Osceola National Forest

Osceola National Forest, located in northeast Florida between Lake City and Jacksonville, is 200,000+ acres of various kinds of swamps, flatlands, and lakes. The forest contains protected wilderness areas, a National Natural Landmark, historical sites, and a portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail. People come from all around the country to enjoy miles and miles of trails for all kinds of recreation, including OHV, birding, and photography. 

A partially submerged alligator—a common sight in Osceola National Forest
Alligators like this one are common in Osceola National Forest

Recreation in Osceola National Forest

Osceola National forest may be Florida’s smallest national forest, but it certainly isn’t lacking in any regard, especially recreation! Come enjoy hiking, biking, camping, fishing, hunting, and riding! You can use this free interactive map of Osceola to help you plan your trip. This map can show you anything from horse trails and OHV trails to picnic sites and accessibility info.   

While naturalists and photographers tend to delve deep into the forest for peace and solitude, other traditional forms of recreation cluster near the southern and western edges of the forest. Most activity seems to center around Ocean Pond, a two-mile lake with sandy shores and unforgettable scenery. Boaters and fishers congregate here to catch largemouth bass, bluegill, warmouth, and crappie. 

Ocean Pond

At Olustee Beach Recreation Area you will find a boat ramp, pier, picnic pavilion, and bathhouse. Another site to get your boat in the water is Hog Pen Landing, which also has toilets nearby. The Ocean Pond campsites include fire rings, lantern posts, hot showers, restrooms, and picnic tables. Out of the 67 available sites, 19 have electricity and water hookups, 28 have only water hookups, and the remaining 20 have neither, so be sure to book your trip in advance if getting dibs on a specific site is important to you! 

Another reason for Ocean Pond’s great popularity is that the Great Florida Birding Trail and Florida National Scenic Trail run through the campsite. Ocean Pond is also only a short drive away from several other attractions, such as Olustee Battlefield State Park and Alligator Lake Park. 

Olustee Battlefield

Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is the site of Florida’s largest civil war battle. The Park is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm with no entrance fee. The park often hosts educational events such as reenactments, and the park website has free-to-use educational materials for children. Olustee’s services for children don’t stop there though, they also have several programs for scouts and junior rangers, and the Manatee Educational Program allows up-close viewing of Florida’s famously gentle giants at Homosassa Springs!  

Wildlife in Osceola National Forest

You can expect to find a variety of species in Osceola, including black bear, indigo snake, fox squirrel, gopher, tortoise, bobcat, mountain lion, coyote, skunk, alligator, and opossum.

Big Gum Swamp Wilderness Area

Big Gum Swamp is one of Osceola’s wilderness areas, a protected 3,600 acre land of gum trees, cypress trees, and standing freshwater. The trail into Big Gum stays mostly towards the edge of the swamp where dry land and pine trees are still present, and the areas covered with water deeper into the swamp tend to be anywhere from a couple of inches to three feet or so high. The surface of the water stays somewhat shrouded in soft, spongy plant life and plant decay. This environment houses all kinds of fantastic biodiversity. After all, where there’s lots of warmth and water, there tends to be lots of life!

Big Gum Trail

Usage for Big Gum Trail is light. If you’re looking for solitude, you may just try braving this seldom-visited wilderness. The entire area is practically level, so elevation loss and gain is of zero concern. Parking is free and no permits are required to enter. Keep in mind though, there are no restrooms or potable water available, so come prepared. The closest town is Lake City, 21 miles away. 

You can expect to be surrounded by a botanical wonderland of evergreen leaves and subtropical flowers. Trees with holes in the trunks seeping sap are indications of the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker in the area. This wilderness doesn’t just house beautiful birds, flowers, deer, and muskrats. Remember, there are also a lot of biting insects here too!

Visit Osceola National Forest

The best way to make the most of each precious day you have at Osceola is to plan your trip thoroughly. The only way to do that is to have access to the USDA’s Alerts and Notices page! This page is kept up-to-date with news on area closures, weather conditions, and important park regulations. 

Enjoying learning about America’s national forests? Luckily for you, there’s a whole website for that! Keep The National Forests.com saved to your reading list so you always have a link to your public forests. 

Have fun, be safe, and leave no trace!

-by Heaven Morrow

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