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Ocala, FL

Tourists flock to Florida’s beaches, resort cities, Walt Disney World and the Everglades, but few have found one of the state’s largest ecological and geographic wonders, Ocala National Forest. The 383,000-acre forest—about a 90-minute drive north of Orlando and 15 miles southeast of Gainesville—is the southernmost forest in the continental United States and the world’s biggest sand pine scrub forest. The forest’s sand pine grows in desert-like conditions in acidic, well-drained sandy soils on rolling hills 20 to 200 feet above sea level. This area offers numerous outdoor activities, rare wildlife and vegetation, as well as 600 thoroughbred horse farms, a unique art museum and numerous other activities. There’s also kayaking, canoeing, glass-bottom boating and movies in Silver Spring State Park; or tubing, kayaking or canoeing in Dunnellon’s Rainbow Springs State Park. For meetings and groups, various options are available, including facilities at major chain hotels, college campuses, a cultural center and a livestock pavilion. More at www.shortescapes.net

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