Just a short drive from Florida’s famous beaches and theme parks is charming Ocala and Marion County.
Here, a scenic countryside filled with horse farms, natural springs and a national forest transports you to a part of the state you never knew existed.
Horse Capital of the World
As the breeding ground for thoroughbred race winners and home to more than 600 horse farms, Ocala has rightfully earned the title of Horse Capital of the World. If you love horse shows, plan to attend part of the popular HITS Ocala Winter Circuit, a 12-week series of competitions beginning in mid-December at Post Time Farm. The Ocala Jockey Club also presents a winter series with one of the highest monetary prizes in the country. Visit in March to watch a truly unique spectacle in the horse world, the combined driving and show jumping competition known as Live Oak International.
Year-round, learn about the inner workings of a horse farm at Farm Tours of Ocala or Gypsy Gold Horse Farm, home of the Gypsy Vanner horse. Explore Florida’s outdoors on horseback with Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides. For a fun family outing – or a romantic day out for two – reserve a horse-drawn carriage ride with Horse Country Carriage Company and Tours.
Couple enjoying the outdoors via horseback on a trail ride
Water, Water Everywhere
Marion County’s natural springs beckon with crystal-clear waters that stay a constant 22 degrees Celsius. At Silver Springs State Park, the gateway to the Ocala National Forest, you can tour a 19th-century pioneer settlement, hike the tranquil trails, take a glass-bottom boat tour and look for wildlife – including alligators and manatees! Juniper Springs is popular with swimmers and campers, and a canoe trip down Juniper Run offers a scenic journey through a tropical oasis. Don’t miss a chance to go tubing at Rainbow Springs, a popular pastime for locals. You can also paddle, snorkel, hike and camp. Several outfitters host guided boat tours down the many waterways in the area.
Kayaking down the Silver Springs River at Silver Springs State Park
Adventure awaits at Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours, home to the state’s longest, fastest and highest zip lines over a body of water. Trail-biking enthusiasts can spend days exploring Santos Mountain Bike Trails. Crisscrossed with more than 100 kilometers of trails for all training levels, Santos is a recognized bronze-level ride center by the International Mountain Bicycling Association. Round out your visit with a stop at the Marion County Museum of History and Archaeology, dedicated to documenting the county’s natural and cultural history.
Zipping over the water at Canyons Zip Line