Ocala National Forest

Located in the northern part of the state in the “rolling” hills of Florida lies the city of Ocala also known as Tree City, USA.

If you’ve never visited the northern region of the state you’re definitely in for a big surprise. While Key West, located at the southern tip of the state has a very tropical atmosphere of balmy breezes, sandy beaches, and deep-sea fishing boats, the northern part of the state boasts cooler weather, rolling green hills, and thoroughbred horse farms.

There’s also this huge area called the Ocala National Forest that consists of 383,573 acres! Camping is very popular in the Ocala National Forest and both full-service campgrounds and rustic camping sites are available. There are numerous hiking/walking trails as well as horseback riding trails. Located within the forest is Alexander Springs with cool crystal clear water perfect for snorkeling and Silver Glen Springs has a spring basin filled to the brim with Striped Bass that likes to get up close and personal. Also found within the forest is the Juniper Prairie Wilderness nature reserve that encompasses 14,000 acres within the forest and has many interesting ecological areas for you to observe. Be sure to bring your camera as you never know what interesting specimen you might discover.

Salt Springs Run Marina & Landing

Salt Springs Run Marina and Landing is also located within the forest and offers a variety of activities such as fishing, snorkeling, or swimming in Salt Springs. Whether you bring your own boat or want to rent a canoe, power skiff, or pontoon boat, you’ll be able to meander down the Lake George or St. John’s rivers. Tackle, bait, bug repellent and fishing licenses are available at the marina.

There’s plenty of fish to be caught, such as striped bass, catfish, and largemouth bass, and if bird watching is a pastime, keep your eyes peeled for great blue herons, osprey, egrets, and bald eagles. Don’t be surprised if you see alligators lazing away in the afternoon, so be sure and keep your hands in the boat!

Whether you’re a certified ecologist, environmentalist, teacher, or just someone who appreciates and respects the great outdoors and the residents inhabiting this natural environment, the forest offers a close up look at the habitat, flora, and fauna that are native to the region.

Rainbow Springs State Park

Another area you might like to visit is Rainbow Springs State Park that offers 600 acres of natural parkland to explore, including two waterfalls, and another 400 acres of campgrounds. Be sure to take advantage of the swimming and snorkeling available in the cool, clear waters of the spring. It’s very invigorating! Check out this link to Rainbow Springs for information on snorkeling.

Silver Springs

If water sports is your choice of entertainment, then the place to visit is Silver Springs, one of the premier tourist attractions in Florida. The park was established over a century ago when visitors came to the artesian springs by stagecoach and is now celebrating its 125th anniversary.

The park is now a 350-acre themed attraction and is famous for its Glass-Bottom boats that offer a unique view of the underwater inhabitants and unusual formations that lie beneath the springs. You may choose to take a wildlife cruise where you can experience observing the Florida Panther in its natural habitat.

Appleton Museum of Art

Another interesting, as well as educational place to visit, is the Appleton Museum of Art that has on display such exhibits as the Asian collection, Icon collection, Manuscript collection, and 19th-century Masterworks, and Homage to Van Gogh in it’s 30,000 square foot gallery. Please visit their site and take the virtual tour to see all of the artwork currently on display.

Ocala (Marion county) is also known as the Horse Capital of the World” and it is estimated that between 45 to 50 different breeds of horses make the Ocala area their home. There are four major Thoroughbred centers in the world and Marion county is one of them. Many of the farms offer guided tours. Please check this link for more information: Ocala Carriage Tours

Many Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners have come from Ocala including Silver Charm and Real Quiet (1997 and 1998). The last Triple Crown winner was also a resident of Marion County and was born at Harbor View Farm. His name was Affirmed

As you can see, horses are a big business in Florida.

If you’re interested in a leisurely afternoon of golf on a championship course, the Ocala Golf Club offers 18 holes of beautifully landscaped greens. Pine Oaks of Ocala offers 27 holes and a driving range.

Whether your interests are in hiking, swimming, camping, snorkeling, theme parks, museums, golf, horses, or sightseeing, Ocala definitely has it all.

I hope you’ve enjoyed our trip to the northern region of Florida. We’ll continue exploring this area another day but until then, be safe and happy traveling!

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