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Oh, Ocala!


Ocala, once considered a dusty Central Florida cow town, is an adventurer’s paradise with rolling hills, horse farms, the Ocala National Forest and one of Florida’s oldest tourist attractions, Silver Springs State Park. It may not fit with your idea of a typical Florida vacation spot lined with beaches and palm trees, but Ocala will pleasantly surprise you when visiting this charming destination packed with natural beauty and fun.

Silver Springs State Park

Northwest of Orlando and south of Gainesville, Ocala is surrounded by acres and acres of fenced-lined horse pastures. Known as the “horse capital of the world,” more than 700 horse farms dot the Marion County landscape ranging from small two-acre farms to the largest spread of 4,500 acres. This area is also home to the Ocala National Forest, the second largest national forest in the U.S. with hiking, biking, kayaking, crystal clear springs, lakes and rivers. Not far from the horse farms and the pine forests you’ll also find one of Florida’s oldest tourist attractions, Silver Springs State Park. These amenities along with easy access and reasonably priced accommodations and restaurants, make Ocala an ideal getaway.

Launch your visit with a nostalgic tour of “old Florida” by cruising in a vintage glass bottom boat at the Silver Springs State Park. The boat captain touts the history and ecological features as visitors peer down at the bubbly springs and wonders below. Fish and turtles glide through the sea grass while an occasional alligator, or manatee, swims below.

Originally settled by Native Americans, the area has been excavated by archeologists who discovered artifacts – some dating back to 10,000 B.C., and others spanning history to the opening of the tourist attraction in the 1820s, when paddlewheel steamboats brought tourists to the park. Giant overhanging oak trees draped in moss, tall cypress trees and park gardens line the river that once created a perfect backdrop for old Hollywood films such as Tarzan and Creature from the Black Lagoon.

By Robin Draper, AuthenticFlorida, excerpt posted on SouthFloridaReporter.com, Feb. 11, 2017 

Originally published Jan. 30, 2016