The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway
The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway provides an amazingly scenic drive through some of Florida's (and the United States') most unique ecosystems. Along the way you'll enjoy rivers, lakes, forests, rare plants and animals, natural springs, and much much more.
The byway encompasses about 123 miles of road along SR 40 and SR 19. The western point of the byway lies in Silver Springs and the easter-most point of the byway is in the city of Ormond Beach. Should you wish to take a shorter route, you can remain on SR 40 and drive between Silver Springs and Ormond Beach. This abbreviation of the byway still has a great deal of amazing sights and activities to enjoy. However, the part of the byway on SR 19, which travels right through the Ocala National Forest, will lead you to some of the most amazing sights that Florida has to offer.
If you drive west to east, you will start your journey in Silver Springs. This delightful town has plenty to offer any and all visitors. It has entertainment, fresh food, and much more. The greatest attraction of this town is the Sliver Springs themselves. Silver Springs is one of the largest spring systems in the world, and it feeds the beautiful Silver River. Visitors simply must take a ride on the glass bottom boats, which ferry people across the springs. From these boats, visitors can marvel at the vents that feed the springs.
The centerpiece of the byway is the Ocala National Forest. SR 19 bisects the forest from north to south and SR 40 crosses it from west to east. The Ocala National Forest is home to some of the rarest and most unique habitats, plants, and animals in the United States. It is the oldest National Forest east of the Mississippi and it is also the most southern National Forest in the continental United States.
The byway crosses the Big Scrub within the Ocala National Forest. The Big Scrub is the world's largest scrub forest, also called a sand pine scrub. The sand pine scrub is a very rare ecosystem that provides a home to plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The sand pine scrub is a very desert-like ecosystem. The poor soil quickly draws the water down and away from the reach of the root systems. This scrub forest also relies on the occurrence of fires every 20-80 years in order to remain healthy. The sand pine scrub is a stunninly beautiful and remarkably rare sight, and it alone is worth a visit on the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway.
Another interesting feature of the scenic byway is the Florida black bear. The Ocala National Forest comprises much of the habitat for the Florida black bear. This bear is related to the American black bear, but it is smaller and makes its home in Florida. Not surprisingly, the byway is named after this amazing animal. As you travel through the forest, be on the lookout for these bears, especially in the early morning.
Beyond the amazing scrub forest and the Florida black bear, the Ocala National Forest has much to offer. Within the forest, visitors will find springs, lakes, and plenty of hiking. Nature lovers will have the opportunity to view plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. The recreational opportunities range from camping, canoeing, and kayaking to swimming and scuba diving.
Travelers on the scenic byway should also spend some time enjoying the waters at some of the springs along the way. Juniper Springs is one of the best and most popular swimming spots. The water is always a pleasant 70-73 degrees. At this spring you can swim, snorkel, and just relax in the beautiful water.
Along SR 19, near the town of Salt Springs, byway travelers can take a dip in the Salt Springs. The Salt Springs provide a home to a variety of wildlife normally found only in ocean habitats, but because of the high salt content in the water these species have found a home at Salt Springs. The salt content comes from a salt deposit that the spring water rises through.
Birders and day hikers alike will also love a visit to Salt Springs. From this town, you can take the 2 mile round trip hike on the Salt Springs Trail, which will lead hikers to the Salt Springs Run. There, visitors can enjoy amazing vistas and keep a look out for birds from the observation platform. This short hike is only one of many great options for hikers along the scenic byway. Over 100 miles of the Florida National Scenic Trail run through the same area as the byway, and there are many trailheads and access points along this route.