CIF RATING **** (4/5)
This was definitely the best camping experience of my life thus far. I have been camping a lot over the past few years and this was my favorite trip hands down. We stayed two nights at Juniper Springs Campgrounds in Ocala National Forest.
Our first night we arrived to a friendly park ranger at the ranger station who even helped us out with our surprise to my fiance that his mom was showing up later that night. She let us know that we needed to keep our food in our cars because there was a black bear in the area named Teddy who was hanging around the campsites as of late. The picture showed us a large bear and we were quick to agree.
We set up in the rain but got it done before dark and when we couldn't get our campfire lit we decided to just scurry away in our tent until either our friends arrived or the morning came, even though it was only about 8pm. Fortunately our friends showed up and helped us with the fire. Rain went through the night but by morning we were dry. We had enough room at our site to set up two large tents and one food screened in canopy with plenty of extra room in addition to that for our cars, campfire, and plenty of room for Chrissy (our dog) to run around in. Each site has a picnic table, fire ring, and lantern post, but no electricity.
We decided to head over to JNB Horse Haven Farm for a ride, after breakfast at Jake's place. Both of which I recommend. JNB was the best horseback riding experience I have had in a long time and even though these horses are all rescued from abusive situations were better behaved than most trail horses I have riden over the past 15 years since I rode regularly. Not only are my fiance and I planned to go back for a longer ride on our honeymoon but we were all talking about taking a group up there for a day ride sometime. Heck part of me wants to see what I can do to help them in more ways. Heck part of me wants to open a horse trail place here in Sarasota.
We came back and decided to hit the springs. The ranger had directed us to take the boardwalk to the springs, which was a beautiful walk, though much much longer than simply driving over to the parking lot for the springs which was right behind the ranger station after all. En route we saw a turtle laying eggs, a beautiful bridge with some little springs under it, beautiful walks, beautiful trees, beautiful springs, and a few spiders. I recommend this if you have the time to take the nice way to the springs, otherwise just drive right behind the ranger station to the parking lot. The springs are amazing, but freezing. When you first get in it is like knives stabbing your skin it is so shocking, though once you are in for a few minutes your skin goes numb and it is exhilirating.
One of the best parts of the weekend was running into Teddy. You can see one of my pictures here of when we found Teddy between our campsite and the bathrooms. We probably got much closer than was safe within 10 feet of him but for the most part he didn't seem to interested in us, moreso on the garbage he had claimed from the dumpster. They said he hasn't been aggressive to anyone yet and I am just glad that I got to experience that, photograph that, and not get mauled.
Altogether I would rate this as one of the best camping trips I have ever taken. I can't wait to go back to Juniper Springs one hot summer day and jump in the spring.