Hike or Bike Your Way Through Beautiful Ocala/Marion County
Among the many things that make Ocala/Marion County a unique destination in the Sunshine State, one stands out for hiking and biking enthusiasts: the rolling hills that make up our terrain, something you won’t find in most of table-flat Florida. These undulations make for more interesting and challenging walks and rides — especially when you’re traversing the vast Ocala National Forest or one of several picturesque state parks situated throughout our destination. Simply put, Ocala/Marion County is the perfect destination for hiking and biking — year round, under sunny skies, and on a vast, well-planned trail system that’s both beautiful and safe.
What’s your idea of a good hike? An invigorating but unhurried walk around a scenic, one-mile loop? Or a long trek with a backpack, water bottles, and energy bars? You’ll be glad to know that either of those approaches — and pretty much everything in between — is readily accessible in Ocala/Marion County.
What’s your favorite kind of bike ride? A few casual miles on a rented bicycle through paved trails? Or a rugged off-road ride over unpaved trails that are color-coded for difficulty? Again, those options and everything in between are yours to choose from in our destination.
The fact is, nearly all of Ocala/Marion County offers great hiking and biking opportunities, and many of them are near the natural, fresh-water springs that are so prevalent in our destination. Feel free to interrupt your hike or ride for a quick dip in crystal-clear 72-degree water on a toasty day.
Ocala National Forest
The 600-square-mile Ocala National Forest is where you’ll find the most wilderness. You’re permitted to hike just about anywhere in the forest — not just on trails (although we do urge you to use caution and carry a compass if you choose to go off-trail). An incredible 60 miles of the Florida Scenic Trail wind through the forest. Salt Springs, Juniper Creek and Silver Glen Springs all have several, multi-pronged trails, as well.
Speaking of springs, they’re all over our destination. Across the county from the forest, on the far western side in Dunnellon, you’ll find breathtaking Rainbow Springs State Park. There you’ll discover the Sandhill Nature Trail — one loop takes you to an overlook of the spring-fed Rainbow River, another guides you deeper into the woods. That’s where you’ll come across the remains of what was once the town of Juliette, which faded away as the phosphate mining boom went bust in the early 1920s. If at all possible, make time to have a swim at the headsprings. It’s sublime. (Fun fact: North of Rainbow Springs, there is still a related township in the area called Romeo).
Silver Springs, just outside of Ocala, has two highlighted trails, one of which is part of a watershed conservation area with half-mile and 1.6-mile tracks. At the main entrance, two trails offer both short (quarter-mile) and long (2.3-mile) paths, the latter of which goes by sand hills. You may want to divert from your excursion and take a leisurely ride on one of the park’s World Famous Glass Bottom Boats — a classic Florida attraction that still has the power to amaze you.
Cross Florida Greenway and Lake Weir
In the southern part of the county, the Cross Florida Greenway runs 15.3 miles, westward from Belleview. Lined with wildflowers and ample trees for shade, this versatile byway is primarily used for walking, running, nature trips and road biking. Also to the south, you’ll find a slice of old Florida at Carney Island Conservation Area, which is actually a 700-acre peninsula on the Lake Weir waterfront. Hiking and biking abounds, with the most popular trail being a 3.4-mile chain of loops — Fern Gully, Quail and Fox Trot — that lead to Lemon Point and its sandy beach on the lake. Hikers have called Carney Island “naturally air-conditioned” for the volume of shade cast by its giant live oaks.
World renowned Santos Mountain Bike Trails
Finally, here’s one for cycling adventurers. The Santos Mountain Bike Trails (also situated along the Cross Florida Greenway) have been coined an “epic ride” and named a prestigious Bronze-level Ride Center by the International Mountain Bicycling Association — one of only six designated Ride Centers in the U.S.! The Santos system consists of more than 40 miles of unpaved trails and offers challenges for all skill levels, color-coded for difficulty. Connector trails have fun names like Bunny, Cow Bone and Dr. Ruth.
That’s just a sampling of the remarkable — and natural — places to hike and bike in Ocala/Marion County. You could literally trek here for weeks and hardly cover it all.
For a closer look at all the adventure that awaits you in Ocala/Marion County, check out our Self-Guided Hiking and Biking Trails. You’ll find a map and detailed information on 24 trails, including length, surface types (paved or not), amenities (e.g. boardwalks, concessions), hours of operation, exact location coordinates and whether the trail is available for hiking, biking or both.