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11 Incredible Recreational Lakes near Gainesville, FL

The Gainesville area is peppered with gorgeous swampy lakes teeming with wildlife. There are amazing fisheries, fun kayaking lakes, and boating playgrounds, all within an hour's drive.
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The landscape around Gainesville is peppered with fantastic recreational lakes, big and small. And the best thing is you don’t have to drive far, most options are within an hour’s drive.

Some lakes like Lochloosa Lake are excellent fisheries, and places like Ocean Pond or Lake Wauburg have hiking trails and camping options. But for swimming and snorkeling, Florida’s springs are still the best.

Whether you’re into birdwatching, fishing, or air boating, there is definitely a lake here for you.

Check out what Gainesville has to offer!

Related: 15 Best State Parks near Gainesville, FL

Lakes near Gainesville:

  1. Newnans Lake
  2. Lake Wauburg
  3. Lochloosa Lake
  4. Orange Lake
  5. Gilchrist Blue Springs
  6. Lake Santa Fe
  7. Lake Ocklawaha
  8. Butler Lake
  9. Lake Sampson
  10. Ocean Pond
  11. Salt Springs
Lakes near Gainesville Florida Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Newnans Lake

Lake in Florida on a sunny day
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Newnans Lake
  • Distance from Gainesville: 5 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking

Newnans Lake is a 5,800-acre shallow lake just 10 minutes from Gainesville. It’s known for fishing, rowing clubs, and pristine nature teeming with wildlife.

If visiting for the first time, the best place to start is Earl P. Powers Park on the southern shore. It’s a versatile day-use spot with a concrete boat ramp, large fishing pier, playgrounds, and picnic tables. And with Gainesville-Hawthorne State Trail just a stone’s throw away, you can easily cycle here from the city.

For multi-day trips, the only camping option is Kate’s Fish Camp nearby. It has electric and water hookups and is easily accessible from Route 20. 

And if you prefer exploring without getting your feet wet, the Newnans Lake State Forest on the western shore has half a dozen miles of trails for hiking and biking.

The most common activities on Newnans Lake are fishing, paddling, and boating. Because of the huge gators, swimming isn’t recommended, and it’s also too shallow for large boats.

Talking about fishing, it’s just ok here. The murky water makes using lures ineffective, and apart from the fishing pier at Earl Powers Park, shore access is difficult. Small fishing boats and kayaks are best.

Still, you can expect a wide variety of species like black crappie, bluegill, bowfin, and various catfish and bass. 

Perhaps not the best fishing spot, Newnans Lake is all about wildlife and a peaceful atmosphere. It’s excellent for unwinding and relaxing in nature.

Related: 15 Best State Parks near Gainesville, FL

2. Lake Wauburg

Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park
Source: flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Official Page: Lake Wauburg
  • Distance from Gainesville: 14 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Sailing 

Lake Wauburg is a 350-acre lake south of Gainesville. It’s one of the most versatile options with plenty of fantastic facilities and things to do.

One way to access the lake is through Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, a hugely popular outdoor destination and the only place where bison roam free in Florida.

The park has miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails, as well as lakeside campgrounds and a boat ramp. It’s probably the best location near Gainesville for wildlife enthusiasts on multi-day trips.

The alternative to the state park is the University of Florida facility on Lake Wauburg. It’s free to use for students and their guests.

The university maintains grounds to the highest standard, and there is even a designated swimming area with a sandy beach and a dock. What’s more, there are tons of rentals available, from paddleboards to kayaks and pedalboats – it’s a fun place!

Besides kayaking and canoeing, fishing is a popular activity at Lake Wauburg, too, but it’s not amazing. The shore access is limited, and the bite isn’t fantastic. 

Still, you can expect largemouth bass, bowfin, bluegill, and an occasional gar. The best results are usually from a boat or a kayak but note that gas engines are prohibited at the lake.

Overall, it’s an excellent location for multi-day trips and wildlife enthusiasts, and if you have access to the university facilities, it’s the best spot on the list.

3. Lochloosa Lake

Lake in Florida at sunset
Source: unsplash
  • Official Page: Lochloosa Lake
  • Distance from Gainesville: 22 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking

Lochloosa Lake is a 5,700-acre reservoir just 25 minutes from Gainesville. It’s a typical Florida lake with gorgeous cypress trees, Spanish Moss, and rich wildlife.

The best place for the first visit is Lochloosa Lake Park on the western shore. It’s a day-use spot with gazebos, piers, picnic spots, and a boat ramp – perfect for family fishing expeditions or picnics.

Alternatively, you can try one of the fish camps like Lochloosa Harbour – a resort-like place with cabins, campgrounds, and a bait shop, all with stunning views of the lake.

Because of the alligators, swimming isn’t recommended at Lochloosa Lake. Instead, it’s an excellent spot for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. Also, motor boats are allowed, but the lake is 10 feet at its deepest.

When it comes to fishing, this lake is really productive. It’s teeming with bluegill and known for pretty large redear sunfish and bowfin. Also, you can expect largemouth bass and various crappie and gar.

