While you're there, cool off in the 13-million-gallon-per-day headwater springs, just 100 yards from camp. The swimming is stellar year-round. The final section takes you through sandpine and scrub forest to Clearwater Lake. If you don't have a second car to leave at the southern end (off County Road 42 at Clearwater Lake) and can't arrange for a shuttle pickup, you'll need to turn back early and retrace your steps to Rodman Dam. Either way, be forewarned that summers are hot, humid, and disturbingly buggy, and backcountry camping is prohibited during the November-to-early-January hunting season. Plan your trip accordingly.

Before you head out, stop by the Forest Service's visitor center on Florida 40 for a $4.50 map of the Ocala section. Call the Lake George Ranger District at 352-625-2520 for trail conditions and the Florida Trail Association for a copy of The Official Guide to the Florida Trail on Public Land ($11.95; 800-343-1882). To find the trailhead from Ocala, take Florida 40 about 11 miles east to County Road 314 and head 18 miles south to Florida 19 and then north to Rodman Dam. For more details, check out our write-up of this hike in the Destinations section of Outside's April 1996 issue.

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