Ocala National Forest Loop
TTravel through beautiful downtown Orlando towards some of the most interesting locales central Florida has to offer. Pass through beautiful Clermont and horse country and then thread your way through dozens of lakes on scenic Route 27 as you pass though historic Leesburg. Enter the Ocala National Forest and ride around the pristine forest and clear rivers. Ride back between the Ocala National Forest and the Wekiva River preserve. We also recommend riding over to the famous Black Hammock for a bite to eat and take an air boat tour of the swamps and gator land before heading back to EagleRider to share your awesome experience with us!
There are a few springs (State Parks) in the Ocala forest along this route. At the North end of Lake George is the town of Salt Springs, which has a park and spring called Salt Springs, go figure. Most of this is wading on the rocks (and is slippery), with crevices between them. Interesting formation and clear water.
At the south end of Lake George is Silver Glen Springs (not a St Park). I've been there by boat which is pretty cool to just jump in. It is just off of St Rd 19 but getting there by road I've heard is not quite as cool. Something about the rules, dunno.
One of my favorites in this neck of the woods is Juniper Springs St Park, on St Rd 40, about 5 miles west of St Rd 19 . There are camping spots (no site hookups), a natural spring open for swimming with a century old mill house. A long board walk through the Florida forest along side Juniper Creek, leads to Fern Hammock. No swimming in this area but the scenery is great. There is a wooden bridge crossing to view the "boils" (underwater sand turbulence). We saw the resident gator, he was about 4 ft long and didn't move, very photogenic little guy.
Another worthy detour to add to this trip is Lakeshore Drive from Eustis to Tavares along the shore of Lake Eustis. Starting from downtown Eustis, Lakeshore is 3.2 miles ending into Hwy 441. Head south to the next left (1000 ft or so) on Co Rd 452 N St Clair Abrams Ave and go south 1 mile (look for Wooton Park in Tavares, the sea plane area),left on Main St - go east past the train station, then take Lakeshore Drive and follow the train tracks along side Lake Dora to Mount Dora (quaint old town with lots of restaurants and shopping but they all close up by 6pm-ish). The Marina at Gilbert Park has a mini lighthouse (great place to watch fireworks on July 4th, by the way). At the end of Tremain St. there is a board walk through the woods open until dusk. Nearby at the Lakeside Inn, pontoon boat tours are available. A boat ride through the Dora Canal is highly recommended. On the weekends Renningers on Hwy 441 is an indoor/outdoor Flea Market that has some special events; classic car shows, swap meets, etc..... If you like classic cars check out Mt Dora Museum of Speed, 206 N Highland St, Mt Dora, FL 32757. Closed Sundays & other occasions: (352) 385-0049 & classicdreamcars.com $15 admit
If cooling off sounds good there are a couple of swimming options about 15-20 miles away (25-30 min) from Mt. Dora. The water in the springs is consistently a refreshing 72 degrees, it does the job quickly (microseconds) when its scorching hot while sitting in traffic. While there are changing rooms at most locations, some people wear a swimsuit underneath cloths just to be prepared.
Kelly Park & Rock Springs in Apopka is a Co Park at the intersection of Kelly Park Rd & Rock Springs Rd. There is a tubing run from the head spring to a swimming area down stream and has a board walk to get back again. I would recommend sitting across the tube and not through the tube with legs dangling, as there are some shallow rocky crevices to go over. Nearby Kings landing has camping and canoe rental with a half day/one way trip to Wekiva, where pick up is customary rather than paddling back upstream.
Wekiva Springs St Park in Longwood is on Wekiva Springs Rd just east of Welch Rd. The head spring is open for swimming with a snorkling crevice about 25 ft deep. Wekiva SP has a campground (with site hookups) and hiking trails, canoe & kayak rentals with a great paddling river.
A nearby destination is Wekiva Island (not a St Park) at the end of Hunt Club Blvd. It can be reached by canoe or road about 1-2 miles from the St Park. Good spot for a beer, a game of corn hole, canoeing, weekend music, buff bikini volleyball, native camaraderie and local flavor, and is dog friendly.
Sanford has a Cycle Gear accessory shop, metric bike dealer with service & parts - Seminole Power Sports, and a Harley Dealer all close together and near Seminole Town Square Mall.
If you like small towns, mosey through downtown Sanford, historic old Florida houses, and over to the marina, St Rd 17 along the south shore of Lake Monroe. As you head West, just before reaching I-4 and crossing the St. Johns River, you'll pass by the Central Fla Zoo. Its marked with animal statues that set across the road from Lake Monroe.
Just across the river in Debary is another Co Park that has camping (with site hookups), boat ramp, & paved trails excellent for bicycle/rollerskating/skateboarding. Lake Monroe Park is immediately after the Hwy 19 bridge crosses the St. Johns River. Good camping option for bike week or spring break if you're the type that likes to visit the Daytona zoo-fest by day and leave it behind at night. Recommended only if you're confident in riding back before sunset or at night while still coherent. During that time it's best to stay away from I-4, instead try Dirkson Rd. to St Rd 415 through Osteen. At the intersection of 415 & 44 is a gas station and home to the New Smyrna Speedway.
Just north in Debary is Gemini Springs on Dirkson Rd. At the entrance to the park sits a memorial fighter jet (cant miss it) that points toward the spring. The spring here is less than awesome but the paved trails are very good for bicycle/rollerskating/skateboarding and connect to Lake Monroe Park, about 3+ miles.
A few miles north on St Rd 17 is Orange City with Blue Springs St Park on the St. Johns River. More chilly spring water to swim in with large Gar Fish, Tilapia and Suckermouth Catfish (plecostomus, also photogenic). Good snorkling, fins recommended, the crevasse is a hearty few hundred yards upstream. Scuba diving here is limited to 60 ft for sport divers. There is a bend in the tunnel at the 60 ft mark and the end of natural light. Going further is for certified cave divers to about 130 ft deep. If being on the water is more your style than being in it, they do have canoes for rent. And if you need adult supervision a pontoon tour might be the way to go since there is no shortage of gators once you cross into the St. Johns River.
Across the river (& downstream which is north) is Hontoon Island St Park that is accessible only by boat. Luckily there is a free a connecting ferry boat. The ferry boat dock is quite a drive through Deland and has some tricky turns. The payoff is cheap "primitive cabins" (30-35 per night) that share a bathhouse with the campsites. Also, plan on cooking outside over a fire or charcoal. The overnight area is 3/10 of a mile from the boat dock so you may want to pack lightly.
Blue Springs has good camping spots (with site hookups) along with 6 cabins (including clean sheets, bath rm, full kitchen, TV & fireplace) for rent if you can plan far ahead enough to make a reservation (reserveamerica.com) for 90-100 per night. Be the first one into the spring before the park opens the gate to the public..... Mid-November thru March the swimming season ends here to make room for Manatees that come into Blue Springs run. Yes, sea cows come to Central Florida for vacation during the winter holiday, too.
Jim from Orlando, FL