Ocala National Forest is a vast wilderness where you can pitch a tent along a trail or station your recreational vehicle at one of 14 developed campgrounds.
There are two Florida State Parks campgrounds on the edge of the forest.
Explore the forest on hundreds of miles of forest roads in your car, on your e-bike or motorcycle, or jump off the roads on horseback, off-road bicycle or hiking trails that take you to 600 natural lakes, ponds and springs within the forest boundaries.
Ocala National Forest has 14 developed campgrounds with designated sites, picnic tables, lantern posts, grills, and fire rings. Only one, Salt Springs, has full hook-ups for electric, water, and sewer.
For a story about dispersed camping in the Ocala National Forest backcountry, read Great Escape: Dispersed camping in Ocala National Forest
Ocala National Forest Recreation Areas
Most Popular with Campers
These recreation areas with campgrounds are open to day-use visitors who leave when the recreation areas close. Campgrounds are gated with locks, providing a measure of security, and rangers patrol. There are usually volunteer campground hosts nearby who can be contacted if needed
Cellular phone service is limited or non-existent in most areas of the forest, including these recreation areas.
Alexander Springs Campground Temporarily Closed
One of only 27 first-magnitude springs in Florida, Alexander Springs may be the best freshwater swimming hole in the state of Florida, not to mention one of the busiest.
The spring head creates a large, shallow sandy-bottom natural pool at a constant 72 degrees. Where the spring emerges from the bottom, snorkelers and scuba divers explore the limestone rocks and boulders in the spring boil.
Visitors enjoy canoe and kayaking (rentals available), hiking, off-road bicycle trails and picnic area. Trailhead for the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail, a 22-mile loop through the forest begins here. Motor-assisted bikes, including electric bikes, are not permitted on the Paisley Woods Trail, although they are permitted on nearby forest roads.
If you are lucky enough to book a campsite here, you will experience one of the most pristine sub-tropical environments you may ever encounter.
The gated campground has 67 campsites for tents or RVs up to 35 feet, but there are no hookups. Every site has a picnic table, fire ring and grill.
Drinking water and a dump station are available in the campground, as are rest rooms with showers. Firewood is available for sale to campers at the concession, which also sells snacks, groceries, ice, charcoal and beach items.
Alexander Springs Recreation Area, 49525 County Rd 445, Altoona, FL 32702. Phone: (352) 669-3522. Camping Fee: $31 per night (2022) Pets: OK in the campground. Reservations: Book online at Reservations.gov up to 6 months in advance, or call 877-444-6777.
Directions to Alexander Springs: From SR 40 at Astor, take Butler Street to CR 445A, and turn left on CR 445. The recreation area is 5.8 miles south on the right.
Clearwater Lake Campground
Clearwater Lake Recreation Area lies along the southeastern edge of Ocala National Forest, near the community of Paisley, nestled on a lake in a forest of pines and palms, reflecting a subtropical environment typical of the forest.
Visitors enjoy the picnic areas, swimming beach, fishing, nature trail hiking, mountain bike trail with canoe and kayak rentals available.
Clearwater Lake is at the south end of the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail, a 22-mile mountain single-track loop that connects with the Alexander Springs Recreation Area.
The gated, well-shaded campground has 42 sites for tents or recreational vehicles, but no hookups. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring and grill. Potable water and a dump station are available, as are restrooms with showers and firewood.
Clearwater Recreation Area is less busy than Alexander Springs, making it an acceptable alternative if Alexander Springs is booked. The small town of Paisley is a mile away, with camping supplies, a post office, and a library with Internet access.
Be aware that bears, alligators and raccoons frequent the area.
Clearwater Lake Campground, 24511 Co Rd 42, Paisley, FL 32767. Phone: (352) 669-0078 Camping Fee: $31 per night. No hookups. Pets: OK only in campground. Reservations: Book online at Reservations.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777 up to 6 months in advance. Maximum stay 14 nights. This campground has first-come, first-served sites.
