Get acquainted with Big Scrub on this 8.4-mile stretch of the Florida Trail in the Ocala National Forest as it rises through longleaf pine forests to meet the world’s largest sand pine scrub, punctuated by a variety of ponds and prairies. Connecting a first-magnitude spring with one of the more beautiful lakes in the Ocala National Forest, it’s a delightful immersion into the woods.
Location: Ocala National Forest
Length: 8.4 miles
Lat-Long: 29.078871, -81.577816 (Alexander Springs), 29.103519, -81.674882 (Farles Lake)
Fees / Permits: $4 fee to enter / park at Alexander Springs, day use fee at Farles Lake for parking
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: at Alexander Springs
Designated campsites are at Alexander Springs and Farles Lake Campground. Buck Lake is a group campsite available only by reservation for groups.
Alexander Springs: From SR 40 east of Astor, turn south on CR 445A and follow the signs. After 0.4 mile, turn left on CR 445 and continue south into the Ocala National Forest for 5.7 miles to the recreation area entrance on the right, just after the bridge over Alexander Run. From the south, follow SR 19 north past Altoona until you encounter the turnoff for CR 445 on the right. Turn right and continue several miles up to the park entrance on the left. There is a $4 per person fee for parking at Alexander Springs, which is well worth a visit on its own for swimming, snorkeling, paddling, camping, and the interpretive Timucuan Trail, one of my favorites in Florida.
If you’d rather start from the road crossing, saving 1.4 miles of hiking the blue blaze and hiking out to CR 445, park well off the road at the road crossing (marked with Florida Trail signs) along CR 445, which is south of Alexander Springs. It is riskier, however, from a safety perspective to leave your car along the road while hiking.
Farles Lake Campground: From the intersection of SR 40 and SR 19, drive south 4.6 miles to where you see the sign for Farles Lake. Turn right on FR 535. The road jogs after a half mile and becomes FR 595C. After another 0.9 mile, turn right on FR 595-2 and continue 0.9 mile. The road becomes FR 595. Drive another 1.2 miles – following signs all the while – to get to the parking area. There is a camp host here, so parking is relatively secure. A day use fee applies.
Start your hike by following the blue blazes from the campground at Alexander Springs Recreation Area. You’ll cross CR 445 en route as you walk through sandhills habitat back to the trail junction with the Florida Trail. Turn right at the junction. Longleaf pines tower overhead as you continue through the forest to cross CR 445 again at 1.4 miles.
The trail rises up into longleaf pine flatwoods and then into the open scrub, a desert-like place with diminutive trees. Listen for the swoosh of wings and a blur of blue as Florida scrub-jays settle into the branches. These friendly and curious birds are a threatened species, and they travel in family groups. The Ocala National Forest is their largest stronghold in the state. The next paved road you encounter is SR 19, at 3.8 miles. Use particular caution crossing here, as traffic moves at high speed. Just beyond is a side trail leading to an official trailhead parking area along SR 19.
West of the trailhead, the footpath has been improved over the next mile in an effort to create an accessible trail to Brook Pond, past the Coon Hollow campsite. Rounding Brook Pond, a reliable water source, the trail continues through the tall pines to the south end of Buck Lake, at 6.1 miles. A blue blazed side trail takes off to the right to loop 0.7 mile around the east side of the lake to the Buck Lake Recreation Area, a primitive recreation area for group camping. It has water from a pitcher pump and latrines. Large groups often camp here in winter, and the campground is not open to solo hikers. If you need water, take the blue-blazed loop around the lake and continue up the Florida Trail. You reach the other end of the blue loop trail in another half mile.
Leaving Buck Lake, the trail continues through the dense pine flatwoods and tunnels back into the scrub. Just 1.5 miles after you cross FR 53 (formerly FR 562-2), a 0.1-mile blue blazed side trail leads to the Farles Lake Campground, a designated campsite which car campers can also access, the ending trailhead for this segment.
NOTE: If you’re backpacking through, you may want to stop here for water and continue north for better primitive camping along the prairies north of the lake
0.0 Alexander Springs trailhead
0.1 Cross CR 445 (paved road)
0.5 Junction with the Florida Trail
1.4 Cross CR 445 (paved road)
3.8 Cross SR 19 (paved road), trailhead
5.5 Brook Pond (formerly “Lake Bonney”)
6.1 Blue blaze to Buck Lake (south side, 0.7 mile)
6.6 Blue blaze to Buck Lake (north side, 0.5 mile)
6.7 Cross FR 53 (dirt road)
8.3 Blue blaze to Farles Lake
8.4 Farles Lake Campground and trailhead