Some of Florida's best springs, mountain biking, and horseback riding await in Ocala.
For a nature getaway from Gainesville or Orlando, Ocala can't be beat. Known as "the horse capital of the world," it’s a popular spot for equestrian adventure camping. But it’s also close to major natural wonders of subtropical Central Florida: crystal-clear spring waters, forests of pine and palms, cypress swamps with gators, and an incredible diversity of local and migratory birds on the Atlantic Flyway. Ocala-area waterways like Silver Springs State Park and Crystal River put campers up close with manatees, while mountain biking and hiking trails through Ocala’s hilly terrain are a welcome change from Southern Florida’s flatlands. Ocala is also an RV camping hot spot for big rigs, with many RV sites offering full hookups, restrooms, clubhouses, and wifi.
Numerous ranches offering horseback riding and beginner lessons dot Ocala and the surrounding area. But if you prefer a two-wheeled steed, Ocala has incredible Sunshine State mountain biking at Santos Trails and along the Cross Florida Greenway. Local bike rental shops can equip you to explore these forest trail systems.
Just six miles east of downtown Ocala lies Silver Springs State Park, one of Florida's best-known springs. Here, translucent, turquoise water bubbles up from underground limestone aquifers to form the Silver River. Campers can travel these waters by kayak or glass-bottom boat to see manatees, freshwater fish, and alligators, but don’t forget to look up for a chance to spot wild rhesus macaque monkeys in the trees. Opt for a tent site or a cabin within the park to be set near trailheads.
A 7-mile river west of Ocala, Crystal River is fed by water from 30 different springs. At the head of the river in certain Kings Bay areas, you can swim with the manatees—hit the town of Crystal River for snorkeling and kayaking outfitters.
Ocala National Forest is one of the great protected swaths of wild forest in Florida, containing numerous lakes, springs, and hiking trails winding through sand pine scrub. Kayaking and canoeing tours and the Florida Trail are popular ways to explore, while public campsites in Juniper Springs Recreation Area and Salt Springs Recreation Area are solid options for spending the night.
Although Ocala is a year-round camping destination, winters are more pleasant than summers—they’re less hot, less humid, and less rainy. The tradeoff is that Ocala and its popular attractions can be more crowded during this time. Summer is doable, but high heat and humidity mean you may be more comfortable in an RV park, a cabin with air conditioning, or at a campground with a swimming pool.