12 Best Campgrounds In Ocala National Forest, FL (2024)

Discover 12 campgrounds in Ocala National Forest, FL. From scenic springs to off-roading adventures, explore the best camping spots and wildlife encounters!

Florida’s wild and untamed Ocala National Forest, home to seven unique and diverse campgrounds that invite you to immerse yourself in nature’s splendor.

From the scrubby flatwoods of Big Scrub Campground to the crystal-clear springs of Alexander Springs, each campground offers its own distinct charm and a multitude of recreational opportunities.

Discover the serene beauty of Hopkins Prairie, cast your line at Big Bass Campground, or explore the depths of Lake Eaton Sinkhole.

Unleash your inner adventurer at Lake Delancy East Campground, where off-roading trails are just steps away from your campsite.

With an array of hiking trails, scenic lakes, and abundant wildlife, there’s something for everyone in the Ocala National Forest.

Read on to uncover the unique experiences awaiting you at each campground and start planning your unforgettable adventure today!

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Where Is Ocala National Forest?

Ocala National Forest, a lush expanse of nature’s finest offerings, is located in Central Florida, making it a sought-after destination for those looking to escape urban sprawl and delve into tranquility.

Encompassing over 600 square miles of unique sand pine scrub forest, it stands as the southernmost forest in the continental United States.

If you’re planning a trip to this verdant haven, it’s vital to know its geographical coordinates and how best to reach it.

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Situated roughly halfway between Orlando and Gainesville, it’s a convenient detour for travelers on Interstate 75 or those venturing out from cities on the eastern seaboard. The forest is bounded by several small towns, each of which offers its own flavor of southern hospitality.

To the west, you’ll find Silver Springs, renowned for its historic state park and crystal-clear spring waters. To the southeast lies Umatilla, and Astor can be found nestled along the forest’s northeastern edge.

Getting to Ocala National Forest is a drive steeped in scenic beauty. If you’re approaching from Orlando, take US Highway 441 north, which offers a direct route into the forest.

Those coming from the Gainesville region can take State Road 20, which runs east-west, slicing through the heart of the forest.

If you’re flying in, the closest major airport is Orlando International Airport. From there, car rentals are readily available for the drive.

Upon arrival, visitors are greeted with a panorama of rolling sand pine hills, crystal-clear springs, and serene lakes. Whether you’re an avid camper, hiker, or just someone looking to bask in nature’s serenity, Ocala National Forest is a must-visit.

Its proximity to major cities combined with its untouched beauty makes it a gem in Florida’s crown of natural wonders.

Can You Camp Anywhere in the Ocala National Forest?

For travelers with a penchant for the great outdoors, Ocala National Forest presents an idyllic backdrop. However, if you’re imagining pitching a tent anywhere that catches your fancy within this vast expanse, there are certain guidelines you should be aware of.

Ocala National Forest, like many national forests, does allow dispersed camping. This means you can set up camp outside of designated campgrounds, allowing for a more intimate and rugged experience with nature.

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However, this freedom comes with responsibilities and specific rules to ensure the preservation of the environment and the safety of all visitors.

Firstly, while dispersed camping is permitted, it’s restricted to certain areas. There are zones within the forest where camping is strictly prohibited, often to protect sensitive habitats, historical sites, or to reduce human-wildlife conflicts.

Before setting up your camp, it’s crucial to consult a current forest map or check with the local ranger station to ensure you’re in a permissible zone.

Additionally, campers should follow the “Leave No Trace” principles. This means packing out everything you pack in, minimizing campfire impacts, and camping at least 200 feet away from lakes, streams, and trails to protect riparian areas.

Furthermore, while campfires are a quintessential part of the camping experience, they aren’t always allowed. During dry seasons or times of high fire danger, restrictions or bans might be in place.

For those who don’t wish to venture into the wilds for dispersed camping, Ocala National Forest boasts several developed campgrounds.

