Sunday, December 15, 2019

Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs via Florida Trail, Ocala Nat'l Forest, FL, December 7,2019

Distance: 10.6 miles (point-to-point)

Elevation gain: 249'

Location of trail heads:  This is a point-to-point hike in Ocala National Forest starting at Clearwater Lake Recreation Area, 24511 County Rd 42, Paisley and ending at Alexander Springs Recreation Area, 49525 County Rd 445, Altoona. Trail head parking at Clearwater Lake is just before the recreation area's gate on the right; you do not have to pay a fee as you don't enter the park. Parking for the end of the hike is within the Alexander Springs' gate; $6 to park (there are restrooms).


Note: Many roads within Florida's forests look passable on GPS devices and maps but may not be for two- and four- wheel drive vehicles.  Opt for main roads when driving to and from these trail heads.

A good portion of this hike is unshaded, particularly during the first five miles.  Bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water.

The Florida National Scenic trail (Florida Trail) is a hiking path that runs from the Gulf Islands National Seashore to Big Cypress National Preserve. The orange-blazed trail's 1300 miles takes you through the heart of Florida, from the Panhandle to Big Cypress ending north of Everglades National Park. The Clearwater-Lake-to Alexander-Springs leg is picturesque and popular for FT thru-hikers and day hikers. 

Hiked with the "Florida Hiker Babes."  The group is comprised of 300+ women hikers who get together to explore Florida's rich landscape.  On this morning six of us were up for the adventure.

We'd camped at Alexander Springs campground the night before; a lovely, quiet place with a crystal clear spring and spacious campsites. It's also where our hike would end later that day.  It was a brisk 45° when we jumped in the van to drive to Clearwater Lake - our driver found a short-cut to our starting point.  

Those driving directions failed us however.  The short cut led us deep into the forest, past many hunters, on a road that dipped down to a very flooded low point.  We turned the van around and took the main road to the Clearwater Lake trail head where we quickly jumped out, tucked our pants into our socks* and headed toward the trail. 

Trail head parking (on right, before the gate).

This is also parking for the Paisley Woods off-road bicycle trail.

Sign indicates the building of the Florida Trail started here!

Tucking our pants in our socks to avoid ticks.

The trail immediately turns right and leads you onto some gentle rollers before becoming quite flat, running through several miles of pine flatwoods with saw palmettos and a pond or two (depending on what time of year you're here).


Trail turns right - onto rolly terrain.

This well-marked trail connects to the FT (all orange-blazed).

Ten miles to State Road 445; eleven to Alexander Springs.



Crossing Forest Road 69.




Temps started to climb out in the open but luckily clouds rolled in. We were never really in the heat and thankful for that.  

The trail crosses several forest and state roads (there are also equestrian and ATV trails that intersect these roads). An "FT" sign or an orange blaze is nearby but not always directly across the road - it may be to the right or left.

Miles of "more of the same" pine scrub are boring to me but I knew this trail would redeem itself.

We passed power lines and wound up on another forest road.  The path continues on the right, past the sign to honor a dear friend of someones they affectionately named "Hog Man."

When you reach the road here, look right for the sign.

At power lines, walk to the left of this sign.

At 5 miles we stopped to have lunch in a clearing just right of the path. This was a welcome break for me as one mile after another of open, sandy trail was wearing me down.  

Lunch spot.

When we started up again the scenery changed, seemed more lush, appealing.  We turned our heads up in wonder as we were led through tall spindly pines, situated in such unison it reminded me of sentries on watch.  


The picture doesn't capture the grandness of these pines.

Next, we were in a grove of awkward oaks. Then on mossy boardwalks, tilted and worn as if transported from an ancient forest. No boredom here!




We crossed Forest Road 539, closing in on our destination.



Throughout the trip we didn't see any wildlife (just one odd looking bug crossing the sand) though we passed several very large piles of bear scat.

Just a sweet walk in the woods!

Road crossing! (again).

Ancient boardwalks through the lushness.....

The Alexander Springs trail shown in the photo below is a blue-blazed path leading to the spring and campground. At the "Alexander Springs" sign we went left instead of right and wound up at State Road 445 so we had to backtrack, making our total hike over 11 miles.


Go here to get to Alexander Springs (going left will put you on SR 445).

Alexander Springs.

Though at our final destination, we still had to get the car back from the Clearwater Lake trail head parking lot. We all went - mostly to see Clearwater Lake, which we missed that morning.  The lake is accessible outside the park gate.  We were able to catch sunset here.

Clearwater Lake sunset.

I'll come back to Ocala National Forest to explore their trail system and springs, and would definitely do this hike again!

Taken from alltrails.com.

*We'd heard about a healthy tick presence in the area - though not a single tick was found on us after this hike.