Clearwater Lake Campground: Worst Night Ever & Second Chances

Date Visited: 11/30/2018

Sometimes the most beautiful campsite can turn into a nightmare. This is one of those experiences.

Taking advantage of the few cool months in Florida we try to get away for a night or two whenever possible. Since the Ocala National Forest is the closest national forest to where we live we tend to make this our go to spot for long weekend getaways and short vacations.

So when we had a week we could burn at the end of 2018 while the weather was right we headed for a new place we had never been called Clearwater Lake campground. I read the reviews and most were positive. You could access the Florida Trail from a nearby trailhead within walking distance from the campground which was a plus and although the sites are all primitive they have a bathhouse for us non-self-contained campers.

There is also a lake for swimming with it’s own loop trail that goes completely around it. In all the place sounded wonderful. When we arrived we weren’t disappointed.

We were allowed to drive around the campground and look at the available walk-in sites. We picked the one we liked best that was furthest from other campers as to give us both space and we set up camp.

Everything was great and peaceful until just before sunset. That’s when a caravan of people descended around us and parked in every available spot in our immediate area. As it turned out that this was one large, loud, drunk, obnoxious family who ignored every camp rule including the two tents per site and the 11 pm to 7 am quiet hours.

What we ended up with was a tent city of music blaring, intoxicated loudmouths that kept us up until 3 in the morning camped in the spot right next to us. When they showed no signs of leaving the next day the camp host (who did zero to enforce the policies) did allow us to move campsites. This put some distance between us and this party, but we could still here them the following night and their barfing relatives in campsite across from our new site the next morning.

Seeing no hope that the situation would improve we left this place and headed to Alexander Springs – which I’ll tell you about next week.

A few months later we decided to give Clearwater a second chance. When we returned to the campground we discovered that the original camp host had been asked to leave. Seems they were lax on all the rules and getting several complaints – including letting someone set up residence in one of the campsites. This person and his three dogs literally lived in one of the campsites for several months. A bad camp host can sure do some damage to the reputation of a park. (Funny side note – this person now lives in a homeless camp less than 3 miles from our house on the space coast – small world.)

Fortunately we had given the campground a second chance, because the new camp host quickly whipped the place back into shape. We had a wonderful time and have had the same every time since.

The lake and surrounding forest is a great place for birdwatchers and nature lovers a like. Here we spotted more sandhills and several other bird species including cardinals and the cute little titmouse in the second picture above.

Every day at dusk and dawn several deer can be spotted roaming the park. But predators also abound as witnessed by this fresh bobcat print below and the bear that woke us up on one of our trips at 4 am. But I’ll tell you that story in a later post.

The 1.3 mile nature trail that loops around the lake is a fantastic walk. We didn’t find it difficult and the changing scenery makes it interesting enough that we enjoy it every time we camp here. Several times we’ve spotted grazing deer and even a few marsh rabbits.

There are canoes available to rent if you want to paddle out on the lake and fishing is allowed as long as it is not in the swimming area. The place is very popular on weekends and holidays.

In summary after our first bad experience we’ve had nothing but pleasant experiences and this campground will continue to be one of our favorite places to camp when vacation travel is out of the question.

Next week I’ll share our experience at Alexander Springs. Until then…

Ocala National Forest 
Clearwater Lake 
Latitude : 28.9789194435658
Longitude : -81.5535999357644
Click here for Information and Directions


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