These come with amenities like restrooms, picnic tables, and designated fire rings, offering a more structured and comfortable camping experience.

Ocala National Forest offers a generous canvas for camping enthusiasts, being informed and respecting the stipulated rules is paramount.

This ensures not only a memorable experience for you but also helps in preserving the pristine beauty of the forest for future generations.

Big Scrub Campground

  • 42 spacious campsites
  • Accommodates RVs up to 35 feet (no hookups or dump station)
  • Picnic tables, fire rings, and grills at each site
  • Potable water available
  • Vault toilets
  • Nearby Florida Trail access

Big Scrub Campground is an ideal spot for campers who love a more secluded experience.

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Being surrounded by scrubby flatwoods, this campground provides ample opportunities for hiking, mountain biking, and birdwatching.

How to Reach: Big Scrub Campground is located in the southeastern part of Ocala National Forest, close to Forest Road 588. To reach the campground, take State Road 40 to Forest Road 14 (also known as 14 Mile Road), and then turn onto Forest Road.

Trails: The Florida Trail, a 66-mile stretch, is the main hiking trail near the campground. It is perfect for hikers and mountain bikers looking for a challenge. Additionally, the Yearling Trail and the Bear Swamp Trail are nearby, offering opportunities to explore more of the beautiful scrub habitat.

RV facilities at Big Scrub Campground are limited. There are no hookups or dump stations available, but the spacious campsites can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet in length. Be prepared for a more primitive RV camping experience.

Also Read 17 Animals In Ocala National Forest, FL Seen on Our Hikes! (Photos and Trails Included)

Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the Florida scrub-jay and the gopher tortoise, two native species that call Big Scrub home.

Alexander Springs Campground

  • 67 well-shaded campsites
  • Accommodates RVs up to 35 feet (no hookups or dump station)
  • Picnic tables, fire rings, and grills at each site
  • Potable water available
  • Flush toilets and showers
  • Swimming, snorkeling, and canoeing in the springs
  • Sandy beach and boardwalk
  • Canoe rentals and a concession stand

Alexander Springs is a popular destination for water enthusiasts, offering visitors a chance to swim, snorkel, or canoe in its crystal-clear springs.

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The campground features 67 well-shaded campsites equipped with picnic tables, fire rings, and grills.

The recreation area also includes a sandy beach and a boardwalk, making it perfect for families.

How to Reach: Situated in the eastern part of Ocala National Forest, Alexander Springs Campground can be accessed by taking State Road 40 to County Road 445. Continue on County Road 445 and turn onto Forest Road 18, following the signs to the campground.

Trails: Numerous short trails are available near the campground, including a boardwalk around the springs for a leisurely stroll and wildlife viewing.

The Timucuan Trail is another option, a 1.1-mile loop trail that winds through lush subtropical vegetation and offers interpretive signs explaining the area’s history and ecology.

This campground can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet in length, but there are no hookups or dump stations available. Campsites are equipped with picnic tables, fire rings, and grills. Potable water and restrooms with showers are available on-site.

Look for turtles, fish, and even manatees as you explore the springs.

Hopkins Prairie Campground

  • 23 primitive campsites
  • Limited RV accommodations (no hookups or dump station)
  • Picnic tables and fire rings at each site
  • Potable water available
  • Vault toilets
  • Prairie lake access for fishing and wildlife viewing
  • Nearby Florida Trail access

Located on the shores of a beautiful prairie lake, Hopkins Prairie Campground is a peaceful retreat for those seeking serenity in nature.

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The 23 campsites offer primitive camping, making it an ideal choice for tent campers.

How to Reach: Hopkins Prairie Campground is located in the northern region of Ocala National Forest.

To reach the campground, take State Road 40 to Forest Road 11 (also known as Hopkins Prairie Road) and follow it north. The entrance to the campground is on the eastern side of the road.

Trails: Hiking trails near the campground include the Florida Trail, which passes through the prairie, and several shorter trails around the lake. The Salt Springs Loop Trail, a 3.3-mile moderately trafficked loop, is also nearby and offers a variety of terrain and scenery.

