Most trips to Florida focus on two things: the beach and Orlando’s ever-sprawling series of fantasy-lands like Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Orlando's The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. What if we told you there were thousands of acres of beautiful wilderness and local Florida fare right outside Orlando. and just a few miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean? Discover all the natural springs, lush vegetation, and maybe a bear or two on the Black Bear Scenic Byway-- and the best part? There's not a single overpriced food stand or perpetually long line anywhere along the way!
Ormond Beach, Florida, United States
The Black Bear Scenic Byway dissects the Ocala National Forest, running north and south from Palatka to Umatilla and east and west from Ormond Beach to just outside Ocala. If you’re a fan of fishing, rural beauty, and rustic dining, you’ll love this stretch of the Black Bear Scenic Byway. Starting in the north in Palatka or Umatilla in the south, both directions offer you every opportunity imaginable to connect with nature, catch some fish, and soak some beautiful springs.
1776 Lightfoot Lane, Pierson, FL, US
The Barberville Pioneer Settlement is a fun living history museum and historical village. There are self-guided tours through the beautiful moss-draped village. Here you can learn all about what life was like in rural Florida in the late 19th century.
55716 Front St, Astor, FL, US
When you're ready for something to eat, hit up the riverfront Blackwater Inn Restaurant for great seafood, steaks, or sandwiches. There's also an upstairs lounge.
Umatilla, Florida, United States
Umatilla, FL is a beautiful and scenic Floridian town in Lake County. There are lots of outdoor activities to indulge in here, including hiking, fishing, camping and boating. Alexander Springs is also nearby.
45621 State Road 19, Altoona, FL, US
The Pittman Visitor Center is a really special stop in Ocala National Forest: it's a historic Civilian Conservation Corps-built cabin just across from Lake Dorr. The CCC was a program during the Great Depression that employed young men who couldn't find work to improve parks, public facilities, roads and more-- a win-win situation, especially for us today, since we still enjoy many things built by the CCC!
49525 CR 445, Altoona, FL, US
Alexander Springs is a beautifully-maintained natural spring with a sandy beach, bright blue water, and a lush forest. There have been alligators spotted here, so if you want to go swimming be aware and on the lookout!
5301 North Highway 19, Salt Springs, FL, US
Salt Springs Recreation Area is one of Ocala National Forest's prime attractions. The springs are lush and semi-tropical, making you feel like you're in some island paradise and not central Florida. A major highlight is Silver Glen Springs. Crystal blue water and rugged hiking trails surround this spring.
1600 Twigg St, Palatka, FL, US
Ravine Gardens State Park is home to two ravines that are 120 feet deep, and feature steep 45-degree angles. The 59-acre State Park is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are guided wagon tours of the ravine, which is definitely not something you see every day.
Crystal Cove Dr, Palatka, FL, US
Crystal Cove Resort is perfectly located on the waterfront in Palatka. You can spend the night in a breezy, relaxed room and relax the afternoon away by the pool. Plus, there's also a bar and grill onsite, along with boat rentals in the marina.
888 Co. Road 310, Interlachen, FL, US
For some good ol’ fashioned BBQ, take a little detour off the byway to the Backwoods Smokehouse. From the rustic building to the delicious BBQ, it’s southern through and through.
Fort McCoy, FL, US
Much like the east/west portion of the Black Bear Scenic Byway, the north/south route’s major draw is its remarkable springs and other watering holes. If you’re a fisher, Rodman Recreation Area has a great pier to drop a line.
25011 NE Co Rd 314, Fort McCoy, FL, US
Since most of this route winds through Ocala National Forest, your dining options are limited, but that doesn’t mean they’re dull. Bass Champions Restaurant and Lodge is the go-to for catfish and other seafood: just ask the locals!
26701 FL-40, Silver Springs, FL, US
Juniper Springs is a beautiful and historic swimming hole, and it just might be one of the best in the entire state. There's a historic mill onsite and a canoe run, and the campground is considered one of the best campgrounds in America by many.
18478 FL-40, Silver Springs, FL, US
Lena's Seafood is a local favorite! The quirky roadside joint is a great representation of rural Florida. Plus, if you've really worked up an appetite, they have an all-you-can-eat fried shrimp special, and amazing onion rings!
14400 E Hwy 40, Lynne, FL, US
This hidden gem features sandwiches, wraps, and (of course) tons of seafood, as well as a relaxed place to enjoy it all. Their outdoor space features a fire pit, a volleyball net, and comfy chairs, so you can spend some time here drinking a beer or two and enjoying some Key Lime pie once you've finished your meal.
2774 NE 102nd Ave Road, Silver Springs, FL, US
Make sure you stop by Sweet Jane's Candy Store for one of their world famous “Whoopie Pies”, ice cream, and fudge. Stock up on old-fashioned candy and soda for the road, too!
1425 Ne 58th Ave, Ocala, FL, US
Silver Springs Nature Theme Park is a must-visit along the Black Bear Scenic Byway. Here you can see what life was like over 10,0000 years ago, and learn about the significance of the springs that dot Florida's semi-tropical woodlands.
5461 Silver Springs Boulevard, Silver Springs, FL, US
When you're ready to tuck in for the night, the Sun Plaza Motel is a great boutique motel in Silver Springs that has an outdoor pool, snack bar and onsite deli. The free wifi is also a huge plus-- go ahead and Instagram all of your pictures from the trip!
1445 NE 58th Avenue, Ocala, FL, US
The artifacts on display at the Silver River Museum include a massive mammoth, the skull of a saber-tooth tiger, and the huge jaws of a Megalodon shark. And you thought the alligators were the scariest creatures in Florida!
At Silver Springs State Park you can enjoy a relaxing walk along the river, a casual hike through paved trails, a stroll through the ornamental gardens, or a nice, sit-down meal at the onsite restaurant overlooking the lush spring. There are also glass-bottom boat rides (the coolest way to experience the natural beauty) and kayak rentals.
Whether you travel north and south or east and west, your time spent on the Black Bear Scenic Byway is sure to fill your camera with beautiful pictures of wildlife and natural springs and fill your stomach with good local seafood and down-home country cooking- all just a skip and jump from the hustle and bustle of Orlando.