Ocala Area – Recreation in Marion County, Central Florida's Heartland
Ocala/Marion County is an outdoor lover’s paradise. From lakes and rivers to forests and prairies, there are many places to enjoy doing the things you love most: hiking, camping, biking, boating, canoeing, fishing, hunting and much more.
Marion County is often noted for its grand size. It encompasses over 600 lakes, crystal clear spring-fed rivers, the Ocala National Forest and beautiful rolling countryside. All of this lends itself to a variety of recreational activities.
With 70 miles of well marked trails, the portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail that passes through Marion County offers hikers a look at the varying ecosystems that exist here: longleaf pine forest, prairie, swamp, sand pine, and the oak hammock, thought to be the inspiration for Ocala’s name, a Timucuan Indian term meaning “big hammock.” Hikers will enjoy clear lakes and rivers, babbling brooks and a wealth of vegetation and wildlife to observe. Along the trail are access trails to developed campgrounds every 10-12 miles where some facilities can be found. Hiking opportunities.
With so much to see in Marion County, a bicycle tour allows you to cover more ground in less time. Looking for a little more sport? Off-road mountain biking is at its best here in Marion County. Santos Trailhead has received national recognition for its trails, 30 miles in all, which vary in level of difficulty, offering every bicyclist an enjoyable ride. The Santos trails meander through a section of the Cross Florida Greenway, a protected land corridor stretching across the entire state.
The Greenway offers several trail riding locations around Marion County. One unique aspect of the Greenway is the land bridge, a bridge constructed over Interstate 75 designed to connect the eastern and western sections of the protected corridor. With this in place, a safe passageway exists for wildlife and recreationists to travel from one side of the interstate to the other. Biking opportunities.
Smores, anyone? Who can forget those summer camping trips when marshmallows were roasted over a camp fire? Relive the memories in Marion County where camping can be enjoyed year round thanks to a moderate climate. Most campers may choose to bed down in a developed campground in the state parks or the Forest which provides amenities like showers, restrooms, picnic tables, charcoal grills, lantern holders, drinking water and trash receptacles. Others may choose the convenience of an RV park to enjoy more comforts like home. Still others may opt for the challenge of a primitive campground which offers little or no facilities. Whichever option you choose, there will be endless opportunity for recreation at all types of camp grounds: swimming, boating, hiking, biking, birding watching, fishing…and the list goes on. Camping opportunities.
On the Water
Have you ever dreamed of being on the water, waiting for a fish to bite or enjoying the gentle current of a stream in a canoe...aaah, this is the life! With over 600 lakes throughout the county and spring fed rivers from east to west, there are vast opportunities to enjoy water activities. Own your own boat? There is access to the many lakes and rivers via boat ramps. Looking for a 3-hour guided boat tour? Contact venues such as A Cruising Down the River or Captain Bob’s Airboat Tours. Get close and personal with the aquatic life by venturing out in a canoe or kayak. The crystal clear water affords an unobstructed view at the beauty which lives below. If you don’t own your own watercraft, rentals are available for boats, canoes and kayaks throughout the county. Boating opportunities. Canoeing/kayaking opportunities.
Attention anglers: Marion County waterways have what you’re looking for! Find variety of fishing opportunities with a choice of many lakes and rivers filled with fish. Here’s just a sampling. Lake Weir, at 5,685 acres, and Lake Kerr, at 2,830 acres, are both very deep lakes with depths reaching over 20 feet where you’ll find bluegill, warmouth, shellcraker and bass. Lake Bryant, with 767 acres, is located in the Ocala National Forest and offers seasonal bass, bluegill and speck fishing. The Oklawaha River, which runs along the eastern edge of the Ocala National Forest, has many access points and offers extreme beauty as well as great fishing. This river is fed by the crystal clear Silver River which originates at the head waters of Silver Springs, the largest magnitude spring in the world. The Withlacoochee River, while offering a variety of fish to be caught, also provides a bit more of a challenge to the fisherman. Most of these areas are regulated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, so be sure to have your fishing license in hand! Fishing opportunities.
The Ocala National Forest is a very large woodland that offers some of the best hunting opportunities in Florida. The forest is managed by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission; hunting permits are required. Hunters may use archery, crossbow or general guns in pursuit of seasonal game such as deer, turkey, quail, hogs, rabbit, raccoons and more. The Ocala Rifle Range is also located within the forest and is open to the public from sunrise to sunset when classes are not being conducted. There is no fee to use the range, and the facility is not supervised, so be alert, and courteous of others. Hunting opportunities.
As you can see, recreational opportunities abound in Ocala/Marion County. Whatever your outdoor hobby, you’re sure to find it here.