Sunday, November 11, 2012

Perfect Weekends - Juniper Springs

Juniper Springs
By Kayla Baker

Well, guys, it’s November, and Florida’s weather is finally starting to get cooler! The outdoors is just outside your front door and it’s time to make the most of it! I know we are all getting psyched for outdoor climbing trips, but on those weekends where we are stuck at home, Juniper Springs is just awaiting our visit.

Juniper Springs is an absolutely gorgeous way to spend the afternoon, and even all weekend, to get away from the stress of work or school. As one of the oldest recreation areas on the East Coast, there are a number of things to do while visiting. When you hear the word “springs”, you probably automatically think of swimming. However, swimming is only one of the many activities to enjoy in Juniper Springs. The water is so crystal clear that you can see much of the wildlife just below the surface. Snorkeling and certified scuba diving is definitely encouraged, as there is much beauty to experience, like the playful otters and commonly sighted American eels that live there. Not only is the water so beautiful, but the deepness of the spring varies so much that you can easily decide to stay in the shallow end or jump into the deep end by just walking from one side of the spring to the other. Looking for something more fast-paced? Grab your friends and head out for some waterskiing!

Juniper Springs Florida
Located near Ocala, Juniper Springs is great for hikers of all levels who are looking for a quiet, relaxing day in the woods. Passing through this area is the Florida Trail, which can either take hikers north through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness, or south to the Big Scrub along the Farles Prairie. In these forests that surround Juniper Springs, you can find lots of unique plant and wild life that you most likely won’t see anywhere else. Just to name one of the interesting animals that you might see along the trail is the Albino Gray Squirrel, most commonly seen near the Mill House. If you have never seen one, you are in for a treat as they are the coolest-looking little fuzzy guys! Keep an eye out for some of the amazing, towering loblolly pine trees and sweetgum trees that take over parts of the forest, which have been protected from timbering since 1930. And if looking at all of these plants and creatures is not enough, you can even head over to Fern Hammock Run to learn more about them and their history.

Not only is Juniper Springs a great place to start a hike, but it’s also a great place to take a break. A lot of backpackers who hike the 72-mile segment of the Florida Trail stop at Juniper Springs as a rest stop. It is the perfect place to swim, camp, shower, eat, and get fueled up for the rest of the hike.

Alright, let’s take a little break from the land-lovers, and hop back in to the water! Canoeing and kayaking are two popular activities at the springs. Juniper Run is a 7-mile long waterway that empties into the St. John’s River. For all you fisherman and fisherladies out there, bring your pole because bass fishing is no joke in the Ocala National Forest, which nears Juniper Springs. The two top lakes for bass fishing in Florida are right in the forest: Lake George and Lake Kerr, including other smaller lakes that are home to plenty of fish as well.

Junper Springs Trail

If you have been keeping up with the “Perfect Weekends” articles, you will know that a couple of months ago, mountain biking was the topic of interest. Well, it doesn’t stop there my friends! Juniper Springs also comes with the Paisley Woods Bike Trail, which is located at the southeastern corner of the Ocala National Forest. A 22-mile loop, this trail is filled with ups and down, twist and turns, and adventure with every tire rotation.

So whether or not you are looking for a quiet picnic by the water, an informative day in the woods, a swim in the breathtakingly exotic springs, or an adventurous waterskiing or mountain biking experience, Juniper Springs is an inexpensive way to make your weekend a memorable one.

Visit the USDA website for more information!

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