How much fun is a person allowed in one day? Ziplining, rappelling and horseback riding are possible at The Canyons in central Florida. Blessed with Florida’s highest, fastest and longest ziplines, it is due to Florida’s mining industry that The Canyons looks more like some place out west than Florida's beloved mostly flat and beachy terrain.
Located in the northern part of Marion County, those familiar with how limestone positively affects horses -- another trademark of the Ocala area -- may not be surprised that limestone mining created a stunning, unusual landscape for ziplining.
Florida ranks second nationally in production and fourth in consumption of crushed stone (limestone and dolostone), according to Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Limestone has been used in Florida as a building material and source of lime and cement since Spanish times. Most of the stone mined in Florida is used for road construction.
The earliest mining in Florida was carried out by Native Americans, who quarried the mineral chert from limestone for use in points and tools, relates the DEP. Alluvial clay deposits were also utilized by Native Americans for pots and other cooking utensils. In the 1500s, Spanish settlers and soldiers quarried coquina limestone near St. Augustine to form building blocks for their forts and homes.
High-purity limestone has been quarried near Ocala since the turn of the century. About 80 years ago, mining at what is now The Canyons ceased.
Guides at The Canyons point out the gorges’s history while the gorgeous rocky walls and subsequent ponds created by mining and Florida’s natural elements can scarcely be ignored. Soaring through tree canopies and over the ravines and water gives one a sense of flying. Gliding over shimmering, serene reflecting pools, surrounded by tall live oak and laurel oak trees as well as Florida’s state tree, the sabal palmetto, is breathtaking in its own right, never mind the breath-holding that some may experience as they try to quell their fear.
Fear wanes as the guides and adventurers slowly progress from a 12-foot high zipline used for instruction and practice to ever-more challenging stations on the course. Bouncy wood and rope suspension bridges also may give some pause, but all the while, adventurers are clipped onto safety cables. By the time one partakes of the course’s longest zip, over a long and still pond below, one feels comfortable with the seeming weightlessness of soaring and can breathe in the beauty of the surroundings.
But “zippers” aren’t done yet. They have an opportunity to rappel as well, another experience that a resident of flat Florida simply doesn’t have very often.
At certain times of year, a special option for ziplining takes place: zipping in the dark. Zombie Zipping is the Canyons’ full zip line course which takes about three hours to complete and is $95 per person.
Owners of the Canyons opened the adventure park two years ago after scouting various locations and deciding this one could not be beat, Traci Walker said.
To ensure this is one of the best days of your life, if the zipping and rappelling have not sated your appetite for fun, climb atop a horse. Relatively new to the Canyons offerings, the 100-acre property offers 90-minute tours atop equine beauties through the canyons, around palms and under shady oaks. A red-headed woodpecker tapped a beat overhead while I rode, and numerous species of butterflies flitted among the native plants. In the rocky cliffs, caves can be spotted and the elevations make for enviable photographs.
If visitors don’t have time for both ziplining and the horseback riding, it’s a great excuse to return to The Canyons.
With an arborist frequently on property, any questions about what you see in the natural landscape may be able to be answered after the zip or the ride.