Ocala/Marion County's unique environment is one of the major reasons why people come here to visit, and then to live. Our backyard includes the Ocala National Forest, the rolling green fields of horse farms, historic districts and city streets canopied by 100-year-old trees, outstanding golf courses, friendly communities, rivers teeming with fish, and crystal-clear fresh-water springs. Also, the mild subtropical climate makes Marion County a vacation destination year-round. Little wonder that residents spend as much time as possible outdoors.
The Ocala Recreation and Parks Department has a variety of programs and services to meet your leisure service needs. They have programs for the young and the young-at-heart; programs for those who enjoy being active and for those who just want some downtime. From hands-on learning activities for parents and toddlers and organized team sports for school-aged youth, to outings and day trips for seniors, the variety of activities for all ages and interests is plentiful.
Marion County serves residents and visitors by providing park facilities, recreation services, park planning and protection of our natural resources. The Marion County Parks and Recreation Department hosts nearly a quarter-million visitors each year in their 33 parks and 10 partnership facilities including boat ramps, athletic facilities, playgrounds, picnic shelters, cabins and much more. Marion County parks provide numerous opportunities for families to enjoy the outdoors together with kayaking, overnight campouts, hikes and eco-tram tours.
Hiking, Biking & Paddling Trails
Marion County is home to some of the very best trails via land and water in Florida for equestrian, hiking, mountain biking, and paddling. Enthusiasts can choose from the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway, which spans the entire county, or paddling trails (Blueways) in the conservation areas. Discover and enjoy miles and miles of our world-famous trail systems.
Visitors to Silver River State Park enjoy miles of beautiful trails for both hiking and biking, allowing for opportunities to discover dozens of springs while appreciating the wide variety of wildlife. From canoeing to picnicking, to enjoying full-service camping, or renting a luxury cabin, there is something for everyone. The Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center is open to the public on weekends and holidays and gives park-goers yet another avenue of discovery. Don’t miss the unique pioneer cracker village!
Archaeological evidence shows that people have been enjoying Rainbow Springs for nearly 10,000 years. Rainbow Springs is Florida's fourth largest spring and from the 1930s through the 1970s, was the site of a popular, privately-owned attraction that featured an underwater boat and a leaf-shaped monorail. Remnants of these attractions along with a man-made waterfall can still be seen at the Rainbow River State Park, which is popular for swimming, snorkeling, canoeing, and kayaking. Canoes and kayaks can be rented at the headsprings. A picnic area at the spring includes tables, grills, and pavilions.
The Ocala National Forest
Nearly three-quarters of the Ocala National Forest is in Marion County. Established in 1908 as one of the first National Forests east of the Mississippi River, the Ocala National Forest protects many significant archaeological, historic, geological, and botanical wonders. Although it is centered on high, dry, central scrub ridges, the Ocala National Forest is rich in water resources with more than 600 lakes, rivers, and springs, including three first-magnitude springs. Each spring is surrounded by subtropical growth and has some of the finest and clearest water in the United States.
Visitors can swim, snorkel, and dive in these sparkling waters year-round or enjoy full-service or primitive camping while taking advantage of the opportunity to go horseback riding or hunting in designated areas. Fishing and boating in small, non-gasoline powered craft are allowed in select areas. Some trails in the Ocala National Forest are open to off-road vehicles and offer the best motorcycle/ATV areas in Florida.
Equestrians love Marion County’s riding trails. Surrounded by spectacular landscape and foliage, Marion County offers hundreds of miles of horseback riding trails for equestrians to enjoy on the Cross Florida Greenway and in the Ocala National Forest.
The Ocala National Forest offers many riding options with more than 100 miles of equestrian trails. The forest has two main trails, the 34-mile LAM Equestrian Trail and the Ocala One Hundred Mile Horse Trail. The 100-mile trail is divided into three sections, each marked with its own blazes to make navigation easier.
The Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway trail offers more than 100 miles of shared-use trails for horseback riders to explore. The Greenway's trails are accessible through the Florida Horse Park and features a very unique land bridge, giving riders the unique opportunity to cross over I-75 on horseback.
One can't come to Marion County without becoming aware immediately that this is the "Horse Capital of the World." The U.S. Department of Agriculture in early 1999, put its seal of approval on promotions using that label. The USDA's Census of Agriculture shows that Marion leads all U.S. counties in total number of horses and ponies in residence. As the home to nearly 500 farms, breeding and training facilities with over 54 different breeds represented and nearly 29,000 residents employed in the county's Thoroughbred industry alone, it is easy to see why so many equestrians flock to Marion County.