Hopkins Prairie Campground is best suited for tent camping, with only a few sites able to accommodate small RVs. There are no hookups or dump stations at this primitive campground.

The picturesque surroundings attract a variety of bird species, including sandhill cranes and bald eagles. You might even spot a herd of white-tailed deer grazing nearby.

Big Bass Campground

  • 14 waterfront campsites
  • Accommodates RVs up to 30 feet (no hookups or dump station)
  • Picnic tables, fire rings, and grills at each site
  • Potable water available
  • Restrooms
  • Fishing access on Lake Dorr
  • Picnic area and small playground
  • Nearby marina with boat rentals

Big Bass Campground, nestled on the shores of Lake Dorr, offers fantastic fishing opportunities for anglers.

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With 14 waterfront campsites, you can cast your line right from your campsite or rent a boat at the nearby marina.

The campground also has a picnic area, restrooms, and a small playground.

How to Reach: Big Bass Campground is situated in the western part of Ocala National Forest, near Lake Dorr. Access the campground by taking State Road 19 to Forest Road 71 (also known as Lake Dorr Road). Follow the signs to the campground entrance.

Trails: A few short trails are available near the campground, offering opportunities for leisurely walks and birdwatching.

The Lake Dorr Nature Trail, a 0.7-mile loop trail, is perfect for a quick and easy hike, while the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail offers a 22-mile loop through diverse landscapes for hikers and bikers alike.

Big Bass Campground can accommodate RVs up to 30 feet in length. However, there are no hookups or dump stations available. Campsites come with picnic tables, fire rings, and grills, and restrooms are available on-site.

Keep an eye out for ospreys, herons, and alligators in the lake.

Clearwater Lake Campground

  • 42 campsites
  • Accommodates RVs up to 35 feet (no hookups, dump station nearby)
  • Picnic tables, fire rings, and grills at each site
  • Potable water available
  • Flush toilets and showers
  • Swimming, fishing, and canoeing on Clearwater Lake
  • 1.3-mile interpretive trail around the lake

Clearwater Lake Campground is a picturesque spot with 42 campsites scattered around the spring-fed lake.

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Visitors can enjoy swimming, fishing, and canoeing or hike the 1.3-mile interpretive trail surrounding the lake.

The campground offers restrooms and showers, making it a comfortable choice for campers.

How to Reach: Located in the southern region of Ocala National Forest, Clearwater Lake Campground can be reached by taking State Road 42 to Forest Road 69.

Turn onto Forest Road 69 and follow the signs to the campground.

Trails: The 1.3-mile interpretive trail around the lake is perfect for nature walks and wildlife spotting.

For a more challenging hike, venture to the nearby Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs Trail, a 10.5-mile point-to-point trail that traverses various ecosystems within the Ocala National Forest.

Clearwater Lake Campground can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet in length. While there are no hookups available, a dump station is located nearby at the adjacent recreation area. The campground has restrooms with showers and potable water.

Watch for the playful otters, turtles, and wading birds that frequent the area.

Lake Eaton Campground

  • 27 spacious campsites
  • Accommodates RVs up to 30 feet (no hookups or dump station)
  • Picnic tables, fire rings, and grills at each site
  • Potable water available
  • Restrooms
  • Fishing access on Lake Eaton
  • 1.8-mile Lake Eaton Sinkhole Trail loop

Lake Eaton Campground, located in the heart of Ocala National Forest, features 27 spacious campsites surrounded by pine and oak trees.

The campground is close to the Lake Eaton Sinkhole Trail, a 1.8-mile loop that leads to the impressive 80-foot-deep sinkhole.

Also Read 17 Animals In Ocala National Forest, FL Seen on Our Hikes! (Photos and Trails Included)

How to reach: Lake Eaton Campground is situated in the northeastern part of Ocala National Forest.

To access the campground, take State Road 314 to Forest Road 50. Follow Forest Road 50 and turn onto Forest Road 79, following the signs to the campground entrance.

Trails: The 1.8-mile Lake Eaton Sinkhole Trail loop is the primary attraction, leading to the impressive 80-foot-deep sinkhole.

Another nearby trail is the Lake Eaton Observation Tower Trail, a 1.5-mile out-and-back trail that takes hikers to an observation tower with stunning views of the surrounding area.

RVs up to 30 feet in length can be accommodated at Lake Eaton Campground. There are no hookups or dump stations available.

The area is home to a variety of wildlife, including black bears, wild turkeys, and fox squirrels.

Lake Delancy East Campground

  • 29 campsites
  • Accommodates RVs up to 35 feet (no hookups or dump station)
  • Picnic tables, fire rings, and grills at each site
  • Potable water available
  • Restrooms
  • Direct access to Ocala Adventure Trail for off-road enthusiasts
  • Fishing access on Lake Delancy

Lake Delancy East Campground is an excellent choice for off-road enthusiasts, as it provides direct access to the Ocala Adventure Trail, a 47-mile trail system for ATVs and dirt bikes.

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With 29 campsites available, the campground offers a mix of shaded and sunny spots for campers.

How to reach: Lake Delancy East Campground is located in the northwestern part of Ocala National Forest.

To reach the campground, take State Road 19 to Forest Road 66 (also known as Lake Delancy Road). Turn onto Forest Road 66 and follow the signs to the campground.

Trails: The Ocala Adventure Trail, a 47-mile trail system for ATVs and dirt bikes, is accessible directly from the campground.

For those looking for traditional hiking opportunities, the Rodman Reservoir Nature Trail is a nearby 2.4-mile out-and-back trail that offers scenic views of the reservoir and opportunities for birdwatching.

Lake Delancy East Campground can accommodate RVs up to 35 feet in length. There are no hookups or dump stations available.

Keep an eye out for the elusive Florida panther, as well as other wildlife like white-tailed deer, wild hogs, and bobcats that roam the area.

Salt Springs Campground

  • 106 campsites
  • Accommodates RVs up to 40 feet (some with hookups, no dump station)
  • Picnic tables, fire rings, and grills at each site
  • Potable water available
  • Restrooms and shower facilities
  • Access to swimming, fishing, and boating on Salt Springs Run

Salt Springs Campground is a popular destination for campers who enjoy water-based activities, as it offers easy access to Salt Springs Run, a freshwater spring with crystal clear waters.

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The campground boasts 106 campsites, with a mix of shaded and open sites, and can accommodate RVs up to 40 feet in length.

How to reach: Salt Springs Campground is situated in the eastern part of Ocala National Forest.

To get there, take State Road 19 to Forest Road 595, which is also known as Salt Springs Highway. Turn onto Forest Road 595 and follow the signs to the campground.

Trails: The Salt Springs Loop Trail, a 4.3-mile loop trail, is accessible from the campground, providing opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, and wildlife spotting.

For those interested in water-based activities, Salt Springs Run offers excellent swimming, fishing, and boating opportunities. Kayak and canoe rentals are available at the nearby Salt Springs Marina.

At Salt Springs Campground, some campsites have electric and water hookups, but there is no dump station on-site.

Wildlife enthusiasts can spot a variety of animals, including alligators, otters, and wading birds, in the surrounding area.

Juniper Springs Campground

  • 79 campsites
  • Accommodates tents and small RVs up to 25 feet (no hookups or dump station)
  • Picnic tables, fire rings, and grills at each site
  • Potable water available
  • Restrooms and shower facilities
  • Swimming and snorkeling at Juniper Springs

Juniper Springs Campground is perfect for campers who love to explore natural springs, as it is located near the beautiful Juniper Springs recreation area.

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The campground has 79 campsites, suitable for tents and small RVs up to 25 feet in length.

How to reach: Juniper Springs Campground is located in the central part of Ocala National Forest.

