By  Mike Miller   Updated July 12, 2023

Ocklawaha is a small town on the north shore of Lake Weir about 10 miles northeast of The Villages.  It is located on East County Road 25.

This little Old Florida village doesn't have golf courses or modern shopping centers like its friendly neighbor, but it does have a lot of fishing, swimming and boating opportunities because of the clean clear waters of the spring fed lake.

Cottage Near Gator Joe's

There are several neat little fish camp type of hotels scattered along the northern shore and one or two nice places to eat.

One little bar is named Ma Barker's Hideaway;  a more upscale place on the lake is Gator Joe's.

The town is near the southern entrance to the Ocala National Forest. The main intersection in town is State Road 25 and County Road 464C.

The county road leads north to a crossing of the Ocklawaha River near Moss Bluff and on into the forest.

Downtown Ocklawaha is not gentrified like so many other Florida towns.

It looks like hard times and has ever since I first passed through more than 50 years ago.

It was once a thriving citrus packing and shipping center but bad freezes brought that industry to an end.

Only the old Ocklawaha Inn - now a gift shop and produce market - is a reminder of the prosperous past along with an empty old schoolhouse and an abandoned fruit shipping plant.

Downtown Ocklawaha

The little town made national headlines back in January 1935 when it was the scene of a shootout between the FBI and the notorious Barker gang.

Arizona Barker, known as Ma, had several sons who ran a criminal gang in the midwest. Ma traveled around with her sons as they robbed banks and kidnapped and murdered people.

J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI had the gang on the public enemies list and were eager to capture them.

Instead of guns, Ma should have played golf at The Villages

Ma Barker and her son Fred were hiding out in Ocklawaha under assumed names. They rented a cottage and were known locally as an old mother and her son getting some relaxation.

One of the Barker brothers got arrested in Chicago and police found some notes referencing a big alligator named "Gator Joe".

They were able to put two and two together and figured out Ma and the other gang members were hiding out in Ocklawaha, home of Gator Joe.

Ma Barker and Her Killer Brood Lived Here

The FBI surrounded the rented cottage and a fierce gun battle broke out.

Ma and her son Fred were killed. The whole incident got good publicity for the FBI and immortal notoriety to the Barker gang.

A movie was made in 1960 titled "Ma Barker's Killer Brood".

The film may have made Ma out to be quite a bit worse than she actually was, but Hollywood has never been known to stick to the facts when telling a good story.

Barker House on Lake Weir, 2016Barker House on Lake Weir, 2016

The little cottage was put on a barge in 2016 and floated across Lake Weir to a new home in the Carney Island Recreation and Conservaton area.  

The park, owned by Marion County, will be operating the home as a museum open to the public. 

Recommended Ocklawaha Restaurant

Beach Bar and Grill

12431 SE 135 Ave
Ocklawaha, Florida 32179
Tel: 352-288-6461

Gator Joe's sits right on the white sand beach on the north shore of Lake Weir. It is a comfortable place with inside and outside dining and an Old Florida feel to it.

Gator Joe's

It's unusual in inland Florida to find a place like this on a white sand beach.  Most lakefront beaches are marshy.

The beach here makes this bar and grill a popular destination for both locals and tourists.

Read more about Gator Joe's


Ma Barker’s Hideaway Bar 
13575 County Road 25, Ocklawaha, FL 32179. (352) 288-1600 

I mentioned this place in the article above. It's a cash-only establishment. Outside food is allowed. 

Gator Joe's Beach Bar & Grill 
12431 SE 135th Ave, Ocklawaha, FL 32179. (352) 288-3100 

Start your Ocklawaha adventure at Gator Joe's Beach Bar & Grill, a lakeside oasis mentioned in the article above. Read more about it at the link on this page. 

Moss Bluff Lock and Dam, North and South locations
16298 SE 95th Place and 16255 SE 96th Lane, Ocklawaha, FL 32179. (352) 671-8560 

For a dose of local history and a tranquil outdoor experience, visit the Moss Bluff Lock and Dam, a hidden gem in Ocklawaha. Our favorite feature? The lock system that connects the Ocklawaha River and Lake Griffin, showcasing the area's rich maritime history.

Take a leisurely stroll along the riverbanks, enjoy the serene surroundings, and if you're lucky, spot some local wildlife. It's a peaceful spot that provides a glimpse into Ocklawaha's past while offering a scenic escape for nature lovers and history enthusiasts alike. 

Carney Island Recreation & Conservation Area
13275 SE 115th Ave, Ocklawaha, FL 32179. (352) 671-8560 

Nature enthusiasts, rejoice! Carney Island Recreation & Conservation Area beckons with its pristine landscapes and outdoor activities.

Our favorite activity? Exploring the hiking trails that lead to stunning lake views, providing a perfect opportunity for birdwatching and photography. With picnic areas, fishing spots, and a designated swimming area, Carney Island offers a well-rounded outdoor experience for visitors of all interests.

Whether you're seeking a peaceful retreat or an active day in nature, this hidden oasis in Ocklawaha ensures a refreshing escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. 

Ocala National Forest – Southern Entrance
Ocklawaha, FL 32179. (352) 625-2520 

Just a short drive from Ocklawaha, the Ocala National Forest beckons with its sprawling wilderness and outdoor adventures. Our favorite trail? The Yearling Trail, a scenic hike that takes you through pine forests and showcases Florida's unique ecosystem.

With opportunities for camping, fishing, and wildlife spotting, the Ocala National Forest provides a diverse range of activities for nature enthusiasts.

Whether you're a seasoned outdoorsperson or just looking for a day of exploration, this vast forest offers an immersive experience that highlights the natural beauty of the Ocklawaha region. 

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