Cruise country roads for breathtaking swaths of North Central Florida
Published: Sunday, April 14, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.
Truth be told, the Marion County roads of 475 are not exactly well-kept secrets.
That is to say, County Road 475 and its brethen roads west to CR 475A in southwest Ocala are well traveled. Many Marion County residents use them for their commutes to avoid the dull Interstate 75, while others use them as more scenic routes on the way to I-75.
“As I drive down these back roads, I really enjoy the whole feeling of contentment and serenity just from looking around at the pastoral scenes,” Ocala resident Dale Garfinkel noted about 475 and 475A. “I really enjoy . . . driving under the tree canopy, and I love seeing the various livestock.”
Thus, Ocala's CR 475 and CR 475A make a great start for this newspaper series dubbed Getting Lost. The idea is to showcase some of the prettiest scenic drives in North Central Florida, country roads where the destination is secondary to the journey itself.
And so it is with the country roads of 475, arguably the most breathtaking swaths of Florida in Marion County. For Gainesville, the loop described here could start easily from CR 484, the I-75 exit south of Ocala. Just head east on CR 484 and then make your first left (north) onto CR 475A, also known as Shady Road. This is the southern gateway to horse country. In fact, it will take you by one of the region's most famous and successful thoroughbred farms — Ocala Stud.
And, yes, many a man has been photographed under the Ocala Stud sign, grinning with his chest puffed.
The loop: The route is bordered by Southwest 42nd Street/Southwest 32nd Street to the north and CR 484 to the south. Connecting them are CR 475A to the west and CR 475 to the east.
What you'll see: You will see signs noting “Shady” this or “Shady” that. It will be clear why, as the roads weave through — and under — some of the grandest live oaks in the county. Dripping with moss and colored by sunlight trickling through leaves, the route offers several tree canopies.
This is especially true on CR 475 on the east side, as the massive, arching branches form a clear tunnel in several spots.
But make no mistake, this loop is all about the horses.
The northwest corner of CR 475A, near Trinity Catholic High School, is perhaps the most scenic slice of this very scenic route. This is the S-curve, with Ocala Stud on one side and Glen Hill Farm on the other. It starts a winding, postcard-perfect path through horse farms. Glen Hill Farm is shaded by huge live oaks draping ponds and wooden fences. Horses graze in the vast, hilly green spaces throughout.
The sharp curves force you to go slow. The scenery is worth the crawl.
When CR 475A straightens out, so do the wooden fences bordering the pastures filled with thoroughbreds. You will see farmhouses and barns, old and new. You will see tractors and tin roofs. You will see entrance gates to the farms that are attractions unto themselves — custom works of art made from stones and bricks and wrought iron. On some farms, you will see racetracks and rails for training.
Also on this loop, you will see goats, country churches, a small bar called No Where and, in the spring, wild flowers. Lots and lots of wild flowers.
Both 475s are hilly, with CR 475A reaching some of the county's highest elevation points.
Along the way: The Cross Florida Greenway cuts through this loop, meaning there are recreational stops. The entrance to the Land Bridge trail that stretches over I-75 is off CR 475A. Trails are open for hiking, biking and horseback riding.
The large Florida Horse Park covers a big swath of this loop. You can access it from CR 475. The park offers many equestrian events, as well as public horseback riding via Cactus Jack's Trail Rides. Because of these parks, it is not unusual to see people on horseback trotting alongside the roads in this region.
Also, at the southwest end of the loop, near the corner of CR 475A and CR 484, is the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing and Antique Cars. It is run by the Don Garlits of drag-racing fame, and it is a must for gearheads and their kin.
Final notes: The entire loop is about 22 miles. Take it slow. Perhaps drive it more than once. The route takes on different characteristics throughout the day; the sun casts different shadows and hues as it passes over these country roads that are so distinctly Marion County.
Contact Dave Schlenker at firstname.lastname@example.org.