Surrounded by Gainesville, Crystal River and The Villages, Ocala may not be on your radar as a day trip destination. But this city located just over an hour from Orlando has so much to offer day trippers, from the sprawling Ocala National Forest to scenic clear springs, adrenaline-pumping zip lining and romantic horseback trail rides (did you know Ocala is the Horse Capital of the World?). Hop in the car and explore with our list of ideas for a memorable date day trip.
Go zip lining
Ocala is home to one of Central Florida’s coolest zip lining experiences. You’ll hardly know you’re in Florida as you zip across canyons and cliffs over scenic lakes at The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park. The park features 9 zip lines, including one whopping 1,100-foot zip line across a lake, plus rappelling and sky bridges. Choose your level of adventure from the Big Cliff Canyon (9 zip lines, 2 sky bridges and rappel), Treetop Express (5 zip lines and 2 sky bridges), Sky High (3 zip lines) or the nighttime full moon version of the Treetop Express tour.
Besides adventurous zip lining amongst amazing scenery, the park also offers kayaking, plus land-based activities like horseback riding (more on that later!) and wine and chocolate tours. Plan to spend several hours here depending on your chosen activity.
Embark on a glass bottom boat tour
The crystal clear waters of Silver Springs State Park are best enjoyed on the park’s signature glass bottom boat tour. Options include a 30-minute tour ($11/person) or the extended 90-minute tour ($25/person). The latter requires advance reservations and is only available on weekends, so plan accordingly. Park admission is $2/person. Continue your state park adventure on a hike or keep exploring the waterways with a kayak, canoe, or paddleboard rental.
Feel the beat at the Ocala Drum Circle
Need another reason to visit Silver Springs State Park? Besides the scenery, this beautiful park boasts a monthly live music event you won’t want to miss. Visit on the 4th Friday of each month for River Rhythms, a live music event from 4pm-sundown. The highlight is a live drum circle and audience participation is encouraged, so go ahead and sing or dance to your heart’s content. River Rhythms is included with your state park admission. Check the park’s event calendar for details.
Stroll the Historic Downtown
My personal favorite day trip destinations tend to have one thing in common: charming historic downtown areas. Ocala fits the bill with its walkable downtown district oozing with cute wine bars, boutiques, eateries, and fun events like a First Friday art walk and a weekend market on Saturdays. Park the car and go for an aimless stroll to see what you can find along the way!
While you’re here, grab a bite and imbibe at a local eatery or winebar. Highlights include Ivy on the Square (touted as one of Ocala’s best!), Pi on Broadway (rooftop pizza? Yes please.) and La Cuisine French. For sips, stop into The Corkscrew Winery or Katya Vineyards.
Sip a local brew
Get a taste of the local beer scene by stopping into one (or more) of Ocala’s local breweries, each with their own charms. Newer additions like Hiatus Brewing Company (located just outside of the historic downtown) and Big Hammock Brewery & Bites (their beers will be on tap soon) boast impressive and creative food menus. Infinite Ale Works is a longstanding favorite with live music Friday and Saturday nights and beer specials throughout the week. Take your pick of 34 beers on tap, many of them in-house brews, including a nice selection of sours and seven core brews available year round.
Paddle in a canoe or kayak
Scenic waterways and springs are some of Ocala’s prized jewels. Nature lovers will want to make plans to rent a canoe or kayak, unplug, and revel in the stunning scenery for a while. You can rent a clear-bottom tandem kayak ($30/1 hour or $40/2 hours) and paddle along the Fort King Waterway and Silver River at Silver Springs State Park.
For a more secluded adventure, check out Florida Rambler’s awesome recommendations for canoeing and kayaking around Ocala. Within the Ocala National Forest, experienced paddlers can rent a canoe or tandem kayak to explore the curvy, narrow, beautiful Juniper Run. Plan for a shaded (yet more challenging) 7-mile journey, which includes a shuttle to take you back to your car. Alternatively, check out Alexander Springs where you can rent a canoe for a leisurely paddle out and back. Read the post for more options near Ocala, and find even more ideas and rental options here.
Are you more of a land lover? Find info on day hikes within Ocala National Forest here.
Check out Fort King
Listed as a National Historic Landmark, Fort King is an ideal stop for history lovers. The fort, originally built in 1827, was subsequently burned down. A new fort was erected in 1836 and used throughout the Second Seminole War. Today, you can visit to explore the fort and interpretive trail as well as the Visitor Center, which includes detailed historical facts and artifacts. Save the date for October when the trail transforms into a haunted attraction around Halloween. There’s also an annual reenactment event, A Fight For Freedom: Attack on Fort King, in December. Park admission is free.
Go horseback riding or snuggle up in a romantic carriage
How does a sunset horseback ride culminating in fireside s’mores sound? Or perhaps you’d prefer to snuggle up in a horse-drawn carriage? Ocala/Marion County is known as the “Horse Capital of the World,” thanks to the large horse population and history of award-winning racehorses.
For something uber romantic, book a fireside horseback tour at The Canyons. Enjoy a sunset ride to a lake, where you’ll gather around the fire for wine, chocolate, or s’mores. Advance registration by phone (352-351-9477) is required. The park also offers regular daytime trail rides.
Another option is to book a horse-drawn carriage ride. Horse Country Carriage Co & Tours offers 1.5-hour tours that will take you past some of Ocala’s many horse farms while your guide, Kimie, shares interesting facts about the area’s equine history. Tours are available by reservation only; call 352-727-0900 to book.
Want to make it an overnight?
Disclosure: The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park is one of our valued advertising partners.
Feature image credit: The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park