Florida Horse Country Getaways

If you are drawn by the allure of Horse Country, but don’t count yourself among Ocala’s thoroughbred owners, head to Young’s Paso Fino Ranch at 8075 W. County Road 326. The ranch is perfect for people who don’t know the difference between a saddle and a spur.

Trail rides run about $35; tours and demonstrations also are available. (352) 867-5305).

Other spots to ride include:

• JNB Horse Haven Farm on C.R. 42, near the intersection with C.R. 452, between Weirsdale and Aftoona. (352) T53-4756.

• New England Shire Centre, 4877 S.W.134th Terrace, Ocala. Farm tours available.

• North Star Acres, 9950 S.E.125th Court, Dunnellon. (352) 489-9848. If you prefer to leave the reins in experienced hands, check out the Florida Carriage Museum and Resort in Weirsdale, south of Ocala.

Take a carriage ride or explore 150 historic European and American carriages, including one owned by Franz Joseph, and a horse-drawn fire engine (www.fcmr.org)

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Cool Off in Florida’s Natural Spring Waters

There’s nothing more invigorating than a dip in a cool, blue spring on a sultry summer day. And there’s no shortage of springs in north Florida, which has one of the highest concentrations of first-magnitude freshwater springs in the world. Why not combine a trip to one of Florida’s natural springs with your stay in a Florida Hostel.

IchetuCknee Springs, just north of Fort White in Columbia County, is always a winner. Information: (386) 497-4690; www.floridastateparks.org/ichetuckneesprings/. But if you don’t like crowds or want to try something new, check out these hidden gems:

In the depths of Troy Springs just outside of Branford, you will find the remains of the Civil War-era steamboat Madison, which was scuttled in the spring run in 1863 to keep it from being captured. Swim, snorkel or scuba dive in the crystalline blue, 70-foot-deep spring waters, or paddle a canoe or kayak across the spring mouth to get a glimpse of the wreckage. The park has picnic tables, restrooms, a walkway and a riverside dock for canoeists and boaters on the Suwannee River. Located off County Road 425, 1.3 miles north of U.S. Highway 27. 674 N.E. Troy Springs Road, Branford. Information: (386) 935-4835, www.floridastateparks.org/troyspring.

Hart Springs outside of Bell in Gilchrist County is one of the largest spring-fed swimming areas in the state. The county-owned park features a half-mile boardwalk through the pristine cypress hammock, a volleyball court, boat rentals, RV and tent camping, covered picnic areas, and two air-conditioned pavilions for family gatherings. 4240 S.W. 86th Ave., Bell. Information: (352) 463-3444, www.hartsprings.com

Juniper Springs, with its clear blue waters and generous swimming area, is one of the hidden gems of the Ocala National Forest. Visitors can camp, swim and canoe at the site, which also offers canoe rentals, restrooms, concessions, a visitor center, museum, picnic facilities and showers. Juniper Springs is five miles west of the junction of State Roads 19 and 40 on the north side of State Road 40. Information: (352) 625-0546; www.floridaparks.com/floridafederalpark.

Rainbow Springs State Park, the state’s fourth largest spring, is southwest of Ocala and feeds into the scenic Rainbow River. You can swim or paddle in the cool spring waters, picnic in the park, take a hike or go birding along the nature trails. Information: (352) 465-8555, www.floridastateparks.org/rainbowsprings.

Top 40 Places to Visit in Florida

Visiting the United States? Plan a trip to America’s tropical paradise: Florida. There are an endless array of exciting activities and places to visit in Florida. Looking for some tips? Here are the top 40 places to visit and things to do in Florida:

  1. 1) Take a guided tour and explore Miami’s Art Deco district
  2. 2) Visit Aquatica, the new water park in Orlando
  3. 3) Florida’s oyster capital in Apalachicola
  4. 4) Thomas Edison and Henry Ford winter estates in Fort Meyers
  5. 5) Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of America Art in Winter Park
  6. 6) Antique stores in Mt. Dora and popular Renninger’s Antique Center
  7. 7) Fort Lauderdale’s waterfront mansions and shopping at Las Olas Boulevard
  8. 8 ) Take a surfing lesson at Cocoa Beach
  9. 9) Ghost Tours in St. Augustine
  10. 10) Visit the new Jungala, an interactive experience at Busch Gardens Africa
  11. 11) Bike the Tallahassee – St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail
  12. 12) Fort Walton Beach’s annual Billy Bowlegs Pirate Festival
  13. 13) Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge off Melbourne Beach
  14. 14) Universal Orlando Resort
  15. 15) Explore the Everglades National Park and it’s 1.5 million acres of subtropical landscape
  16. 16) West Palm Beach’s Sunfest Music Festival in May
  17. 17) John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota
  18. 18) Silver Sands Factory Outlet Stores in Destin
  19. 19) Enjoy stone crabs at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami
  20. 20) Victorian village of Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island
  21. 21) Big Cypress Seminole Reservation in the Everglades
  22. 22) Ybor City, Tampa’s Latin Quarter
  23. 23) Jacksonville Museum of Contemporary Art
  24. 24) Experience race driving at the Richard Petty Driving Experience, Daytona 500 Experience
  25. 25) Caladesi Island State Park
  26. 26) Collect shells at Sanibel and Captiva islands
  27. 27) Enjoy interactive experiences at the National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola
  28. 28) Swim with the dolphins at Dolphin World in the Florida Keys
  29. 29) Take a houseboat ride on the Suwanee River
  30. 30) Try the Shuttle Launch Experience at the Kennedy Space Visitor Complex
  31. 31) World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine
  32. 32) Take a classic wooden roller coaster ride in Winter Haven’s Cypress Gardens Adventure Park
  33. 33) Walt Disney World in Orlando
  34. 34) Shop flea markets at the Big Cypress Market Place in Naples
  35. 35) Enjoy a nightly outdoor celebration of sunset at Key West’s Mallory Square
  36. 36) See manatees at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
  37. 37) Kayak or canoe on Grayton Beach State Park in Western Lake
  38. 38) Watch a sunset at Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach
  39. 39) Re-live the golden age at Henry Morrison Flagler Museum in Palm Beach
  40. 40) Learn about life as an early settler in Florida at Spanish Point in Osprey