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USA/South: Ocala, FL

A Wilderness of Riches


Walking, Cycling, Kayaking, Canoeing, Fishing, Swimming, Diving, Snorkeling, Equestrian Trails

Ocala National Forest is the southernmost forest in the continental USA and the world's largest contiguous sand pine scrub forest. It includes more than 600 lakes, rivers and springs. There are more than a dozen day-hiking destinations and nearly 100 miles of backpacking trails. The finest is the Florida National Scenic Trail, which extends more than 1,300 miles through the state. Stop at a ranger station on Highway 40 for information about accessing the trail or other walking options. Free maps are not very helpful. Heading east from Ocala or Silver Springs, one option for accessing the Florida National Scenic Trail is to drive on Highway 40 about 1 1/2 miles past the Juniper Springs Recreation Center and park off the shoulder of the highway (do not leave valuables in the car). The trail is on the north and south sides of the highway; the north-side access quickly brings walkers to a spectacular wilderness area and is recommended for a short walk. Bicycles are welcome in the forest's developed recreation areas, and there is one mountain biking trail, the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail. It's a 22-mile loop through the forest's southeastern corner that provides a roller-coaster ride through rolling sand hills.

Kayaking, canoeing and motor boating opportunities are plentiful on the forest's plentiful lakes, rivers and springs. A recommended kayak or canoe trip is a seven-mile stretch from the Juniper Springs Recreation Area to the Highway 19 bridge. You are surrounded by a lush tropical forest of palms, cypress and hardwoods. Canoes are available until noon at the Juniper Springs concessionaire (352-625-2808). Water in the crystal-clear springs stays at a constant temperature year-round and is ideal for swimming and snorkeling. Certified scuba divers can dive at Alexander Springs Recreation Area

Fishers come to Ocala for bass, particularly in Lake George and Lake Kerr. There are also numerous smaller lakes to cast for panfish.

Horseback riders can take advantage of the Ocala 100 Mile Horse Trail and the LAM Trail, which stretches from Doe Lake to Eureka.

Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway extends 110 miles through central Florida from the Gulf of Mexico to the St. John's River. Walkers enjoy miles of loop trails, and mountain bikers have access to more than 80 miles of off-road bike trails. Access to the bike trails is at the Santos Trailhead, 3080 SE 80th St., in Ocala. 

Kayaking & Fishing

Discovery Kayak Tours, located about seven miles east of Ocala in Silver Springs State Park, offers half-day and full-day guided tours of various waterways. A "quick-start" two-hour course for beginners is also available. There are also "manatee encounter" kayak tours and kayak fishing in conjunction with another outfitter.

Zip Lining

Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours takes customers on a 2 1/2-hour forest tour with nine zip lines, two rope bridges and a rappel. Guides also provide information on the wildlife and the history of the area.



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