Tucked away in north-central Florida, Ocala presents a side of the state not seen from the beach. It's in this lush hinterland where avenues are oak-lined and trellises are draped in Spanish moss. Steeped in lush, sub-tropical natural beauty, it's impossible for holidaing Canadians to resist spending time outdoors. And options abound. Hike through kilometres of sand pine forest, ply the waters of crystal clear streams or explore it all on horseback. Whatever you choose to do, enjoy it year-round as outdoor season never seems to end here.
One of the biggest reasons to get outdoors in Ocala is its abundance of equine facilities...but this isn't just any old cowpoke town. Ocala/Marion County was officially named the Horse Capital of the World™ in 2007 for their record of producing some of the finest champion horses in the sport. Visitors will find no shortage of well-trained equine companions to suit their riding level.
How does one absorb Ocala/Marion County's equine epicentre? Serious enthusiasts can visit the farms that trained their favourite Breeders' Cup and Kentucky Derby winners, while tour operators treat casual horse lovers to trail and carriage rides through the idyllic Ocala/Marion County countryside.
For those who want to test their skills and independence, the well-maintained trails of the Ocala National Forest and Ocala's slice of the Cross Florida Greenway provide a scenic challenge. Moreover, in the heart of horse country, those travelling with their own steed will find an abundance of campgrounds to accommodate horses.
Visiting golfers are in for a treat as Ocala/Marion Country is home to some of the finest fairways in the state. The area hosts dozens of public, private, and semi-private courses to choose from.
Rated one of the best courses in the US by Golf Advisor, playing a round at Candler Hills Golf Club is a must. This semi-private course designed by Florida native Gordon Lewis has a landscape that evokes more of a Palm Springs feel than central Florida. This challenging course is notable for having the longest par-5 holes in the state. Nicknamed "The Monster," it measures 611 metres from the tee to the hole and plays almost entirely uphill.
For those who want to relish in both beauty and challenge, the open course at Golden Ocala Golf and Equestrian Club features eight holes designed in tribute to some of the world's finest courses. Ever wanted to play at St. Andrews, Royal Troon, or Augusta National? This Ron Garl-designed course can give you a taste.
Golf lovers who visit in early February will also relish in the opportunity to watch LPGA golf in person at the annual LPGA Coates Golf Championship presented by R+L Carriers.
Get on the Water
Visitors can certainly ply the abundance of freshwater lakes, rivers and streams snaking their way through Ocala/Marion Country in a canoe or motorboat. However, travelling the water by air boat has long been the preferred way of doing things in the Sunshine State. Take advantage of backwaters and feel the breeze run through your hair as operators ferry you out to spot alligators and other wildlife that live around the area.
Cool off with an afternoon under the shady canopy of Rainbow Springs State Park. Contained within it are natural springs, easily described as something of an oasis shrouded in sub-tropical flora. A hive of activity in the summer, visitors pass time swimming, snorkeling, canoeing and kayaking but the biggest draw is a tube float.
Hit the Trails
Carney Island Recreation & Conservation Area
For those who like to keep their feet firmly planted on the ground, hundreds of kilometres of hiking trails wind their way around Ocala. While some share pathways with equestrian riders, trails like Marshall Swamp, Juniper Springs, and the Carney Island Recreation & Conservation Area serve as the playground for those who want to experience the pristine beauty of central Florida's natural landscape up close and personal.
Ready to love the great outdoors in Ocala/Marion Country?
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