Having year-round favorable climate conditions, the Ocala National Forest is a venue of countless outdoor recreations ranging from camping, bird and nature watching, horseback and ATV riding, hiking and dirt-biking. The Ocala National Forest is also rich in water resources having more than 600 freshwater lakes, slow-moving rivers and crystal-clear springs. For this reason, thousands of visitors enjoy fishing, snorkeling, boating, scuba diving, canoeing or kayaking, and swimming all year long. We also have free boat plug-ins in our parking lot for those who need to recharge their boats overnight.
Central Florida’s Ocala National Forest offers more than 600 lakes and 23 small springs for your boating enjoyment. Your adventure can begin at any one of 19 boat launch areas. Some ramps are paved, some are unpaved but improved clay or sand, and others are unimproved clay or sand and may require 4-wheel drive to use. Both motorized and un-motorized boating are available. Motorized boating includes the use of outboard motors, trolling motors, and Jet skis. Areas where motorized boats are allowed include, Beakman Lake, Buck Lake Group Use Area, Chain of Lakes, Doe Lake Boat Ramp, Doe Lake Recreation Area, Farles Prairie Recreation Area, Halfmoon Lake, Lake Bryant, Lake Catherine, Lake Charles, Lake Dorr Boat Ramp, Lake Dorr Recreation Area, Lake Eaton Boat Ramp and Pier, Lake Eaton Campground, Lake Jumper, Lake Kerr, Lake Lou, Lake Mary, Lake Shore Group Campground, Mill Dam Boat Ramp, Mill Dam Recreation Area, Ocklawaha River, Eureka Dam Boat Ramp, Johnson Field Boat Ramp, Moss Bluff Lock & Dam, Redwater Lake, Rodman Recreation Area, Kirkpatrick Dam Boat Ramp, Salt Springs, and the St. John’s River.
Some of the best bass fishing in Florida can be found in the Ocala National Forest. Several record-setting bass have been caught here including one which nearly captured Florida’s record for the longest bass ever caught. Bass species include largemouth and striped. Other types of fish which you may encounter on your Ocala adventure include chubsuckers, gar, and many varieties of small pan fish. You can choose to fish from a bank or from a boat. Fishing in the Ocala National Forest allows an angler to choose open water or heavy cover, crystal clear lakes and ponds or thick, stained waters. Catch-and-release programs have allowed the fish population in the Ocala National Forest to grow to healthy levels and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Concervation Commission (FWC) has even introduced new hybrid species of trophy fish into the local lakes. Three visitors’ centers and two ranger stations are situated in the Ocala National Forest and can provide maps of the local waterways. If you need a fishing license before hitting the water, just call 1-888-FISH-FLORIDA, or visit their website.
The approximately 383,000 acre Ocala National Forest is a perfect destination for the hunting experience of a lifetime. It is the southernmost forest in the lower 48 states and boasts the world’s largest sand pine scrub forest. Both big and small game hunting are available within this national forest. The small game hunting area is limited to the Big Bass Campground and only allows hunting of squirrels and raccoons, however, small game hunting is allowed year-round. Typical hunting in the Ocala National Forest includes either gun or bow hunting of game such as deer and wild hogs. The Ocala National Forest is a wildlife management area (WMA) and is controlled by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Therefore, certain game can only be hunted during specified seasons and may require a valid Florida hunting license. Hunt camps are available during the regular gun season.
Eco-Tours & Guided Expeditions
There are many certified hunting and fishing guides in Ocala who can offer an exciting expedition into the heart of Central Florida’s wilderness. Whether you want to shoot wildlife with a gun, bow, or just a camera, these experienced guides can ensure that your adventure is safe and successful. Tours available include gun hunting during defined hunting seasons, bow hunting of wild hogs, pole fishing (as well as bow fishing), boating eco-tours, airboat tours, kayaking tours, and more. One local guide service, West Shore Outfitters, provides customized wild hog bowhunting, bowfishing, and boating tours within the Ocala National Forest. This service is run by USCG certified Captain, Matt Northcutt. West Shore has a unique NO KILL, NO PAY policy where you are guaranteed a wild hog during your hunting trip. You can rest assured that you will not come home empty handed. You will leave with one of several trophies; either some delicious hog meat or a trophy hog. West Shore also offers in-house taxidermy. The best thing about these tours is that no license is required! To book an expedition with West Shore, simply visit their website here.
The Ocala National Forest is an ornithological mecca which draws bird lovers from across the country to experience a wealth of avian species. Birds that one might see in the wetland areas of the forest, include anhingas, kingfishers, egrets, ibises, hummingbirds, blackbirds, coots, cormorants, sparrows, quails, crows, cuckoos, cranes, anis, doves, ducks, eagles, buntings, bitterns, chickadees, herons, gulls, jays, pelicans, loons, owls, spoonbills, sandpipers, storks and many other avian taxa. Other species that you may encounter in the forests are cardinals, hawks, sand hill cranes, and owls. The Great Florida Birding Traileven weaves throughout the forest including portions of Alexander Springs and Salt Springs Recreation Areas.
The Ocala National Forest is an OHV enthusiast’s paradise, boasting 200 miles of ATV / motorcycle trails and an additional 81 miles of off-road trails for Jeeps and other 4WD vehicles. Amongst the many off-road trails is a 14 mile “motorcycle-only” stretch, with an additional 35 miles of trail also accessible to motorcycles, all terrain vehicles (ATVs), and utility vehicles (UTVs) less than 50 inches wide. A further 76 miles of trail allows off-road vehicles to share scenic, maintained corridors with licensed vehicles such as cars and trucks. To find out more about ATV tours, please visit ATV Off-Road Adventure Tours.