Horseback Riding the Florida Greenway– Shangrila
In the mid-1980s the State of Florida started a project to set aside public land for conservation and recreation purposes. Linear trails, or greenways, long and narrow strips of land many times following abandoned railroad right-of-ways, stretch from the Gulf of Mexico to the St. Johns River, occupying much of the land formerly known as the Cross Florida Barge Canal. Equestrians have developed trails within this multi-use trail corridor, including some of Florida’s premier horse trails. Jennifer Coto of the Florida Trail Blazers highlights two of her favorite trails along the Florida Greenway for the Equitrekking 50 State Trail Riding Project.
Photo of the Florida Trail Balzers, an organization dedicated to the creation and preservation of equestrian trails.
By Jennifer Coto
Just like its name Shangrila is just that Shangrila!
As most of the State of Florida is flat, Shangrila provides more hill filled terrain for us flat landers. Located in Marion County in Ocala, this location’s hilly terrain was created by an effort to dredge a canal between the east and west coast of Florida. It has since reverted to forest. The park has upgraded their camping facilities offering water, electric, a bathhouse and has an on-site camp host. The sites for the most part are quite shaded and have a pavilion for group gatherings.
The horseback riding trails are fantastic! They have a total of eight trails for a grand total of 40 miles. Be sure to pack a lunch, as once you begin your trail ride will not want to stop. At the beginning of the ride, you’ll notice that the trail begins with exceptional signage. The beauty of the forest is spellbinding and because of the lack of lakes, ponds and streams, you’ll find that the bug population to be quite sparse.
The most challenging trails are in River Rise. These trails have moderate hills over consistent surface, some narrow trails and short steeper slopes that wind through oaks of all types and prove to be quite the experience for horse and man. The rocky terrain will bring you into the “Old West” and you’ll feel quite satisfied that you bobbed and weaved your way through this obstacle course with your steady steed. Hi Ho Silver!!! Away!
How you can go: The Shangri La Trailhead is located southwest of Ocala at 12788 SW 69th Ct. Ocala, FL 34476. For more information contact the Office of Greenways and Trails 850-488-3701 at 2600 Blairstone Road, Mail Station 795 Tallahassee , FL 32399-2400
The Florida Trail Blazers host a variety of trail rides throughout the year.
Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve
Doris Leeper Preserve covers nearly 2,500 acres between Port Orange and New Smyrna Beach Florida. This preserve is about the prettiest I have ever seen and the best kept secret of Volusia County. The equestrian trails are like no other–– the high venues. The secluded trails are like going back in time. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the preserve has one of the largest prehistoric earthen works mounds found in Florida. Even though in some places the trails run alongside the biking trail, the ride is fantastic–– high hills, but not rocky terrain. The park crew keeps it clean of debris.
The view from its highest point is spectacular and a must ride for all equestrian enthusiasts. The trails are not roads or fire lines. They are narrow, winding and foliage paths throughout with the occasional patches of soft sugar sand. When the trail breaks into an open patch it usually is a high bluff that overlooks Spruce Creek. Spectacular!
The views at the Doris Leeper Spruce Creek Preserve. Photo credit Volusia County.
Unfortunately this park is strictly for day rides only. It has a spacious open field at the Trail Head which is quite primitive, offers water for your horses and a picnic shelter.