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TRAIL GUIDE


by larry rice


Ocala Oasis North-central Florida’s primitive alternative to Disney World.


WHY GO: The setting is unlike any other in North America. Just over an hour’s drive northwest of Orlando, wedged between the Ocklawaha and St. Johns rivers, lie the Juniper Springs Recreation Area and the adjacent 14,283-acre Juniper Prairie Wilderness. These subtropical gems are part of the continental Ocala National Forest, the southernmost national forest in the United States. Here, there are springs—large and small, gushing out of cracks in the earth—as well as pine flatwoods, hardwood swamps, shallow lakes, grassy prairies, oak scrub, sinkholes, and sawgrass marsh that represent what north-central Florida looked like before the arrival of Disney World.


WHERE TO START: Begin your explo- rations at the Juniper Springs Campground within the recreation area. Tranquil, with a feeling of remoteness, the campground’s 79 campsites (no electrical or water hookups) are tucked among moss- draped forests of live oaks and


whispering pines and are within walking distance of some of Florida’s most beautiful springs. This is a highly trafficked campsite, so make sure you reserve a spot before you go.


HIT THE TRAIL: A nearly 100-mile section of the Florida National Scenic Trail takes off from the recre- ation area and cuts through the center of Juniper Prairie Wilderness to the north. Day hikes are the rule here. But to really go wild, do an over- night trek to Hidden Pond, an oasis for primitive camping in the midst of the lush scrub country. This very secluded spot within the wilderness area is six miles by trail from the nearest road. However, no matter where you hike in Juniper Prairie, you’ll be in scenic, untamed country that’s


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home to whitetail deer, black bear, bobcat, fox, raccoon, armadillo, and an unbelievable richness of birds.


GRAB A PADDLE AND GO:One of the best paddling opportunities in central Florida is the seven-mile run down Juniper Creek through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness. Launching near the campground, the narrow, twisting creek winds through semitropi- cal scenery not found in any other national forest in the continental United States. A dense canopy of palmetto, palms, oak, and cypress creates a living, jungle-like tunnel. In the constricted channels, be careful of overhanging branches and submerged logs that have tipped many unwary paddlers. If you’re lucky, you may


EXPLORE MORE TRAILS using the adventure guides featured at scoutingmagazine.org/trailguide.


MATT TAYLOR


STEVE SANFORD


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