Just south of Gainesville, an angler’s paradise awaits alongside glimpses of old Florida lifestyle.
About 20 miles south of “The Swamp,” bass anglers can find monster bass swimming with the gators in Orange Lake. In April, a 14-1 largemouth sent a signal flare from the middle of the Sunshine State that the old pecking order is due for a change. And while this fishery has yet to post the number of 8-pounders hosted by neighbors like Fellsmere, Orange Lake has become a go-to spot for behemoth bass and bass anglers swinging for the fences—so much so, that it’s climbed into Bassmaster’s Top 10 as the No. 8 bass fishing lake in America.
For last minute tackle refills and a deeper dive into local lures, Gary’s Tackle Box remains the go-to independent tackle store in the greater Gainesville area. The store sits about 35 minutes from Orange Lake; however, lakeside options like Lochloosa Harbor Resort and Hawthorne’s “Bait Shop” offer potentially more convenient options to break anglers out of a bind.
Parks, Museums and Outdoor Adventure
Orange Lake sits in a rural, quiet environment where the outdoors themselves offer a respite from long days on the water. Stretch your legs at Price’s Scrub State Park, a pint-sized Florida hideaway with hiking trails leading through subtle rolling hills dotted with armadillos, squirrels and native birds. Saddle up for a Central Florida trail ride at Diamond Oaks Farms in Ocala, where on-site RV hookups welcome travelers with an appetite for tertiary exploration when they’re off the water.
History lovers can dive into the Marjorie-Kinnan Rawlings House wedged between Orange Lake and Lochloosa. This well-preserved farmhouse inspired its namesake Pulitzer Prize-winning author to pen works like The Yearling. Meanwhile, wildlife fans can get a glimpse of wild bison and wild horses traversing the Sunshine State (yes) at Payne’s Prairie Preserve State Park, where a 16-mile paved railway corridor provides room for cyclists to roam.
Lodging, Camping and Resort Life
Nearby Gainesville and Ocala offer a standard array of chain hotels; but anglers itching for a haunt closer to the shoreline can book a getaway at a number of retreats surrounding Orange Lake. The camper crowd will be right at home at Water’s Edge Oaks RV Resort, where paved parking pads, electrical hookups and an on-site boat ramp make access to the lake a breeze.
No camper? No problem. At Sun Retreats Ocala Orange Lake, lakeside cottages beneath billowing live oaks draped with Spanish moss include access to an in-house dock, swimming pool and golf course.
Near the lake’s eastern shores, The Yearling Cabins deliver Old Florida charm on the banks of Cross Creek. Each cabin comes equipped with wifi, while an onsite restaurants serves up comfort food and the creek itself provides access to both Orange Lake and adjacent Lochloosa. The resort’s on-site restaurant also fries up traditional, southern seafood like shrimp scampi and hushpuppies.
Those searching for the finer side of life should investigate Herlong Mansion in Micanopy. The historic 1845 estate now operates as a full-service, four-star bed and breakfast with lodging options ranging from suites to diminutive cottages.
Eats and Treats
Outdoor tables and open pool tables great anglers at Georgie’s Lakeside Restaurant in Orange Lake. This family-run eatery features a large viewing deck and waterfront views throughout its indoor dining area, which serves up steak nights on Thursdays alongside laidback classic, American faire.
Up the road in Micanopy, visitors can settle into the cozy confines of Antonio’s Italian Restaurant. Since 2013, Antonio’s has been dishing out favorite like sautéed clams and mussels, pesto gnocchi and veal marsala pulled straight from restaurants in Milan and Ponza, Italy. And at the nearby Depot, guests can saddle up to a stool at a Florida speakeasy for pizza, whiskey and beer in a historic train station.
An unexpected surprise awaits on the lake’s southeastern shoreline at Island Grove Wine Company. Here, a blueberry farm plays host to winery tours and portfolio tastings preluded by a drive down rustic, dirt farm roads to reach the 700-acre facility. Tours are open on weekdays from 10-4 and offer access to Sunshine State original flavors like Crisp Green Apple, Bold Blackberry, Blueberry Moscato and Sparkling Berry Sangria.