Just a 35-minute drive southwest of Ocala, Florida, between Bronson and Dunnellon, you’ll find a haven for trail riding in the Goethe State Forest. With 16 marked trails in 53,400 acres, friendly land managers, camping facilities, nearby private stables and campgrounds, and year-round sunshine — what more could you ask for?
Hit the Trails!
Goethe State Forest is approximately 20 miles long and an average of 4.5 miles wide. There are 126 miles of marked trails with multiuse trailheads; allowed are horseback riding, carriage driving, bicycling, and hiking. Trailheads are Tidewater at the southern end of the forest, Apex in the center, and Black Prong near the northern end.
Tidewater and Black Prong allow primitive camping; they offer flush toilets (no showers), hitching posts, picnic tables, and water for horses only. The Apex trailhead, for day-parking only, is located next to the Goethe State Forest office; it offers water for horses only (no potable water).
You can ride the entire length of the forest. Tidewater Trailhead offers 41.5 miles of marked trails; Black Prong Trailhead, 43.5 miles of marked trails; Apex Trailhead, another 41.5 miles of marked trails.
Trail maps are available on the Goethe State Forest website (see the resource guide) or from the office. The trails are color-coded and maps indicate trail lengths.
You’ll find a variety of footing, from deep Florida sand to pine-needle-covered, easy-going trails. You’ll ride through pine forests, open areas with palmettos and sawgrass, and under moss-covered oak trees. During rainy periods, there’s plenty of water for your horse on the trails; however, water dries up during droughts and in mid-summer.
Deer and wild turkey are fairly common in the forest. Chances of seeing a Florida black bear or an alligator are slim, but you may see a gopher, tortoise, armadillo, otter, bald eagle, red-cockaded woodpecker, or a large black Sherman fox squirrel.
The day-use fee is $2. You can purchase an annual day permit for $30 that can be used at any of Florida’s state forests. This permit will cover up to eight family members in your group.
Camping is $8 per night per site. Prior to arrival, you must obtain a special-use permit number by calling the Goethe State Forest office. You can also find out whether there will be conflicting event, such as an organized trail ride or endurance competition, at the time you plan to go.
While riding, driving, or leading your horse in the forest, carry a copy of your horse’s current Coggins paperwork (showing that he’s tested negative for equine infectious anemia).
The best time to ride in Florida is November through April, because of the cool nights and warm days. Summers are hot and humid, and
bring out yellow flies, horse flies, and mosquitoes. During summer months, ride in the early morning or late afternoon, when you and your horse will be more comfortable.
Over the years, a diversified horse community has grown up around the Goethe State Forest. Pleasure and endurance riders, along with carriage-driving enthusiasts, frequent the forest. Some visit seasonally; others reside there permanently.
Driving is a popular pursuit. Many professional and pleasure drivers go to the privately owned Black Prong Equestrian Center to train, show, and just enjoy the forest’s wide trails and gravel roads.
If you’re concerned that your horse will react badly to carts and carriages, ride the Apex or Tidewater areas, where you’ll be less likely to encounter these users. However, there’s no guarantee you’ll avoid an encounter with a carriage.
The trails remain open to equestrians during the gun and muzzle-loading hunting seasons, but it’s best to avoid riding during these times, for safety and quietude. For hunting-season dates, check with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Private Campgrounds & Stables
A number of private horse campgrounds and boarding facilities border Goethe State Forest. Here’s a listing of a few recommended facilities.
•North Star Acres. This facility, located near the forest’s southern portion, is owned and operated by 70-year-old Roberta Cogswell. It has six full hookups and large stalls. Make reservations in advance, and keep in mind that camping is primarily for retired adults who are looking for a quiet place to stay, Cogswell emphasizes.
Cogswell, who has spent her life riding, training, and competing on horses, also has a few horses for rent. "On my guided rides, the focus is on safety and having fun," she says.
•The Stables at Goethe. This facility owned and operated by Angela Tomczak, is located one mile south of the Black Prong Trailhead and is bordered on three sides by Goethe State Forest. This facility offers overnight stabling for your horse in a 12-by-12-foot stall or large paddock. It also has 10 recreational-vehicle hookups, a bathhouse, and laundry facilities. Discounted weekly, monthly, and seasonal rates are available, as well as full board for your horse. Dogs are allowed. There’s a feed store nearby.
The Stables at Goethe has a ride-out access trail into the Goethe State Forest. Or, you can trailer out for a day ride in other portions of the forest. If you stay there, Tomczak will rent you a stock trailer for $10 a day, so you don’t have to pack up your living-quarters trailer to haul to other trailheads.
"There are a number of other places to ride within a one-hour drive," Tomczak notes. These places are listed on The Stables at Goethe website, with map links.
•Black Prong Equestrian Center. This is another nice facility, whether you’re staying in your living-quarters trailer or want to rent an apartment next to your horse’s stall. Dogs are allowed. The center welcomes trail riders on its property. You can even "play" on the obstacle course used for carriage competitions.
•Goethe Trailhead Ranch. This upscale facility is located across the Goethe State Forest office. Dogs are allowed on leash only. This is a new facility owned by Lorel Molder. It has an arena, six barns with 96 12-by-12-foot stalls, 73 full-hookup RV sites, a round pen, and a convenience store that even offers tack and feed.
"You have everything you need here for your trail-riding adventure," says Molder. And, if you want to explore central Florida with family or friends, your horses can receive full care during your absence of a day, a week, or more.