Directions to Clearwater Lake: From the junction of SR 42 and SR 19 in Altoona, drive 6.4 miles east on SR 42 towards Paisley. The entrance to the Clearwater Lake Recreation Area is on your left.
Juniper Springs Recreation Area
Juniper Springs is exceptionally beautiful with dense tropical foliage rarely seen in this region of Florida.
Visitors kayak or canoe the spring run, swim in the spring, off-road bicycle trails and hiking. There are canoe and kayaks available to rent, but you can bring your own for a $10 launch fee.
The gated campground has been named one of the Top 100 Family Campgrounds in the United States, and there is plenty of competition for its 79 campsites, 19 sites of which are set aside for tents only. RV’s up to the 35 feet.
Like most of the campgrounds in Ocala National Forest (except Salt Springs), there are no hookups. Each site does have a picnic table, fire ring, grill and lantern post. Campers share water spigots, rest rooms with showers, and there’s a dump station in the campground.
The concession sells snacks, groceries, charcoal, firewood, ice and novelties. A convenience store with camping supplies, beach supplies, drinks and ice cream is nearby. Restaurants, shopping and gas are 10 miles from campground.
Reserve your site well in advance, and stay on top of cancellations.
Juniper Springs Recreation Area, 26701 FL-40, Silver Springs, FL 34488. Camping Fee: $31 per night, tent or RV. (2022 rates). Pets: OK only in campground. Reservations: Book online at Recreation.gov or call 1-877-444-6777 up to 6 months in advance. Maximum stay 14 nights.
Read more: Fab kayaking on pristine Juniper Spring Run
Directions to Juniper Springs: From I-75, take Highway 40 east through Ocala and Silver Springs for approximately 36 miles to the Juniper Springs Recreation Area. From I-95, take the Ocala/Silver Springs Exit (Highway 40) west for approximately 37 miles to the Juniper Springs Recreation Area. From the intersection of Highway 40 and Highway 19, the campground is 4.5 miles west on Highway 40. The entrance is on the north side of Highway 40.
Salt Springs Campground
Salt Springs has the largest, most developed campground in Ocala National Forest — and it’s the only campground with full hookups at RV sites.
The spring gets its name from minerals — potassium, magnesium, and sodium salts — giving the water a slight salinity.
A large swimming area is cordoned off at the spring head before the water flows into a broad spring run that offers a scenic paddle to Lake George. The fishing here is exceptional, and the recreational opportunities make it an attractive destination.
The concession at Salt Springs Marina rents paddleboards, kayaks, canoes, skiffs, and pontoon boats.
As with other campgrounds in the forest, campers and day-use visitors have excellend access to hiking trails and off-road bicycle paths.
The gated campground has 106 sites with full hookups to accommodate either RV’s or tents and another 54 sites (without hookups) are set aside for tents. In addition to water, sewer and electric hookups on RV sites, all sites have a picnic table, fire ring, grill and lantern post.
Facilities also include rest rooms with showers and an RV dump station. Firewood is available.
In addition to a marina, the recreation area is near a gas station, grocery store, several restaurants, bait and tackle shops, post office, laundromat and national forest visitor center.
Salt Springs Recreation Area, 13851 FL-19, Fort McCoy, FL 32134. Phone: (352) 685-2048. Camping Fee: $50/night with full hookups; $25 for seniors and Access passholders; $31/night for tents, no hookups. (2022 rates) Pets: OK in campground. Cell or Wi-Fi coverage: None. Reservations: Book online at Recreation.gov up to 6 months in advance or call 1-877-444-6777. Maximum stay 14 nights. This campground has first-come, first-served sites. For availability, call the campground directly at (352) 685-2048
Directions to Salt Springs: Salt Springs is located between the St. Johns and Ocklawaha Rivers, 35 miles east of Ocala, Florida on State Road 19, north of State Road 40, which crosses the state from Ormond Beach to Ocala.
