I lived in Gainesville, FL for four years while attending the University of Florida. It’s just 45 minutes North of Ocala and do you know I never visited. Throughout those years I swore there was nothing to do in Ocala and living in Miami, never saw a reason to drive there. However, on our last visit to Orlando we decided to add it to the end of our trip. Only an hour from Orlando, I’m so glad we did as we discovered Ocala is a hidden gem in Florida. We were very surprised by all the things to do in Ocala, Florida and know you will enjoy them too!
Things to Do in Ocala, Florida: Visit Ocala National Forest
The Ocala National Forest is beautiful with so many aspects to it. One of the best ways to explore it is by ATV or UTV. So we did exactly that on a tour with ATV Off Road Adventures, who offers 1, 2 and 3 hours tours everyday. On the weekend they have longer tours ranging from 4-8 hours. The longer tours allow for swimming time at the various springs in the National Forest. We visited during the week and opted for the two hour tour.
Since we were traveling with kids (5 and 6 years old) we did the tour on the UTVs. They allow kids of any age on this vehicle as long as they are at least 42” tall. In the forest bobcats, cougars, bears and more can be seen. While we didn’t spot any our tour guide saw a bear the week before our tour. At the reservoir you can often see alligators in the water and we did see those. P.S. their website states that they take all major credit cards but they didn’t accept my American Express card so plan accordingly.
Explore the Springs
Florida has over 700 springs and some would say Ocala has the best one, Silver Springs State Park. While in Ocala we visit Silver Springs, Juniper and Silver Glen Springs but there are many others. The springs are 72 degrees year round and while that sounds cold it’s quite refreshing and you get used to it quickly. Besides Silver Springs, which doesn’t allow swimming, the others have amazing opportunities for swimming, snorkeling and some even diving.
Juniper Springs is inside Ocala National Forest and if you do a shorter ATV/UTV tour like we did it’s a great place to visit on your way out of the National Forest. This spring offers swimming, canoe and kayak rentals, hiking trails and campsites. The canoe run here is actually one of the top 25 in America so it’s highly recommended to canoe/kayak here.
Silver Glen Springs
Silver Glen is also inside of Ocala National Forest and only 15 minutes from Juniper Springs so it is very easy to visit both. Here you can go swimming, snorkeling, rent a kayak and/or canoe and camp.
Right in front of the spring is a huge picnic area with lots of tables, grills, and a volleyball net. There is plenty of land space for kids to run around and play. We brought our own tubes to wade in the water with and lots of others did the same.
If you want to dive in a spring while in Ocala, Alexander Springs is the place to do it. There is a small cavern and deemed safe for divers of all levels as it’s a shallow (25ft deep), shore accessible dive but you do have to be certified to dive here. If you aren’t a diver you can still enjoy this spring as swimming, snorkeling, canoeing and kayaking are also available.
Silver Springs State Park
Silver Springs is by far the most visited thing to do in Ocala but unlike the others you can’t swim here. Still there are lots of ways to enjoy the water, one being their infamous glass bottom boat tour. Since we visited at the beginning of 2021 we decided not to do the boat tour as we didn’t want to be around other people in an enclosed space. Instead we rented a canoe (kayak and SUP rents also available) and explored that way.
While on the canoe we saw lots of turtles swimming in the springs, colorful fish, and a gator. There are lots of alligators in this spring but there has never been an attack on humans and with thousands visiting daily they’re used to humans and as we aren’t a natural food source for them, they leave people alone. Silver Springs is where one of the Tarzan movies was filmed so you can also see monkeys in the trees here as they left them when they finished filming. If you don’t want to explore the springs by water there are lots of trails here that will allow you to see the beauty of the park.
Watch a Movie at the Ocala Drive-In
Watching a movie at the Drive-In is such a nostalgic experience for me and if you’re visiting in this world’s strange time like we did it’s a great way to catch a movie on the big screen without going to an indoor theater. The Ocala Drive-In is dirt cheap at $6 for adults $3 for kids 6-12 and free for kids 5 and under, especially as this fee allows you to watch two movies in one night.
You can watch the movie in your car, in the trunk like we did or bring lawn chairs and put them in the additional space in your car area as long as you don’t take up the next cars space.
Things to Do in Ocala, Florida: Go Horseback Riding
Since Ocala is known as the Horse Capital of the World, not only do you have to go horseback riding here, you’ll have endless options on where to go. However, if you’re looking for a unique experience and not your typical, just get on the horse and go, definitely visit Diamond Oak Farms, it was one of our favorite things to do in Ocala.
