Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services
Indian Lake State Forest is approximately 4,466 acres of gently rolling sandhills and pastures just north of historic Silver Springs in Marion County. The forest is named after Indian Lake, a deep sinkhole lake that drains into the aquifer. This property was acquired in 2007 and 2008 under the Florida Forever program, with additional money from Marion County and help from The Nature Conservancy, Silver Springs Working Group, and the Department of Environmental Protection. Indian Lake State Forest is just a few miles from the heart of Ocala. The forest is managed by the Florida Forest Service under the multiple-use management concept so as to restore, protect and manage ecosystem functions while allowing compatible public uses.
Rolling sandhills on a sinkhole-rich karst topography dominate the property. Other natural community types found on the forest include depression marshes, xeric hammocks, and mesic flatwoods. Driving down State Road 326 you can see a mix of longleaf pines, sand post oaks and turkey oaks on some of the nicer sandhills. A mix of wildflower color and wiregrass is also visible here, especially the fall after a prescribed fire. A visitor might see gopher tortoises, fox squirrels, kestrels or turkeys. Another unique feature is Indian Lake, the deep sinkhole lake that is located east of Baseline Road and drains Indian Lake Prairie into the Floridan aquifer. The dry, sandy hills of Indian Lake State Forest are important for recharging groundwater.
Prior to acquisition, most of the Indian Lake State Forest sandhills had been converted to till agriculture or improved pasture. These land uses allowed exotic plant invasion, and exotic plants have displaced historic vegetation in many areas. One of the main goals of the Florida Forever purchase was to restore these altered areas to the Silver Springs system for water flow and water quality. Planting longleaf pine seedlings was an important step to meet this goal. When you drive down Baseline Road, you can see some of this young forest.
Since the acquisition of Indian Lake State Forest, the Florida Forest Service has built trailheads, constructed a picnic pavilion, posted boundaries, installed gates, controlled exotic plants, planted longleaf pine seedlings, implemented a prescribed burning program, and built a new forest headquarters. State forest managers use prescribed burning to mimic the natural occurrence of fire. Periodic fire is necessary to maintain the forest's unique plant and animal diversity.
Recreational opportunities on the forest include hiking, bird-watching and horseback riding. The main trailhead and parking area for the Bear-N-Oak hiking trail are located 2.1 miles north of the stoplight at the intersection of State Road 326 and County Road 35 (also known as Baseline Road) on the east side of County Road 35.
The Bear-N-Oak Trail is a shady 1.4-mile walk through beautiful mossy live oaks down to the placid waters of Indian Lake. This sandy trail also passes through a sandhill being restored with prescribed fire, giving trail visitors a chance to enjoy wildflowers and butterflies. This trail will make you feel like you are in Old Florida.
Equestrians will enjoy the 11 miles of designated Florida Forest Service horse trails, plus additional horse trail mileage linked to Silver River Forest Conservation Area. The Indian Lake Equestrian Trailhead, with ample trailer parking, is located 1.5 miles north of the stoplight at the intersection of State Road 326 and County Road 35 (Baseline Road).
The state forest headquarters is located on 6675 NE 40th Avenue Road, near Ocala Springs Elementary School.
In keeping with its mission to protect and manage Florida's forest resources, the Florida Forest Service has developed rules that apply to all state forest visitors. Find out more about state forest fees and rules.