Camping with Bears, Raccoons and Alligators
Bears roam freely in Ocala National Forest, and they are most active in fall. Raccoons are common near campgrounds all year. Alligators make frequent appearances near water, day and night. Secure food and food waste in bear-proof containers or suspend 10 feet above the ground. Do not feed wild animals of any kind for their health and your safety. Read more
Rustic and wild
The remote campgrounds in Ocala National Forest are developed with some amenities, but they are not as well supervised or patrolled and there is open access 24/7. These campgrounds are also popular with hunters and ATVs.
You may want to avoid General Gun Season (deer season), which runs from late October until late January. Hunting in the forest is regulated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
Security should be a consideration when camping alone. While incidents are rare, safety in numbers is a good rule of thumb for anyone who camps or hikes in these areas.
Volunteer campground hosts are sometimes living in these campgrounds but these campgrounds are remote and often out of range for mobile phone cellular service.
Note: Campers expecting sites to be available first-come, first-serve should have a backup plan.
Things to do: Hiking, wildlife, equestrian. Four miles from the Ocklawaha River via CR 42. Sites: 18 sites, no hookups. RVs welcome. There are two new paved accessible campsites close to the restrooms. Camping Fee: $15/night. Usage: Light to medium. Facilities: Grills and fire pits. Dump station. Potable water available. Pets: OK in campground. Reservations: None. First come, first served. Self check-in.
Directions to Big Bass Campground: 8.7 miles east of Weirsdale along CR 42; turn off CR 42 onto Forest Road 13. Watch for the sign on the left after you pass “Buck & Doe’s” store.
Things to do: Off-road vehicle trails. Sites: 47 sites for tents or RVs. No hookups. Camping Fee: $20/night. Usage: Medium to Heavy. Facilities: Picnic tables, restrooms. Potable water available. No dump station. Pets: OK in the campground. Reservations: A handful of sites are first-come, first-served. Online at Recreation.gov, or by calling 1-877-444-6777, up to six months in advance.
Things to do: Fishing, kayaking. Sites: 3 tent sites. Camping Fee: Free. Usage: Light to medium. Facilities: Boat ramp. Pets: OK in the campground. Reservations: First come, first served.
Directions to Bluff Landing: From Alexander Springs Recreation Area, drive north on County Road 445 towards Astor. Turn right onto Forest Road 18, an unimproved road, after you cross over Alexander Creek. Follow the road for nearly 2 miles to a turnoff on the right as FR 18 makes a sharp right off the main road. Continue another 2 miles or so down to the landing. FR 18 marks the western boundary of the Alexander Springs Wilderness.
Things to do: Fishing. Sites: 31 sites for tent or RV. Camping Fee: $20/night, no hookups. Usage: Heavy. Facilities: Picnic table, fire ring, bathhouse with flush toilets and warm showers. Drinking water available. Dump station available. Boat ramp. A small grocery store is nearby on SR 314 in Scrambletown. Pets: OK in the campground. Reservations: Call 1-877-444-6777 or book online up to 6 months in advance.
Directions to Fore Lake: Drive 5.1 miles north on SR 314 from Nuby’s Corner (junction of SR 40 and SR 314). Turn left at the Fore Lake sign and continue 0.7 miles to the recreation area.
Things to do: Fishing, hiking the Florida Scenic Trail, birding. Sites: 21 Camping Fee: $12/ night. (2022) Usage: Heavy. Facilities: Hand pump for drinking water. Vault toilets. Nearby Salt Springs has groceries, restaurants, gas station, and outfitter. Pets: OK in campground. Reservations: First come, first served. No reservations but you can use recreation.gov to pay with credit card instead of cash.
Directions to Hopkins Prairie: The turnoff for Hopkins Prairie is 9.2 miles north along SR 19 from the intersection with SR 40. Turn left and follow the signs, turning left, right, and left along unmarked, unimproved roads to reach the camping area.
Things to do: OHV trails from the West campground. Fishing and kayaking in the East campground. Sites: East, 29 primitive sites for tents and trailers; West, unmarked primitive sites. Camping Fee: East, $15/night. West, $5/night. Usage: Heavy. Facilities: Boat ramp. Shaded picnic grounds and drinking water available in west. Pets: OK in the campground. Reservations: None. First come, first served.