Diamond Oak Farms allows kids as young as 2 years old to participate in their program and when you meet Jennifer, you’ll understand why as she is amazing with kids. To start my daughters lesson she taught them about the horses they’d be riding. She even had them groom them and teaching them the importance of taking care of the horses.
After this they were able to walk their horses to the lesson area where they then mounted them and got to ride. It was my five year olds first time riding and Jennifer made her feel so comfortable and we were all impressed by how much she learned in this first lesson. They do offer strictly trail rides as well but if you’re new to riding or have younger kids the lessons are gold and you still get lots of riding time!
Enjoy The Canyons Zip Line & Canopy Tours
We’ve zip-lined in Costa Rica, Jamaica, Pigeon Forge, and Orlando and have taken our kids as young as 2. If you’re like our family and live for thrills you will enjoy The Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours. Home to the highest, longest and fastest zip-lines in Florida Canyons Zip Line will not disappoint. Offering four zip-line tours, 3 zip, 5 zip, 9 zip and a full moon night tour you have lots of options.
Besides being high in the sky the park offers kayaking, horseback riding and a wine and chocolate tour. You could really spend an entire day here!
Visit the Museum of Drag Racing
Even if you aren’t actually into drag racing the Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala, Florida is a cool experience. Since it’s been open since 1976 they have just about 300 cars in their two buildings and they are pretty cool. Just walking around seeing the vastly different type of cars was fun to me and I’ve never watched a drag race in my life.
Where to Stay in Ocala, Florida
My family has a thing for staying in unique accommodations and Ocala did not disappoint with the options available. We spent unforgettable nights at Enchanted Oaks Farms, sleeping in a different tiny home each night so we could experience most of the offerings. Each tiny home sleeps two so as a family of four we rented two places each night sleeping two and two and with low prices it was still a very affordable option.
The Treehouse and Lakehouse at Enchanted Oaks Farm
For our first night we slept in the treehouse, literally a childhood dream come true and the lakehouse. Neither of these accommodations have A/C like the rest of the tiny homes but since our visit was in April when the days are very comfortable for Florida and the nights are cool it was just fine. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them in the summer heat but for winter and early spring they are amazing options. They do however have electricity so you can charge your phone!
The Treehouse has a beautiful front porch and the area of the farm it’s on is secluded from the rest so there is lots of privacy (and a toilet right next to it) with plenty of space to run around. At the base of the tree is a fire pit with a table and two chairs. The Lakehouse as its name gives away is on the lake and also away from the other tiny homes on the farm. The door frame does come down so you can sleep with it closed and there is also a net to keep the bugs out. Be aware though being on the lake there are frogs around so if you’re terrified of those one of the other options might be better for you.
While the photo here shows walking space on all sides of the Lakehouse, this isn’t always the case and when it’s been raining a lot the lake rises and the cabin is literally sitting on top of the water with water on all sides. Below is a photo from their website showing you what I mean.
Hobbit House and Tiny Cabins at Enchanted Oaks Farm
On our second night we slept in the hobbit house and tiny cabin #1 on the farm. These two are all close together and right next to the main restrooms and showers as only the farmhouse has a private bathroom. My daughters fell in love with the hobbit house. It is so unique and the window inside opens up to the area the zebra and kangaroo are roaming around. It also has a fire pit in front of it and has both electricity and AC/Heat.
Tiny Cabin #1 is located right next to the other two tiny cabins and similar to the Lake Cabin just not on the lake. It also has AC/Heat, electricity and a fire pit with two chairs and table in front. Each of the three tiny cabins are decorated differently so while ours was pink the other two were blue and green.
The Camper/RV at Enchanted Oaks Farm
If you’ve been reading our blog for a while you know we love RVing! We’ve taken a southwest road trip, Nevada road trip, and Southern California road trip all in an RV. If you’re not ready for a full on RV trip where you’re driving around consider staying in the camper/RV here since it’s stationary but you still get to test out the experience. Afterwards if you’re ready to hit the road in an RV read our tips for first time RVers and what it’s like vacationing in an RV to prepare yourself!
All of our family photos at Enchanted Oaks Farm were captured by photographer Rachel Laxton. I highly recommend booking her if you’re looking for beautiful pictures of you or your family while in Ocala.
There are lots of amazing things to do in Ocala, Florida and I’m sad it took me so long to discover it when I spent so many years just 45 minutes away. Hopefully this article shows you it is a great place to visit and can easily be a 2-3 day addition to a longer trip to Orlando or Tampa as both airports are where you’d need to fly into anyway. If you’re looking for other lesser known areas in Florida, check out my blog post on Fort White, FL here. Please share this article is you found it helpful!