The Lake George Ranger District covers the northern portion of the Ocala National Forest in Florida, which is comprised of 387,000 acres total. It includes 17,166 acres over two designated wildernesses: Little Lake George and Juniper Prairie. It was established in 1908 and is administered by the US Forest Service. The Lake George RD is in north-central Florida, part of the southernmost National Forest in the lower 48 states.
This area is primarily sand pine scrub forest. In fact, 70% of Ocala NF is sand pine scrub, or “The Big Scrub,” the largest area of this particular ecosystem in the world. It’s a native habitat to such plant species as rusty lyonia and lizard’s tail, and home to an enormous variety of wildlife, from Florida black bear and gators to Florida manatee and the highly-venomous coral snake. This area is included in the Ocala National Forest – Lake George ‘Important Bird Area’ as designated by the Audubon Society, and has been determined to be vital to the survival of the Florida scrub jay.
A wide variety of recreation opportunities are available, including: 11 established camping areas (including the Sweetwater Cabin in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness, available only by the week and by lottery), dozens of miles of trails (including a 39-mile section of the Florida National Scenic Trail), 125 miles of OHV trails, fishing, hunting, equestrian, biking, multiple day use areas, a shooting range, and even snorkeling! I camped at Hopkins Prairie CG at the end of April 2017, and that night was the only person at the whole 21-site campground other than the hosts!
Fees on the District vary according to the activity; with many areas free to access. Camping options range from $6/night (Lake Delancey West) to $850/week (Sweetwater Cabin), depending on the season and amenities. Dispersed camping is available in designated areas and is free. I was able to get a walk-up site at Hopkins Prairie ($10/night, open Oct – May), and received a 50% discount with my America the Beautiful Interagency Pass. Check the forest website or with the District’s Ranger Station in Silver Spring, FL or the Pittman Visitor near Altoona, FL for the most current information regarding fees, and also closures and alerts.
** Make sure to double-check the forest website or with one of the ranger stations to get accurate directions to recreation areas on this forest – the Google Maps directions to Hopkins Prairie CG are incorrect, for example, which required a fairly lengthy backtrack and re-route.**
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