Directions to Lake Delancey: From Salt Springs, drive north along SR 19 for 5.7 miles to the “Lake Delancy” sign on the left side of the highway. Follow Forest Road 66 to the appropriate campground.
Things to do: Fishing, picnicking and hiking. Sites: 34 sites for tent or RV. No hookups. Camping Fee: $20 per night for camping.; $5 boat launch fee. The cabin is $142.87 per night plus tax, minimum 3-night stay. Usage: Heavy. Facilities: Picnic tables, fire ring and a grill. Drinking water and a bathhouse. Boat ramp. No dump station. Pets: OK in campground. Reservations: Up to six months in advance on recreation.gov
Directions to Lake Dorr: Drive north along SR 19 from Altoona and watch for the sign on the right, across from the Pittman Visitor Center.
Things to do: Fishing. Sites: 13 tent or RV. No hookups. Camping Fee: $10/night for a single site; $15 for a double site. $5 fee for the boat ramp. Facilities: Picnic tables, fire ring, lantern post, boat ramp, fishing pier, vault toilets, no water. Groceries, hardware and gas six miles away. Pets: OK in campground. Reservations: Call 1-877-444-6777 or book onlin
Directions to Lake Eaton: South on CR 314-A from CR 314 for 2.5 miles. Turn left on Forest Road 44, an unimproved and deeply rutted road, and make a sharp left at the “Lake Eaton Campground” sign. At the corner of NE 171 Ave Rd and NE 61st Street Rd, continue straight through the recreation area gates. The campground gates are on the right.
Things to do: Horseback riding. Camping Fee: $10/night. Usage: Heavy. Facilities: Picnic tables, drinking water and toilets. Pets: OK in campground. Reservations: Call 1-877-444-6777 or book onlin
Read more: 6 things to do in Ocala National Park
Closures can occur at any time for various reasons, including fire hazards, bear intrusion, flooding, storms, etc. Other factors, such as military missions and hunting, may result in closures of some areas of the forest. Check before you go by calling 352-625-2520. You may also want to check their Facebook page for updates.
Florida State Park Campgrounds
in Ocala National Forest
Two Florida State Parks with developed campgrounds are on the edges of Ocala National Park — Silver Springs on the west side, near Ocala, and the Rodman Campground on the north side.
Things to do: Bicycling, fishing, birding, boating, hiking, mountain biking, wildlife. Sites: 64 sites, including 38 with electric and water hookups; 26 primitive tent sites. Camping Fee: $22 with hookups plus a $7 daily utility fee; tents, no hookups, $12/night, plus taxes and a non-refundable $6.70 booking fee. Facilities: Picnic tables, fire ring, and lantern posts. A dump station, picnic pavilions, and boat ramps are in the campground. Pets: OK in campground. Reservations: Book online up to 11 months in advance.
Things to do: Bicycling, mountain biking, glass-bottom boat tours, boating, geo-seeking, hiking, horseback riding, kayaking (rentals available), birds, and wildlife. Sites: 59 RV or tent sites with 50-amp electric and water hookups. Sites 20 & 53 are fully accessible with paved pads and sidewalks leading to both of the campground bathhouses. Camping Fee: $24/night for campsites plus $7 daily utility fee; Cabins: $110. Non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee (per booking). Facilities: All sites have a fire ring, barbecue grill, and picnic table. Firewood is available for purchase. Pets: OK in the campground. Reservations: Book online up to 11 months in advance.
Directions to Silver Springs State Park: From the city of Ocala, take State Road 40 east 7 miles to the park entrance.
Notes from the editor:
The information in this article was accurate when published but may change without notice. Confirm details when planning visits.
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Bob Rountree is a beach bum, angler and camper who has explored Florida for decades. No adventure is complete without a scenic paddle trail or unpaved road to nowhere. Bob co-founded FloridaRambler.com with fellow journalist Bonnie Gross 12 years ago.