Ocala National Forest

Ocala National Forest is a United States national forest that is located in the state of Florida. This forest, established in 1908, encompasses 430,447 acres and is the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi River. It holds four designated wilderness areas including Billies Bay Wilderness and Juniper Prairie Wilderness. This forest receives millions of visitors each year, more than any other national forest within Mississippi.

Ocala National Forest resides within the Florida sand pine scrub and the southeastern conifer forests ecoregions. There are arid sandy areas within the forest that support Florida longleaf pine sandhills and Florida peninsula inland scrub, which consist mainly of sand pines and evergreen oaks. Recurrent fires sustain these pine communities, which contain the world’s largest concentration of sand pine trees.  This national forest also contains slow moving rivers with wet “prairies” that support baldcypress and hardwood and evergreen hammocks. This national forest holds over six hundred ponds and lakes.

The environment of Ocala National Forest is able to support a variety of wildlife, including the Florida black bear, which has its largest population within this forest. It holds many other species including wild boar American alligators, bobcats, American river otters, bats, red foxes, coyotes, nine-banded armadillos, and gopher tortoises.

Ocala National Forest can be visited throughout the year, with mild fall and winter temperatures and high summer temperatures with large amounts of moisture. Visitors can partake in many activities including hiking, biking, horse-riding, and riding off road vehicles on trails or fishing, canoeing, boating, and scuba diving in one of the forests many bodies of water. Hunting within this forest requires a permit. Camping is a popular activity within the forest, especially during the cooler months.

Image Caption: Farles Prairie in Ocala National Forest. Credit: Sandra Friend/Wikipedia