Silver Springs – “Nature’s Theme Park”, the Ocala National Forest, rolling green fields of horse farms, historic districts and city streets canopied by 100-year-old trees, outstanding golf courses, friendly communities, crystal-clear rivers, and fresh-water springs. This, coupled with the subtropical climate, is what makes Marion County and its county seat Ocala a vacation land year-round.
The county is a successful blend of past and present. Drive down Fort King Street in the Ocala historic district, and you will be impressed by the obvious care taken with the renovation and preservation of the area’s homes.
Ocala Historic District
The Ocala Historic District, offers the opportunity to take a walking tour through stately neighborhoods of lovely Victorian homes. Fort King Street was named after the military post of Fort King, the site of which is within city limits. Fort King was built prior to the Second Seminole War of Florida (1835-1842). Your walking tour will travel from prehistoric finds, to the modern day, within a few blocks. On Friday and Saturday evenings, horse drawn carriage rides bring a touch of the past to visitors. Each spring dogwoods, azaleas, and other colorful flowers invite visitors to drive along the tree-shaded streets.
Marion County’s land and waters offer a wealth of recreational opportunities. Several outstanding attractions reflect millions of years of life. The most impressive is Silver Springs, the largest artesian spring system, by water flow, in the world. Here, evidence of prehistoric animals goes back more than a million years; traces of man a mere 10,000. For more than a century the springs have been a tourist attraction – Florida’s first – with early visitors arriving by stagecoach and steamboat.
Ocala National Forest
Nearly three-quarters of the Ocala National Forest is in Marion County. The Forest offers 383,573 acres of unique ecological sites, trails, natural springs with designated trails for horseback riding. Specially marked walking/hiking trails are located throughout this wonderful resource. Lake Eaton Sinkhole and the Lake Eaton Loop are only two of the trails that allow the visitor to explore the area on easily traveled interpretive trails.
Fore Lake Recreation Area
Fore Lake Recreation Area is a day use and camping area that is open year-round. A 250-foot sandy beach provides swimming and sunbathing opportunities. Fishing and boating in small, non-gasoline powered craft are allowed, and a fishing pier is at the southeast corner of the lake.
One can’t be in Marion County without becoming aware immediately that this is officially the “Horse Capital of the World.” Horses are big business in Marion County. More than three-quarters of Florida’s 600 Thoroughbred breeding and training facilities are located in the Ocala area. The county is one of only four major Thoroughbred centers in the world, and is equal to Lexington, Kentucky; Newmarket, England; and Chantilly, France. Each spring, for five weeks, the “Horse Shows in the Sun” (HITS) stages one of the largest hunter/jumper shows in the United States. Several horse farms welcome visitors to tour. Visitors who bring their own horses can ride forest and greenway trails.
The Timucuan Indians were the first settlers in the area they named “Ocali,” a place with rich soil and crystal clear rivers. Today this area is known as Marion County, named after Francis Marion, a South Carolinian military leader who defended the South against the British in the Revolutionary War. Ocala has retained the charm of a traditional, rural Southern town and this historical setting complements the beautiful scenery.
Vacationers can relish the winding community pathways that are lined with oak trees and dangling trellises of Spanish moss, or they can explore miles of untainted nature. If the prospect of canoeing down a crystal clear stream amidst the largest sand pine forest in the world sounds appealing to you, Ocala is worth investigating. The region’s freshwater streams, rolling hills, and clean air remain unspoiled and are frequently used for idyllic scenes in Hollywood movies. Camping and natural attractions throughout Ocala offer visitors a chance to relax and unwind amidst these pristine surroundings. Opportunities for fishing, boating, swimming, and watersports are plentiful as well.
Nearby is Silver Springs, a national landmark and nature theme park on 350 acres. Silver Springs is Florida’s “original attraction,” home of jeep safari adventures and the world-famous glass-bottomed boats that were invented there in 1878. While in Silver Springs, visitors can also enjoy a trip to Wild Waters, a fabulous nine-acre family water park featuring water slides, speed flumes, and a 450,000-gallon wave pool.
Dunnellon, also close-by, offers another relaxing escape with its small-town friendliness, a picturesque historic district and locally-owned hometown restaurants and shops. The scenic Rainbow and Withlacoochee Rivers beckon, as do the cool, clear spring-fed waters at Rainbow Springs State Park.