From State Road 40, turn onto Forest Road 88 (also known as Juniper Springs Road) and follow the signs to the campground.

Trails: The Florida National Scenic Trail passes through the campground, providing hikers with access to miles of scenic trails.

Juniper Springs is a popular spot for swimming and snorkeling in crystal-clear waters. The Juniper Springs Recreation Area also features a historic millhouse and a canoe run.

Juniper Springs Campground does not offer hookups or dump stations for RVs.

The surrounding area is home to a variety of wildlife, such as deer, raccoons, and various bird species.

RODMAN CAMPGROUND

  • 64 total campsites
  • Accommodates various RV and tent camping preferences
  • Picnic tables, fire rings, and some sites with grills
  • Fires permitted unless there’s a current fire ban
  • Cost: $22 per night for electric and water sites, $12 per night for primitive sites
  • Hookups: 38 sites with electric and water, 26 primitive sites
  • On-site dump station available
  • Multiple boat ramps within the campground
  • Picnic pavilions for communal use

Situated just outside the forest, Rodman Campground offers an ideal blend of nature and amenities. The presence of picnic pavilions makes it perfect for family outings or group gatherings.

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How to Reach: Rodman Campground is situated on the southwestern edge of Ocala National Forest. From State Road 19, turn onto Rodman Dam Road, and follow the signs leading to the campground.

Activities: The area boasts of multiple recreational opportunities. Mountain biking is a crowd-favorite here, with trails that challenge and thrill.

If biking isn’t up your alley, the hiking trails offer a serene walk amidst nature, providing glimpses of the diverse flora and fauna, including the chance to spot the Florida scrub jay.

Also Read 12 Breathtaking Ocala National Forest Hikes for a Perfect Outdoorsy Weekend!

For anglers, the fishing opportunities are unparalleled, especially with the proximity to the reservoir.

The Putnam Nature Trail offers a scenic 3-mile round trip hike, boasting views of the reservoir and the diverse wildlife that populates its shores. And for those keen on water activities, the reservoir’s serene waterways and inlets are perfect for kayaking or canoeing.

With a mix of electric and water sites as well as primitive sites, the campground caters to varied camping needs. The on-site dump station ensures a smooth and convenient camping experience.

With its varied amenities and activities, Rodman Campground stands out as an ideal destination for those looking to immerse themselves in nature without compromising on comfort.

LAKE DORR CAMPGROUND

  • 34 rustic campsites
  • Ideally suited for small RVs and tent camping; larger RVs over 28 feet might face navigation challenges on surrounding roads
  • Picnic tables and fire rings available at each campsite for a perfect camping experience
  • On-site bathrooms for camper convenience
  • Cost: $20 per night for each of the rustic sites
  • Hookups: None, but drinking water stations are situated throughout the campground

Positioned beautifully within the scenic Ocala National Forest, Lake Dorr Campground is a sanctuary for those who appreciate unadulterated nature.

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The ambiance resonates with the chirping of birds, rustling of leaves, and the gentle hum of the forest.

How to Reach: Located within the heart of Ocala National Forest, Lake Dorr Campground is easily accessible from main highways leading into the forest.

Once within the forest’s vicinity, clear signposts guide the way to the campground, ensuring a hassle-free journey for campers.

Activities: The campground serves as a hub for various outdoor pursuits. Serpentine hiking trails beckon adventurers to explore the verdant forest, often leading to vantage points with breathtaking views.

The presence of diverse fauna, ranging from vibrant bird species to larger forest dwellers, ensures that wildlife enthusiasts always have something to look forward to.

Whether you wish to set up a hammock and dive into a good book or venture out on trails, Lake Dorr Campground has something for every nature lover.

Given its rustic setting, campers should come prepared for a true back-to-nature experience. The absence of hookups is more than compensated for by the raw beauty of the surroundings and the soothing sounds of the forest.

