Florida’s biggest destination for equestrians is a must-visit for trail enthusiasts of all kinds. Straddling both North and Central Florida, Ocala is one of only a few cities statewide that offer serious mileage on trails – hiking, biking, paddling, and equestrian – in every direction. And by serious, we mean hundreds of miles.
Part of the reason for this is the massive Ocala National Forest on its eastern edge. Established in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt as the first domestic National Forest east of the Mississippi, it was the birthplace of the Florida Trail in 1966 and contains more than 100 miles of the trail that draws backpackers from around the globe. Extensive equestrian, Jeep, and ATV trail systems make the Ocala National Forest a multi-sport destination. It has also four first-magnitude springs with recreation areas, dozens of lake, and many camping facilities.
Mountain bikers have established the Santos Bike Trails on the Cross Florida Greenway as a destination for the entire Southeast. Mountain biking? Yes, the trails go in and out of sinkholes and mining pits, offering extreme challenges, technical features, and some easy woodland rides as well. There are also paved bike trails that extend more than 20 miles through the woods.
The Cross Florida Greenway has some of the region’s best equestrian trails, as well as nearly 30 miles of the Florida Trail, spanning from Silver Springs to Ocala and Dunnellon. During fall deer hunting season, the Greenway remains a safe zone for backpackers and day hikers.
If it sounds like we’re enthusiastic about Ocala, it’s from personal experience. Sandra lived here for more than 25 years, learning to snorkel in the springs, paddle on the rivers, hike in the woods, and build trails. This is where she wrote many of her guidebooks. She helped establish and maintain part of the Florida Trail on the Cross Florida Greenway. She also helped design the Holly Hammock Hiking Trail at Ross Prairie State Forest.
Top Trail Destinations in Ocala
Start your trip planning with these destinations that have many outdoor activities in one place.
We launched a new full-color edition of 50 Hikes in Central Florida at the National Trails Festival in Deland the first weekend of October. Take a peek inside.
Paddling Juniper Run from Juniper Springs to the take out at SR 19 in the Ocala National Forest, a popular paddling trip along this sinuous, spring-fed waterway that winds through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness.