When you’ve traveled the world and experienced the majesty of the old world but live in a city like Jacksonville with an addiction to urban sprawl, it’s easy to forget about how beautiful and amazing things are right here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Our cities may be new and uninspired compared to the centuries-old charm across the oceans, but America’s biggest asset is her natural beauty, which is more abundant than you might think. You just have to get out of town and experience it for yourself.
One of the best things our government ever did, in my opinion anyway, was establishing the National Forest system to protect our country’s greatest assets and provide access for people to enjoy them. Florida is home to three gorgeous, sprawling National Forests – Osceola, Ocala and Apalachicola, each with its own unique attractions, history, flora, and fauna.
Recently, some friends and I were looking to get out of the city for the weekend and experience the outdoors. With limited time to plan and prepare, the quick jaunt to Osceola seemed like a safe bet and turned out to be the perfect weekend getaway. Located just off of I-10 near Lake City, Osceola National Forest is the smallest of Florida’s protected forests but is an important site both historically and environmentally. An important Civil War battle was fought here, and you can visit the Olustee Battlefield State Park which incorporates a section of the Florida Trail while you’re there. There is plenty of hiking to be done among the tall longleaf pines, and don’t be at all surprised to spot a red cockaded woodpecker or two during your trek. Be sure to check the conditions of the trails before setting out as several were flooded less than a mile in when we visited. For camping, there’s no better spot than the picturesque Ocean Pond Campground which offers electrical and water hook-ups, fire pits, shower and bathroom facilities, a boat launch, and a great “beach” for swimming and picnicking.
As with all National Forests, one weekend is nowhere near enough time to even scratch the surface in just a few days, but luckily this one is right there anytime you want to visit. Check back next month as we explore the springs of the Ocala National Forest. For more information, visit the helpful (but slow) Forest Service website at www.fs.usda.gov.