If you want to experience a classic Florida lake with all its natural charm and local vibe, Lochloosa Lake is a solid bet.

4. Orange Lake

Lake in florida with brush and lilypads
Source: depositphotos
  • Official Page: Orange Lake
  • Distance from Gainesville: 22 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping

At 12,550 acres, Orange Lake is the largest lake near Gainesville. It’s known for fishing and has plenty of coves and islands to explore.

There are several RV parks, boat ramps, and fish camps around the lake. But when it comes to family-friendly areas, there are few. 

The town of Orange Lake has a public boat ramp and two RV resorts. Also, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park on the northern shore is a must-see for bookworms and history buffs. Yet, for the most part, all the fun is on the water.

Orange Lake is a popular destination for air boating and paddling. There is plenty of wildlife to spot and coves to explore, but fishing is the number one reason folks visit the lake. 

There is a public fishing pier in the town of Orange Lake, but as usual, you will get the best results fishing from a boat or a kayak. The lake is a managed fishery, so there is plenty of largemouth bass, with five-pounders not uncommon. Also, you can expect plenty of black crappie, bluegill, redear, and other panfish.

Orange Lake is best suited for seasoned anglers and boaters. You need to bring a boat to enjoy it as there are no beaches or hiking options. Still, the lake’s RV resorts can save the day.

Related: 15 Best State Parks near Gainesville, FL

5. Gilchrist Blue Springs

Gilchrist Blue Springs kayaking
Source: flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0
  • Official Page: Gilchrist Blue Springs
  • Distance from Gainesville: 30 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Swimming, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking

Gilchrist Blue Springs is a popular tourist destination near High Springs. It’s a family-friendly place with excellent facilities and plenty to do.

The springs are accessed via Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park, which has crystal clear swimming holes for snorkeling, diving, and tubing about. It’s a busy park at all times.

Also, you can hire a kayak or canoe and embark on a paddling expedition to the Santa Fe River, following the natural flow of the springs. And if you’re lucky, you might even spot a manatee.

And for those who don’t want to get wet, there are a few miles of hiking trails and campgrounds for multi-day stays. 

Swimming in Florida’s springs is a must-do experience that everyone should try at least once, and Gilchrist Blue Springs is an excellent choice for that. 

6. Lake Santa Fe

lake santa fe florida
Source: pixabay
  • Official Page: Lake Santa Fe
  • Distance from Gainesville: 19 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Swimming, Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Wakeboarding, Water Skiing, Tubing

Lake Santa Fe is a 5,850-acre lake just 25 minutes west of Gainesville. It’s a well-developed place with plenty of lodging options but no campgrounds or hiking trails.

Melrose Bay Park on the southern shore has a designated swimming area and a sandy beach. It’s an excellent place if all you want to do is cool off and sunbathe.

Another spot on the southern side is Santa Fe Lake Park. It’s a more developed park with playgrounds, a boat ramp, and picnic ramadas – perfect for day trips.

Like most lakes in Florida, Lake Santa Fe has a swampy vibe with tall cypress trees, Spanish moss, and lily pads everywhere. Yet, it’s deeper than most lakes making sports like wakeboarding, waterskiing, and tubing possible.

What’s more, it’s a highly-rated fishery known for bowfin and largemouth bass that come in decent sizes. Also, you can expect bluegill, crappie, gar, and various cats. The shore access isn’t great, though, but the action from a boat or a kayak is really good.

Although Lake Santa Fe doesn’t have any campgrounds, it makes up for it with lodging options. Airbnb and VRBO have plenty of listings of gorgeous lakeside cabins. It may not be an adventurer’s dream, but for family or romantic getaways, this is great!

7. Lake Ocklawaha

Ocala National Forest Lake
Source: flickr/ public domain
  • Official Page: Lake Ocklawaha
  • Distance from Gainesville: 38 miles (45 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Camping, ATV

Lake Ocklawaha, also known as Rodman Reservoir, is a 9,500-acre impoundment of the Ocklawaha River east of Gainesville. It’s an excellent option for RV campers, families, and ATV enthusiasts.

The lake’s southern shore hugs Ocala National Forest with all its trails, springs, and pristine environment giving you plenty of adventure options. You can rent an ATV or take one of the hiking trails and explore the woodland on your own terms.

What’s more, the lake’s shoreline has several campgrounds, including Fort McCoy KOA Park, which has cabins, a swimming pool, and access to the lake – perfect for multi-day trips.

When it comes to water activities, Lake Ocklawaha is popular with kayakers, boaters, and anglers. Because it’s a man-made reservoir, it’s not as shallow as most of Florida’s lakes, although the max depth here is just 30ft.

The lake scores top reviews for fishing and is known for its thriving largemouth bass colony, with some species topping the 9-pound mark. Also, you can expect bowfin, bluegill, black crappie, and various types of cats.

Overall, Lake Ocklawaha offers plenty to do. You can stick to busy areas, blast down the fire roads on an ATV or go on a quiet paddling expedition – there is something for everyone here.