Wilderness Areas Best for Camping and Wildlife in Ocala National Forest

Ocala National Forest, a treasure trove of biodiversity and natural beauty, offers some of the most pristine wilderness areas for avid campers and wildlife enthusiasts. If you’re planning a trip to Ocala with camping in mind, diving deep into its wilderness areas can promise an experience unparalleled in authenticity and adventure.

One of the standout regions within the forest is the Juniper Prairie Wilderness. As its name suggests, this area is a vast expanse of open prairie surrounded by clusters of pine and oak.

It’s not just the scenic beauty that draws campers here, but also the chance to spot the diverse wildlife. From white-tailed deer grazing at dawn to the melodic calls of various bird species, this wilderness area is a haven for nature lovers.

Another not-to-miss spot is the Alexander Springs Wilderness. This area is home to the renowned Alexander Springs Campground, a perfect base for those wanting to explore the crystal-clear springs and surrounding tropical hammocks.

The springs provide a refreshing retreat after a day of hiking, and the waters are often frequented by turtles and colorful fish, making for a snorkeler’s paradise.

For a more rugged experience, the Big Scrub Campground in the heart of the forest is a top pick. Located in a region characterized by its unique scrubby flatwoods, it’s an ideal spot for spotting the rare Florida scrub-jay and listening to the nocturnal calls of owls.

Lastly, the Clearwater Lake Campground offers a serene lakeside camping experience. As you pitch your tent by the lake, keep an eye out for playful otters and wading herons.

Ocala National Forest is a mosaic of wilderness areas and campgrounds, each promising its unique blend of nature and adventure.

Whether you’re keen on bird-watching, hiking, or simply relaxing by a spring, there’s a spot in Ocala just waiting to be discovered.

Ocala’s Amazing Wildlife Encounters

One of the most rewarding aspects of camping in Ocala National Forest is the chance to observe the incredible variety of wildlife that inhabits the area.

Here are some of the memorable encounters we experienced during our visits to these campgrounds:

Florida Scrub-Jay: This striking blue and gray bird can be found in the scrub habitat around Big Scrub Campground. As one of the most endangered birds in the United States, spotting a scrub-jay is a special treat for birdwatchers.

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Gopher Tortoise: These gentle reptiles dig deep burrows in the sandy soil, providing shelter for more than 350 other species. We were lucky enough to observe one at Big Scrub Campground, slowly making its way through the underbrush.

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West Indian Manatee: While snorkeling in the clear waters of Alexander Springs, we were thrilled to encounter a gentle manatee grazing on the aquatic plants. These gentle giants are truly a sight to behold.

Sandhill Crane: The tall, elegant sandhill crane can often be seen around Hopkins Prairie Campground. We watched in awe as a pair of cranes performed a graceful courtship dance in the shallow waters of the prairie lake.

American Alligator: Big Bass and Clearwater Lake Campgrounds both provided opportunities to observe these impressive reptiles from a safe distance. It’s fascinating to watch them bask in the sun or stealthily glide through the water in search of prey.

River Otter: A family of playful river otters entertained us as we canoed through the peaceful waters of Clearwater Lake. These agile swimmers are a joy to watch as they frolic and dive.

Black Bear: Ocala National Forest is home to the largest population of black bears in Florida. While hiking near Lake Eaton Campground, we were fortunate enough to spot one from a distance, foraging for berries in the forest.

Conclusion

Ocala National Forest offers a captivating tapestry of experiences, from serene waterfront settings to thrilling off-road adventures.

With seven exceptional campgrounds to choose from, there is something for every nature enthusiast, whether you’re seeking tranquility or adrenaline-pumping activities.

Breathtaking landscapes, diverse ecosystems, and abundant wildlife make each campground a unique and unforgettable experience, providing the perfect backdrop for lasting memories with family and friends.

So pack your bags, gear up, and embark on an extraordinary journey that will leave you in awe of the magic and beauty of Florida’s Ocala National Forest.

12 Best Campgrounds In Ocala National Forest, FL (2024)
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