Spring to Spring in the Ocala National Forest

24Dec11

We’ve been resting for the last week in downtown St. Petersburg.  It’s Christmas eve morning and we’re at a Starbucks having some strong coffee and getting caught up on the blog.

We last left off leaving St. Augustine.  On Friday December 9th we pedaled a short distance to Moses Creek Conservation Area, a part of the St. Johns River Watershed.   Debi happened upon their website before leaving St. Augustine and found that there’s primitive camping at many of the conservation areas.  We picked out a site at Moses Creek that was about 6 miles inland.  The website said that it was good for cycling.

We had a lovely time pedaling in the first mile.  With in minutes we were in the woods, birds singing and sun shining.  As we got farther in the road began to turn to sand. We reached and intersection with powerlines that we were supposed to follow for about 3 miles and it was like a sand dune road.  It was hard to push the bikes and we decided to surrender and camp just off the  powerlines on a barely used path.  Right  as we made that decision an armadillo made a ruckus coming out of the bushes and marched across the road in from of us.  He seemed unaware of our presence and even checked out Debi’s bike.

Debi rides the trail in Moses Creek

Moses Creek Wilderness

Armadillo!

Grasshopper that blends in

No picnic table, but that's ok!

We left Moses Creek in the morning on Saturday and biked 54 miles to Salt Springs Campground in the Ocala National Forest.  On the way there we stopped at Ravine Gardens State Park.  There’s a 1.8 mile paved loop around the ravine and coincidentally it was closed to traffic when we arrived.  Saturday was the beginning of 4 days of overcast days with intermittent rain.  It was tolerable thanks to mild temperatures.

We stayed for 2 nights at Salt Springs Campground.  The place was practically deserted, especially in the primitive camping area.  The campground is actually a National Forest Campground.  The facilities were immaculate, the staff friendly, and it was the first spring we’d ever been to.  This is one of numerous springs in central Florida.  The water stays a constant 72 degrees.  In the winter fish and other wildlife are drawn to the spring.

On the way to Salt Springs

No sunshine, but the leaves shined brightly

Live oaks and winding paths

Terrible photo, however it shows a Mullet Fish, we laughed and watched them leap out of the spring over and over!

Campsite at Salt Springs, we found the chairs by a dumpster and enjoyed them while we could

On Monday December 12th we left Salt Springs and we ventured out on a Forest Road to get to another campground called Juniper Springs.  The Ocala National Forest road system is like a grid, we traveled about 15 miles south on a sandy, wilderness road.  We were passed by only 1 car the whole afternoon and we saw abundant evidence of wildlife.

Ocala National Forest

You go left, I'll go right

Black bear print

He looks mean, but he's only 1/2 inch tall

Forest Road 33

The sun peeked through

Debi didn't make it to the top, the road got super soft

We arrived at the entrance to Juniper Springs campground in the later afternoon.  We had a pleasant conversation with the Manager of  the campground.  We told her about our travels and she listened enthusiastically, telling us about others that had come through.  She said we were welcome to camp for free that night off the Florida Trail which crossed the road right outside the campground entrance.  Then we could save one night’s fee and enter the park in the morning.  It was refreshing to get help like this from a campground.  The Florida Trail is a National Scenic Trail, similar to the Appalachian Trail. It’s not quite complete but there are lengthy stretches, especially in the Ocala National Forest.  On Tuesday morning December 13th we checked in at Juniper Springs.  Once again, we found ourselves in a mostly deserted campground.  We took full advantage of the trails available to us and spent the day checking out wildlife and we swam in the spring.

Juniper Spring, with a CCC structure in the back

We watched theese 3 raccoons scavenge for food in the spring

Sand boil-where water comes to the surface in the spring it looks like the sand is boiling

Wild citrus in the forest just out of our reach, shaking the tree didn't work either

Hiking along the Florida Trail in the Juniper Springs Wilderness

We left Juniper Springs Campground on Wednesday the 15th and pedaled 45 miles to Orange City. We wild camped in the woods outside of Blue Springs State Park with the intention of checking in early the next morning. This has become a new strategy for us to capitalize as much as possible on our “paid” camping time.  It got super busy on the way to Blue Spring State Park thanks to our proximity to Orlando. Our motivation to go to Blue Springs was to see Manatees which flock to this particular spring and it’s 72 degree water.

On our way to Blue Springs State Park we happened upong the Indian River Market in Barberville

Happy Buddha in Barberville

Manatee looks like a smooth stone

Mother and baby Manatee

Live oak and historic Thursby Home, built on top of an Indian midden (with little mention of) at Blue Springs State Park

Spanish moss

We boogied out of Blue Springs State Park after having a restless night with some drunk neighbors in the campground :( . We decided to find somewhere to rest for the week leading up to Christmas.  We had concerns about being out on the roads traveling during one of the most hectic times of the year.  We found an affordable accommodation right in downtown St. Petersburg.   With about 200 miles to get there from Blue Springs we tried to take as many bike paths there as possible.  First we headed toward Winter Garden via Apopka on the West Orange Trail-a rails to trails.  It was a great ride and we always remark at how wonderful it feels to cycle away from traffic.  From the West Orange Trail it immediately connected to the Lake Minneola Scenic Trail/Clermont Trail.  After pedaling 60 miles we camped off the Clermont Trail and had a foggy start the next morning Saturday the 17th.  We got coffee in the cute downtown of Clermont.  Then we cycled 71 miles to Pasco and camped off the Suncoast Trail, another rails to trails.  Sunday morning we got up early and pedaled during sunrise.  Road bikers were out in force on the Suncoast Trail.  We pedaled 68 miles to St. Petersburg.  We pedaled most of them on the Pinellas Trail, with some of the miles leading up to it through serious construction.  We were so glad it was Sunday because we would have been pushed off the road otherwise. If you want more information on the 4 trails we just mentioned check them out on traillink.com a website run but Rails to Trails. We pedaled about 200 miles in 3 days! Thanks Florida for your bike paths and generous shoulders.

West Orange Trail

Spotted along the West Orange Trail

Foggy Lake Minneola morning

Suncoast Trail

Sunny Pinellas Trail

We arrived in St Petersburg in the late afternoon on Sunday December 17th. We found a great rate for a week at the Williams Park Hotel.  It felt great to check in after over a week of camping.  We quickly put the tent in the closet!

This will be the longest we’ve stayed in once place since we left in October.  Ahhh, time to relax and reflect.

Thanks for following along as we wander through the Florida landscape!

Bryan and Debi

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3 Responses to “Spring to Spring in the Ocala National Forest”

  1. 1 Kate Cross

    Where the wild things are! Continue to stay safe. Love you and your blog!

  2. 2 mom

    12 more days can’t wait to see you both ……love Mom


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