Looking for a refreshing escape from the brutal August heat? Cool off in one of Ocala National Forest’s many paradise-like swimming holes.
There’s no better way to spend the dog days of summer than splashing around in a swimming hole. Luckily, the Florida Wildlife Corridor holds a multitude of freshwater springs, and an impressive number of these gems reside within Florida’s Ocala National Forest.
Only an hour drive from Orlando, the forest covers 607 square miles of Central Florida and is perfect for water activities, boasting more than 600 freshwater springs — including first magnitude springs — along with lakes and rivers.
Before you go:
- Call ahead! Some services may be temporarily closed, and others may permit reservations depending on the time of year.
- Plan for your pooch! Pets are typically not allowed.
With so many swimming holes to choose from in the Ocala National Forest, we narrowed down our top picks.
Alexander Springs Recreation Area
Alexander Springs is one of Florida’s most well-preserved first-magnitude springs. As the widest spring in the national forest at over 300 feet, the surrounding maples, sweetgum and cabbage palms set a tropical setting. The crystal-clear waters allow visibility down to more than 200 feet and feature a popular canoe run down Alexander Run with lots of birdwatching.
LIVE WILDLY FACT: First-magnitude springs are classified as the largest springs, releasing at least 64.6 million gallons of water per day. A standard bathtub can hold 80 gallons, so a first-magnitude spring could fill 807,500 baths — Pretty wild!
Clearwater Lake Recreation Area
Just outside of Paisley, this lake offers a peaceful getaway for families. Plunge into this refreshing 32-acre lake, bordered by one of the oldest and largest sand pine scrub forests. When you’re tired — or just plain tired out — of swimming, rest by the shaded campground or picnic area near the lake.
Juniper Springs Recreation Area
This well-known swimming hole rests in between Ocala and Ormond Beach. One of the oldest springs on the East Coast, a canopy of palms and oaks naturally preserves both tiny and massive bubbling springs. This scenic area includes a shallow end for young children and a deep end for older kids, excellent for some family fun.
Mill Dam Recreation Area
Toward the middle of Ocala National Forest sits this expansive lake, featuring 333 acres of cool water to swim in. If you enjoy water sports, you can even launch your motor boat and waterski. Or if you’d rather take it easy, relax on the beach along the shore, fish the plentiful bass or picnic under live oaks overlooking the lake.
Salt Springs Recreation Area
Another first-magnitude spring, this one is considered the jewel of the forest. As the name suggests, minerals add a slight saltiness to the constant 74-degree clear water. The area offers several fun water activities, including snorkeling to see fish and blue crabs or paddling along the 5-mile Salt Springs Run to Lake George by kayak, canoe or paddle board.
LIVE WILDLY FACT: In the early 1900s, people used to travel to Salt Springs because they believed the water provided medicinal healing powers. While that might not be scientifically proven, you could always visit to see for yourself!
Fore Lake Recreation Area
Along the border between the Ocala National Forest and Silver Springs State Park you’ll find this quiet lake with a swimming area by a small beach. Past the marshes on the shoreline, look out for birds of all hues flying overhead. After splashing around, relax by the calming campground and shaded picnic area overlooking the lake.
Easily accessible with a variety of can’t miss views and activities, Florida’s Ocala National Forest is open 365 days per year. That’s good news since you’ll crave year-round swimming and splashing around in these sparkling waters after a visit!