Let’s Go Boating – Ocala Lakefront Living

By Heather LeeAn Ocala Horse Properties Exclusive

Since humans started exploring the planet,

we’ve followed the water. Crossing oceans gave way to new discoveries and changed the course of history; chasing rivers opened our horizons. As travelers, we seek waterways on vacation, puttering pontoon boats along the shoreline at sunset or carving walls of water down a slalom course at sunrise. We return to familiar “blue spaces” we grew up around.

The immeasurable sense of peace that we feel around water is known as our “blue mind”—a chance to escape the hyper-connected, over-stimulated state of modern-day life, in favor of a rare moment of solitude. And nowhere is this more prevalent than right here in North Central Florida, where near-tropical temperatures allow boaters to enjoy picturesque settings and idyllic conditions throughout the year with virtually limitless waterways for boaters to explore.

Where are the best places to go Boating in Ocala & Marion County?

Join us below as we highlight some of our favorite boating destinations in Ocala & North Central Florida.

Lake Weir

For those wanting a permanent taste of lake life, Lake Weir—which includes Lake Weir, Little Lake Weir, and Sunset Harbor—are Marion County treasures. With nearly 15 square miles, or 9600 acres of water, and a maximum depth more than 20 feet, Lake Weir has plenty of water for boating, both power boats and sailboats, and waterskiing, wakeboarding, and wakesurfing. Seaplane take offs and landings make regular appearances. There is no horsepower limit on Lake Weir, making ski boats, pontoon boats and fishing boats a common sight on the water. Neighboring Little Lake Weir—also accessible through the conservation and recreation area—is ideal for canoeing and kayaking, and a hand-launch site for smaller boats is provided.

OHP’s Matt Varney wakesurfing on Lake Weir.

When it comes to fishing, Lake Weir’s spring-fed water and 20-foot depths make largemouth bass the main attraction, but submerged brush piles and beds of maidencane make crappie fishing particularly memorable as well. Late winter and spring offer prime fishing conditions.

OHP’s Matt Varney wakesurfing on Lake Weir.

Browse Lake Weir Homes for Sale

Orange Lake

If fishing is your thing, then we recommend a quick trip north of Ocala to Orange Lake, which is the largest lake in northwest Florida, occupying over 12,500 acres! This lake is one of Matt Varney’s favorite fishing destinations, with abundant vegetation and an ample stock of bluegill, red ear sunfish, black crappie, and largemouth bass.

Crystal River

Crystal River, about 40 miles southwest of Ocala near the Gulf of Mexico, is a gorgeous area to explore by boat. With multiple beaches, state parks, wildlife refuges, boat owners (or renters!) have access to everything from freshwater to saltwater. Whether you choose fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, paddleboarding, kayaking, wakesurfing, waterskiing, or wakeboarding, there’s endless fun to be had.

In Crystal River, you can spend the day fishing offshore or inshore, or you can switch gears by visiting any of the four freshwater springs within the area. In fact, one of our favorite winter activities is swimming with the manatees at Three Sisters Springs. During the cooler months (November – March), manatees flock to the springs to escape the cold waters of the Gulf of Mexico, seeking refuge in the year-round 72-degree water. It’s a truly unique Florida-only experience!

St. Johns River

The St. Johns River is the longest in Florida, making it a perfect destination for boaters, with vast stretches of refreshingly cool water and unique marine life. Stretching 310 miles from Jacksonville to east of Orlando, the St. John’s River is “Old Florida” at its finest, connecting 14 lakes and multiple Florida Springs including DeLeon Springs and Blue Springs State Park, a protected manatee refuge. Because of the abundance of marine life, St. John’s is known as the “Bass Fishing Capital of the World.” However, swimming, kayaking, boating, and airboating are also popular activities along the river’s connected watersheds.

Whether you are looking to cruise the river, swim through some of Florida’s most breathtakingly beautiful spring waters, or kayak the shoreline looking for native birds, the St. Johns has so much to offer day-trippers from Marion County.

Silver River

The Silver River is the outflow for Silver Springs. Due to the immense water flow, the Silver River has a swift current and is surprisingly deep, with many spots plunging 30 feet or more. In addition, the water remains very clear throughout and creates a scene of immense beauty as it cuts through the forest.

It’s worth noting that swimming isn’t allowed on the Silver River. However, kayaking, paddleboarding, and boating are all allowed and encouraged. Just about everything native to Florida can be found in and along the banks of this special place, making it a must-visit spot for locals and visitors alike. In addition, even non-native species like the Rhesus Monkey can be found here in large numbers.

Silver Springs, as you might already know, is a very popular local destination, made famous by their glass bottom boat tours. There is a variety of boat rentals and eco tours which treat visitors to the abundance of wildlife within a quick drive of downtown Ocala. Since Silver Springs is located at the entrance to the Ocala National Forest, there’s also ample camping, RV, and cabin choices for a fun overnight getaway.

The banks of the Silver River are lined with resident Rhesus Monkeys, remnants from the movie “Tarzan” that was filmed here in the ’30’s. Today there are an estimated 300+ monkeys that call this area home.

Rainbow River

The Rainbow River is roughly five miles long and starts at the spring head and flows south until it meets with the tannic Withlacoochee. Its best characteristic is its crystal-clear water combined with an “Old Florida” feel, and as you travel up the river towards the spring head, the water gets clearer and clearer. The water temperature is 72 degrees year-round and the depth of the river varies from two feet to 20 feet. Beautiful homes, tucked among the majestic oak trees and cypress trees, line the shoreline, making it a great destination for a leisurely no-wake boat cruise.

The Rainbow River is great for paddle sports. The ideal way to do it is to launch at the spring head or KP Hole and paddle (or float!) down-stream. The current is strong and would make for a challenging kayak or SUP paddle if rowing against it. There are numerous places that offer rentals or you can bring your own.

And no trip to Rainbow River is complete without seeing Rainbow Springs, a 1st magnitude spring that has the fourth highest flow of all Florida springs. Consequently, it produces a water flow of 493 million gallons of water per day! Water produced by the spring originates from natural rainwater collected from underground caves throughout a 770 square mile area.

Harris Chain of Lakes

Along the Harris Chain of Lakes are some of Florida’s largest lakes. Nestled between the charming towns of Eustis, Mont Dora, and Leesburg, this chain connects 8 lakes totaling 75,000 acres.

Prize-winning bass attract anglers to almost weekly bass-fishing tournaments on the Harris Chain of Lakes. However, boaters, skiers, sailors, and kayakers of all types flock to this chain for outdoor recreation. Also, you can even spot a sea plane near Tavares. Cruise the Dora Canal, which was once dubbed “the most beautiful mile of water in the world”. Shaded by towering cypress trees and Spanish moss, it connects two major lakes on the chain, Lake Dora and Lake Eustis.

Last, but not least, no matter how or where you enjoy the day, boating with family and friends is time spent like no other. It’s fun, relaxing, exciting, and the absolute best stress relief ever. The restorative feeling that comes from this kind of freedom, being able to trailer your own boat to your local waterway can’t be understated. Being in charge of where you’ll go, what you’ll do, and who you encounter, provides a bit of control in our otherwise hectic lives and creates memories that will literally last a lifetime.