During the winter, Ocala hosts Horse Shows in the Sun (HITS) Winter Circuit Grand Prix, a three-month series of hunter/jumper events that draws horses and riders from around the world. HITS, Inc. produces three of the richest grand prix in the world with the Zoetis $1 Million Grand Prix in Saugerties, New York, the Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix in Thermal, California and the Great American $1 Million Grand Prix in Ocala, Florida – all forming the first-ever Triple Crown of Show Jumping.
The Florida Agriculture Center and Horse Park was created by the Florida Legislature in 1996 in recognition of Marion County’s leading role in the horse industry. Ideally situated on 500 acres in the heart of Central Florida, The Florida Horse Park offers international-level competition courses and an exciting schedule of world class events that draws top competitors and spectators from every horse sport discipline. With a calendar of local, national, and international events in nearly every equine discipline from dressage to polo, The Florida Horse Park is fast becoming one of the country’s top equestrian destinations.
The Southeastern Livestock Pavilion enjoys a reputation as Marion County's premier agricultural showplace. The Pavilion features a covered arena with the largest clear-span roof South of Atlanta, grandstand seating for over 4,200, an adjacent indoor air conditioned sales auditorium with theater style seating for 800, and 226 stalls with iron gates - all under one roof! The Pavilion plays host to numerous events throughout the year from rodeos to horse shows, trade shows, meetings, circuses and the Southeastern Youth Fair.
Each March, the Live Oak International Driving Event draws thousands of spectators to Live Oak Plantation for world class Driving and Show Jumping competitions. The Live Oak International is the industry standard for Combined Driving competition, welcoming leading drivers, trainers, coaches and owners from all over Europe and North America. They compete for National Championships and, regularly, placement on the U.S. Combined Driving Team. This growing competition draws over 7,500 attendees from around the globe.
Marion County has also become home to Equiventures Ocala Eventing Series. Equiventures holds four competitions each season with over 1200 competitors from around the world including Sweden, New Zealand, and England. The series offers three simultaneous phases of the competition going on at any one time: dressage, show jumping and cross country jumping.
If golf is your game, you won’t leave disappointed. Public, private and semi-private golf courses offer varied terrain from wooded or open, table flat or rolling hills. The City of Ocala operates two excellent public golf courses. From courses designed by the best in the golfing industry to thousands of yards to improve your swing, private and semi-private courses challenge the experienced golfer. Play on the same course that is home to the Ocala Open, and test your skill with the longest Par 5 in Florida – 662 yards! There are a number of golf driving ranges, and even miniature golf is available for the whole family to enjoy.
Opportunities for fishing, boating, swimming and other water sports abound in a region teeming with hundreds of fresh-water springs and lakes, as well as the Silver, Rainbow, Ocklawaha, and Withlacoochee Rivers. Canoeing and kayaking the Juniper Run at Juniper Springs is a fun-filled trip for the entire family. Charter companies provide boat sightseeing, fishing, bird watching, moonlight cruises, and more on the Ocklawaha and Silver River.
Bass anglers are hooked on Marion County because of popular fishing locations such as Orange Lake, Lake George, Lake Weir and the Withlacoochee River. The 560-acre Carney Island Park offers hiking, biking, swimming, picnicking and canoeing.
Silver Springs, the largest artesian spring system in the world (by water flow), attracts visitors to explore the 350-acre nature park and experience the beauty though the park’s world-famous Glass Bottom boats. Adjacent Wild Waters Water Park offers relief from the summer heat.
Marion County is fortunate to have several venues of special interests to those who appreciate the roar of the engine and the thrill for speed. The Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing and International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, honoring Don Garlits, father of drag racing, offers a unique collection of classic cars and automobile memorabilia.
Bubba Raceway Park began operations in 1952, making it the oldest track in the state of Florida. The 3/8 mile, D shaped, clay track has also been called Ocala Speedway, Zuber Speedway, Marion Speedway, and Lightning Speedway over the years. The Speedway features Late Model, Open Wheel Modified, Hobby Stock, Mini Stock, V-8 Thunderstock, and Gladiator racing classes in the visiting race series hosted throughout the year.
For those who like to get behind the wheel, Ocala Gran Prix offers complete kart and track rental providing everything you need for an exciting day of racing. Ocala Gran Prix also operates an on-site kart supply and service center. As a nationally recognized, full-service racing facility, they welcome you to bring your own kart to race seven days a week.
Motocross of Marion County, located in Reddick, is one of the finest motocross facilities in the Southeast. Riders appreciate the grass pits shaded by large oak trees, complete with a bike wash area. The main track is all clay, and its layout is both challenging and fun. The facility also boasts a separate vintage motocross track, which is a combination of clay and sand.