Area Adventures

You don’t have to leave Ocala/Marion County to find exciting things to do.

David Stevens, courtesy of Ryan Woodall

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “adventure” as an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks, the encountering of risks (a spirit of adventure), an exciting or remarkable experience or an enterprise involving financial risk. 

Ryan and Darla Woodall, courtesy of Ryan Woodall

Someone who is “adventurous” is said to be disposed to coping with the new and unknown (exploring), is innovative (artistic style) and is characterized by unknown dangers and risks (undertakes an adventurous journey).

It’s fun to be adventurous sometimes, like on January 1st, 2022, when I did a tandem sky dive with Central Florida Skydiving, based out of the Marion County Airport near Dunnellon. Once my initial screaming subsided, I had a wonderful “float” with Donnie Hickey, the drop zone owner and a veteran sky diver. You can find the article and photos at

If that’s not your cup of adventure, there are many other things to do in Ocala and Marion County that might be thrilling, chilling or just plain fun. One of the current hot trends, according to a tip we received from our longtime contributing photographer John Jernigan, an avid outdoor hiking, biking and running enthusiast, is gravel biking in the Ocala National Forest. 

Gravel biking, according to, “has a broad definition—generally, any terrain between the steep, rocky inclines of mountain biking, and the smooth asphalt of road biking. In practice, it translates to gorgeous scenery, pleasantly challenging conditions, and no cars. Combined with advances in bike technology, gravel’s decades-long explosion of popularity makes sense. One person might imagine quiet, slightly crunchy roads. Another may see challenging, steep, cratered-out, boulder-pocked trails.”

Photo by Dave Miller

There is even a Florida Gravel Biking club that you can find online and through social media. 

Locally, according to Jernigan, the guy who knows the most about adventure biking is Ryan Woodall, the local owner of Top Gear Bicycles. Woodall has won many state, regional and national level awards, most recently the 2023 Elite Men’s Florida State Cross Country Mountain Bike Championship. We did a quick Q&A with him to hear what he has to say about this trend.

What is “gravel” Biking?

On the surface, gravel cycling looks so much like traditional road cycling on gravel roads, but there truly is more to it. “Gravel” is one of the easiest genres of cycling to participate in. Being largely separated from vehicle traffic, gravel cycling is safer than road cycling. Requiring less technique than mountain biking, gravel cycling offers a more comfortable “off road” experience to newcomers. The common denominator between all gravel cyclists is the sense of adventure.

Where did it start?

Although cyclists have long enjoyed riding on gravel roads, gravel cycling as a sport didn’t really come around until the mid-2000’s, with its roots in the midwestern states. By 2018, most bicycle brands were offering gravel bikes and the new American cycling sensation was “gravel.”

Who is doing it locally?

There are a lot of people out there riding, but mostly still in very small groups. I enjoy gravel riding very much. I love the sense of exploration, whether I’m 2 miles from my house on a single lane dirt road or in the middle of the forest on a 100-mile adventure ride.

Do you need special permission?

Photo courtesy The Canyons Zipline and Adventure Park

The Ocala National Forest is open for you to explore. No special permission or permitting is required to enjoy the gravel roads of the ONF, but carrying your ID with you is always recommended in case of an emergency.

Are there other gravel Biking hotspots?

The Ocala National Forest is a great place to explore, but there are a few other preserves to check out as well. Silver Springs Forest Conservation Area, Halpata Tastanaki Nature Preserve and Ocklawaha Prairie Restoration Area are some of my favorites. I love riding my gravel bike somewhere I haven’t been before.

What are other adventurous things to do in Marion County?

When my schedule allows, I really enjoy freshwater fishing, so I would say grab a fishing pole and head to the nearest body of water. There are several places to fish in Marion County that don’t require a boat. If you done so haven’t yet, you should kayak the crystal-clear waters of the Silver River or the Rainbow River.

Here are a few other adventurous options locally, both low-key and scream-worthy:

Santos Trailhead & Campground (and more)

Santos includes more than 80 miles of bike trails for beginners and expert-level trails that will challenge seasoned riders. Rated as one of the best mountain bike venues in the U.S. and even internationally, the trails are maintained through a partnership with the volunteer-based Ocala Mountain Bike Association. Numerous wooden features and the Vortex Freeride area located in a former lime rock quarry provide extreme terrain. The trailhead and campground are just west off U.S. Highway 441 on Southeast 80th Street between Ocala and Belleview.

The Santos Trailhead also offers access to the Cross Florida Greenway’s equestrian trail network, with more than 60 miles of horse trails and wagon/carriage opportunities. The Florida National Scenic Trail for hiking runs west to Dunnellon from Santos for approximately 24 miles and east for over 10 miles before entering the Ocala National Forest.

Photo by Dave Miller

Central Florida Skydiving

The team here is focused on safety first. You can do a tandem jump like I did, where you experience the thrill of freefall (the part where you scream like a banshee) and the breath-taking beauty of canopy flight. Like Donnie Hickey, the drop zone owner says, “Your bucket list is my weekend.” They also offer training to become an “A” licensed skydiver and even night jumps for USPA “B” license holders and above.

Susan Smiley-Height and Donnie Hickey, photo courtesy Central Florida Skydiving

The Canyons Zip Line and Adventure Park

The offerings here range from a package that offers nine zip lines through Big Cliff Canyon, zips up to 1,100 feet long, two sky bridges and a rappel, to less involved options. I’ve done the nine-line and it’s a hoot (literally, as you will become vocal at various points). There are even some nighttime zip opportunities. You also can go horseback riding, mine for gems and kayak on Lost Spring Lake.

Ashley Lee leads a ride at Cactus Jack’s, photo by Bruce Ackerman

Trail Rides on HorseBack

This is the Horse Capital of the World, so horseback riding has be on the list of adventurous outings in these parts. Mention horseback riding to just about anyone locally and the first name to pop up will most likely be Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides. This is the designated State of Florida horseback riding provider for the Cross Florida Greenway at the Land Bridge Trailhead. Guided rides are available for those older than age 6, for individuals, families and groups.

Photo by Dave Miller


Kayaking may seem like a serene pursuit, until you encounter a huge alligator or a Rhesus monkey that scowls at you from nearby treetops. I have kayaked the Silver River and Rainbow River, and both showcase native Florida at its very best. The Silver River, which merges into the Ocklawaha River, offers numerous sightings of wildlife, including gators and monkeys (most of the time) and even manatees (sometimes). The Rainbow River, which merges with the Withlacoochee near downtown Dunnellon, is a gorgeous slow-moving waterway that tantalizes with its clear views of fish, turtles and river otters. This also is a very popular river for stand-up paddleboarding. There are also beautifully scenic paddles to be found at the Juniper, Silver Glen and Salt Springs parks in the Ocala National Forest. OS

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