Related: 15 Best State Parks near Gainesville, FL

8. Butler Lake

Black Crappie in Florida
Source: pixabay
  • Official Page: Butler Lake
  • Distance from Gainesville: 29 miles (35 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Playgrounds

Butler Lake is a charming 350-acre lake just 35 minutes north of Gainesville. It’s excellent for family day trips and fishing expeditions, but it’s not as versatile as some other options on the list.

The only way to access this lake is via Lakeside Park in the City of Lake Butler. It offers well-kept facilities, including a paved boat ramp, large picnic ramadas, playgrounds, and a splash pad. 

Another unique feature of this park is a U-shaped concrete dock that has plenty of space for fishing and birdwatching. Also, there is a wide sandy beach, and if you’re brave enough, you can take a quick dip in the refreshing lake when alligators aren’t watching.

Kayaking, canoeing, and boating are fantastic ways to explore this cozy lake and test your luck fishing. The angling reports are unimpressive but plentiful, probably because of the easy shore access thanks to the pier.

You can target largemouth bass, bluegill, black crappie, sunfish, gar, bowfin, and many other species. The lake has a diverse selection, but the sizes are nothing to write home about, as you may expect from a reservoir of this size.

Although there are no campgrounds or hiking trails, Butler Lake is an excellent choice for quick day trips and getting on the water, and it’s half an hour from Gainesville.

9. Lake Sampson

Ducks in glrasslands of Florida
Source: pixabay
  • Official Page: Lake Sampson
  • Distance from Gainesville: 31 miles (40 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing

Lake Sampson is a 1,990-acre lake near Starke. It’s a highly-rated fishery and a hidden gem that most visitors tend to avoid.

The main access point is the boat ramp between Lake Sampson and Lake Rowell, which acts as a transfer point. It’s an easy launch suitable for most types of boats. 

However, this is it when it comes to facilities. There are no parks, designated swimming areas, or campgrounds at Lake Sampson. This keeps crowds away and is great news for folks who like to avoid the hustle and bustle of more developed lakes.

Where Lake Sampson stands out is fishing. It’s a highly-rated fishery with little pressure known for jumbo largemouth bass, black crappie, and chain pickerel, among others.

What’s more, Lake Rowell is just on the other side of the ramp, so it’s really a two-in-one destination. Although smaller, fishing is excellent there, too.

Because of little use, both lakes feel remote and pristine, offering diverse wildlife. You are guaranteed to spot turtles, ducks, storks, and birds of prey. 

Overall, Lake Sampson is suited for seasoned anglers, boaters, and adventure kayakers, but it’s not as developed as some other options on the list.

10. Ocean Pond

Osceola National Forest  Beach
Source: flickr/ public domain
  • Official Page: Ocean Pond
  • Distance from Gainesville: 44 miles (55 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Tubing

Ocean Pond is a 1,750-acre lake north of Gainesville. It’s a popular outdoor destination known for its sandy beaches and campgrounds.

Located in Osceola National Forest, this lake is set up for recreational use and offers several campgrounds, beaches, launching ramps, and miles of hiking trails. And if you want to learn more about Florida’s rich history, Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park is just around the corner.

If visiting for the first time, Ocean Pond Campground on the northern shore is the best option. It’s an all-in-one place with primitive and hook-up campsites, a boat ramp, and a swimming area.

Alternatively, the nearest spot is Olustee Beach on the southern side. It’s excellent for short day trips but has a few primitive tent sites, too.

When it comes to water activities, Ocean Pond is excellent. You can swim, go on kayak adventures, or blast down on jet skis – it’s a versatile lake.

However, the drawback here is fishing. The lake scores below-average reviews, but skillful (or lucky) anglers get their catch. The selection of species here is similar to other lakes around Gainesville – largemouth bass, some cats, bluegill, black crappie, bowfin, and an occasional gar.

In short, it’s a fun lake and a solid choice for families and campers. But if fishing is your main activity, there are better options on the list.

Related: 15 Best State Parks near Gainesville, FL

11. Salt Springs

salt springs in ocala national forest
Source: depositphotos
  • Official Page: Salt Springs
  • Distance from Gainesville: 52 miles (1h)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking

Salt Springs is a hugely-popular destination in Ocala National Forest, just an hour from Gainesville. The crystal clear water gushing from the Earth’s crust attracts swarms of visitors year-round and is one of Florida’s classic springs.

Salt Springs may not be a typical lake destination, but it’s a must-visit spot. It offers plenty of fun activities like kayaking, paddleboarding, boating, swimming, and snorkeling. You can spot a wide range of wildlife, including manatees, bald eagles, and even an occasional black bear.

The spring’s marina offers boat and kayak rentals, and the Salt Springs Campground nearby – the largest in Ocala National Forest – is the perfect spot to drop an anchor for a couple of days. 

What’s more, Salt Springs is located between two fantastic lakes. Lake Kerr to the west is a well-known largemouth bass spot, and Lake George to the east is one of the largest lakes in the state, offering tons of fun.

Needless to say, this area is a hub for water activities, and there is something for everyone here. If you want to catch a 10-pound bass, swim in the clearest water, and paddle about all in one trip, this is the place!

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