Located along the southeastern edge of The Ocala National Forest, just outside of Paisley, Florida, in Lake County is the Clearwater Lake Recreation Area and Campground.
What makes this campground special for hikers and mountain or trail biking enthusiasts is its convenient location to the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail trailhead and the trailhead for the Clearwater Lake to Alexander Springs Hiking Trail.
42 lakeside campsites are available that are suitable for both tent and trailer camping (no hookups available). Bathhouse with warm water showers, Restrooms with flushing toilets, dishwashing stations, and potable water available within the campgrounds. Each campsite has level parking spots, a fire ring, picnic table, and bear-proof food storage container.
Fee per campsite is $22.50 per night.
Other popular activities at Clearwater lake include kayaking, canoeing, swimming, and fishing. There is also a short one-mile trail around the lake. A Florida freshwater fishing license is required to fish at Clearwater Lake.
Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail
Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail is a 22-mile loop through the Ocala National Forest’s southeastern corner with trailheads at Clearwater Lake and Alexander Springs.
The trail is a rolling ride with slight elevation changes taking riders through a sometimes dense sandhill forest with towering pines. Some small stretches of the trail are sandy making it a more challenging ride in certain sections.
If a 22-mile ride is a little much for you to bite off, there are two interconnected loops, the Clearwater loop, which is 9.6 miles, and the Alexander loop, which is 12.9 miles. The trails are well marked with yellow diamond markings.
Equipment Needed as Recommended by The USDA Forest Service:
- Any bicycle wearing fat off-road tires will work. The wider and/or taller the wheel, the better, 2.0″ to 2.5″ wide tires work well, 4″ fat-bike tires work extremely well.
- Suspension isn’t required but makes the ride more comfortable.
- Bring what you might need, such as an inner tube repair kit, minimal bike tool kit, clothes to layer up/down as needed, plenty of water, snacks, and a flashlight. Carrying a flashlight is important just in case you get caught on the trail after dark.
On The entrance road to Clearwater Lake Recreation Area, before you get to the park’s entrance, you will find both the trailhead for the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail and a trailhead for a separate hiking trail. This hiking trail is a 10.6-mile trail from Clearwater Lake to Alexander springs, and it is part of the scenic Florida Trail. Parking is available at the trailhead.
The best time of year to hike this trail is the cooler months of late fall through the winter. About the first 5 miles of this hike has some shade but the last 5 miles is through prairie scrub bush with little to no shade.
This part of the trail is actually the birthplace of the Florida Trail. In 1966 Jim Kern, the founder of the Florida Trail, began building the trail right here on this very spot. Today, the Florida Trail is approximately 1,500 miles in length and stretches from The Big Cypress National Preserve in the Everglades to Fort Pickens at Gulf Islands National Seashore in Pensacola.
The trail is well maintained and well marked with orange blazes. If 10.6 miles is a little more of a hike than you are accustomed to, then do what we did, walk until you are halfway to tired, then turn around and walk back. Remember, if you walk the whole 10.6 miles, you have to walk the same distance back to your car or campsite.
There are some slight elevation changes here and there on the trail but easily manageable for even the novice hiker. We did not find any obstacles to speak of on the trail and found it to be an easy to moderate hike. The distance is what can make this trail difficult. Again, if you are new to hiking, don’t think you have to walk the entire trail, hike to the point that you are starting to get tired, and then turn around.
Deer, turtle, and other wildlife are regularly spotted on the trail, as is the occasional sighting of Black Bear. One should always be vigilant and be bear aware.
John and I saw many Red-Cockaded Woodpeckers, which are listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.
Important other things to know
- Dogs are allowed on the hiking trail as long as they are kept on a leash at all times.
- Active hunting area nearby: If hiking or biking during hunting season, one should wear brightly colored clothing as a precaution. An orange hat is also a good idea.
- One should always stay on marked trails. It is easy to get lost in the Ocala National Forest. Orange blazes for the hiking trail, yellow diamonds for the biking trail.
- Always Be bear aware as well as snake aware.
- Read up on how to safely store food when in bear country. You don’t want the scent of your food, attracting bears.
- There is little to no cell phone reception. Plan accordingly.
- Insect repellent is a must, especially in the warmer months.
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