By Kevin Mims
Most folks who visit Juniper Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest probably head straight for the headsprings, especially if it's a hot day.
But after you've got that out of your system, spend some time checking out other areas around the springs, including the nature trail along Juniper Run.
See the big water wheel at the Millhouse? That's where your trip begins. The trail is primarily paved and boardwalk, and runs right next to scenic Juniper Run, offering up views of crystal clear spring water. I know it's going to be hard not to jump off the boardwalk and into the water, but have a little restraint.
This is a perfect short walk (takes about 10 minutes one way) for getting a feel of a safe Florida trail & its natural environment around Juniper Springs. It's hard to believe, but the Juniper Springs Recreation Area is right in the middle of Juniper Prairie Wilderness, a 14,000-acre set of habitats ranging from scrub pine to swamp and hardwood hammocks. Venture out of the main recreation area, and you are in the middle of nowhere.
The nature trail seems to end before you reach one of the jewels of the whole area, so travel on past the "end of trail" sign and you'll see Fern Hammock Springs, one of the most breathtaking springs in the state. There's a bridge over the spring that provides an excellent vantage point for observation. Look down and you'll see small sand boils bubbling up through the clear spring water, and if you are lucky enough, you might catch a glimpse of otters darting back and forth. It's well worth the trip, even if you don't go swimming in the headsprings.
Heck, you could spend days just exploring all the short nature trails in the recreation areas of the Ocala National Forest. Looks like you are going to need to cash in all your vacation time for this one, friends.
For more information, check out http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ocala/recarea/?recid=37190.
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