Attractions & Other Information
Marion County has the same land area as the entire state of Rhode Island. For people who enjoy the outdoors, there are places to go and things to do all year round. Silver Springs is the largest artesian spring system (by flow) in the world and Florida’s first tourist attraction. It contains evidence of prehistoric animals goes back more than a million years and evidence of man in the area more than 10,000 years ago. For more than a century the springs have been a tourist attraction with early visitors arriving by steamboat.
Throughout the year more than 250 civic clubs and organizations promote festivals celebrating the cultural variety of Marion County. Major annual events include: “God and Country Day”; the Chamber of Commerce’s Christmas Parade; Ocali-Fest; Light-Up Ocala; Brick City Days commemorating the city’s rebirth in red brick following a devastating fire; the McIntosh 1890 Festival; Boomtown Days in Dunnellon; Belleview Founder’s Day and a number of smaller festivals and events. The importance of agriculture is recognized through other events such as the Southeastern Youth Fair; Florida Equestrian Classic; the Shriners’ Rodeo, the Professional Pro Rodeo and many breed-specific horse shows annually.
Golfers may choose from 15 public, private and semi-private Marion County golf courses. One of the courses open to the public is Golden Ocala Golf & Country Club on US Highway 27, just west of I-75. What makes this course talked about in golfing circles are the eight special holes that have been designed to duplicate famous holes from Scotland’s St. Andrews course, and the Masters Course in Augusta, Georgia.
Events such as rodeos, horse shows, the Southeastern Youth Fair, are held at either the newly remodeled and roofed Southeastern Livestock Pavilion which offers covered seating for 4,200 and an indoor arena, multi-purpose reception hall and 226 stalls; or the Ocala Equestrian Complex, across from the airport, which has a covered arena and seating for events.
For those interested in motorsports the Ocala Speedway, just north of Ocala, has racing every Saturday night. The Motorcross of Marion County is in Reddick; and the Hardrock Cycle Park on NW Gainesville Road, offers mountain bike trails, motocross tracks, and even camping.
The Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing and International Drag Racing Hall of Fame, honoring the famous “Big Daddy” Don Garlits, contains a unique collection of classic cars and automobile memorabilia. Over 75 race cars and memorabilia from the early days of drag racing to the present are on display.
Nearly three-quarters of the Ocala National Forest is in Marion County. The Forest offers 383,000 acres of unique ecological sites, trails, natural springs. Hundreds of camping sites throughout the forest offer everything from full-service campgrounds to more rustic sites. The National Forest also has trails for horseback riding and is part of the Florida National Scenic Trail. Parks include Salt Springs and Salt Springs Trail, Fore Lake Recreational Area, Juniper Springs, Silver Glen Springs, and the Mill Dam Recreation Area. Fore Lake Recreation Area is a day use and camping area that is open year-round. A 250-foot sandy beach is adjacent to the 77-acre Fore Lake. Opportunities for fishing, boating, swimming and other water sports abound in a region covered by hundreds of fresh-water springs, lakes and the Silver, Rainbow, Ocklawaha, and Withlacoochee Rivers. Canoeing and kayaking the Juniper Run at Juniper Springs is a fun-filled trip for the entire family, with getting back made easy since the boats and their passengers are ferried back to their cars in the parking lot at the end of their day. The pure, clean waters of springs and spring-fed lakes and rivers are a dream come true for folks enjoying snorkeling and diving.
Just outside of Ocklawaha on Lake Weir is the 560 acre Carney Island Park which offers hiking, biking, swimming, picnicking and canoeing. Area lakes such as Orange, Jumper, George, Lake Weir and the Withlacoochee River are unequaled for bass fishing which is just one of the more than 100 species of fish to be found in the region’s waterways.
Marion County’s KP Hole Park, located on the Rainbow River in Dunnellon, has a sandy beach, a protected swimming area and picnic tables, as well as the rental of tubes, canoes and a public boat ramp. The length of the tubing trip may take up to four and one-half hours. The Rainbow River is only 5.8 miles long, and the main springs are one and one-half mile upriver from the KP Hole. The average water temperature is 72 to 74 degrees.