Five Great Natural Escapes Near Ocala

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There's not a shortage of places to explore near Ocala. Multi-day hikes on the Florida National Scenic Trail, fantastic off-road biking and scenic paddle trips are all close by. Ocala is horse country, so it's a given there are terrific equestrian trails and camping here, too. These five places will keep you busy, no matter what outdoor activity you're after:

Halpata Tastanaki Preserve - This is a place you might not be familiar with, but you should be. Located east of Ocala, this is a great place for birding, hiking, biking, and horseback riding. It's a historically significant property as well - it's named after a Seminole leader, also known as Chief Alligator, who took part in the largest battle in the Second Seminole Indian War in 1836. Access the preserve on SR 200, or at the Pruitt Trailhead on CR 484 in Dunnellon. 

Juniper Springs Recreation Area - Never been to Juniper Springs? While it's most popular during the summer months when folks are looking to beat the summer heat, it's a great place to visit all year long. Set up camp and spend time hiking the Florida National Scenic Trail or paddling scenic Juniper Run, which is one of the best kayak trips in the state. Keep your eyes peeled for the endangered Florida Scrub-jay, too. 

Silver River State Park - Another great do-it-all location, Silver River State Park offers excellent full-facility camping (the cabins rock, by the way), equestrian trails, group camping facilities, hiking - you name it. If you haven't paddled the Silver River, make sure to add it to your list. It's simply awesome.

Cross Florida Greenway - Santos Trailhead - Most famous for some of Florida's best mountain biking, Santos is also a major trailhead for hikers and horseback riders. Stay a few days in the campground and hike, bike or ride horses for days on end. 

Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area - Bring your binoculars and scopes to Ocklawaha Prairie - the wildlife viewing is great here. An observation tower is less than a mile from the parking area, and offers a good vantage point for birders. Several trails are available for hiking, biking, or horseback riding trips up to ten miles - perfect for a day trip.

Those are just a few of the cool spots near Ocala. Check out www.visitflorida.com/trails to find more places to explore.

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