If you want to get away for a trail riding weekend, and you're the kind of traveler who prefers to fend for yourself, then Fiddler's Green Ranch may be just the place for you. And if you'd like to do some trail riding in the scenic Ocala National Forest, then Fiddler's Green is definitely the place for you.
Located in Altoona, at the south end of the 400,000-acre Ocala National Forest in Lake County, Fiddler's Green offers a natural, rustic setting for the outdoor-minded and independent traveler. If you prefer to be pampered, served gourmet meals, and have your bed turned down every night with a mint on your pillow, look elsewhere.
Owned for the past 15 years by New York native Jim Barnard, Fiddler's Green is currently managed by his son, Glen Barnard. It's a hands-off style of resort management.
Days at Fiddler's Green aren't filled with planned activities posted on a bulletin board. Here, the days are yours to do with what you wish - reading on the deck, fishing in the lake, or going on a trail ride. There's also a tennis court and a screened-in pool.
You provide your own meals, but the accommodations have fully equipped kitchens and outdoor barbeques to do just that. You can also drive to a restaurant in nearby towns, such as The Villages, Umatilla, Eustis, or even Orlando and Daytona Beach.
The 26-acre Fiddler's Green is a serene setting far away from the hustle-bustle of city life. Situated just off County Road 42 and Highway 19 in Altoona, the ranch provides a soothing green space to unwind in. There are four villas, ranging from three bedrooms to a one-bedroom efficiency, available for weekly rentals. The décor is Southwestern and Western, comfortable and rustic. These are basically homes away from home, including such necessities a television, and washer/dryers. Cost for a week's stay vary from $995 for the three-bedroom villa in peak winter season to $425 for the efficiency.
The ranch also has six recreational-vehicle campsites with full hook-ups. The campsites are particularly popular in the winter, as trail-riding enthusiasts escape the cold weather of the northern states.
For your horse, there are two barns, turnout paddocks, and a covered riding arena. The ranch also owns some riding horses and will make arrangements to take guests on guided trail rides into the neighboring Ocala National Forest. However, the ranch doesn't offer day rides to the general public.
Miles of Trails
Next to solitude, the best thing Fiddler's Green has going for it is direct access to 100 miles of forest trails. On the day of our visit, it was a perfect Florida fall day complemented by a cloudless three-shades-of-blue sky. The kind of day just made to order for trail riding.
From the barn, we rode around the fishing lake to a back gate that opened onto a trail. We followed that short trail down a tree-lined country road, then crossed into the forest. We meandered for hours along sandy trails, mostly in the shade of oaks and pines, and circled around a small lake.
There are even a few hills, but nothing too strenuous for either rider or horse in relatively good physical condition. The trails appeared to be well-marked, but it's best to be safe than sorry and initially go out with someone who knows the trails. It's easy to get distracted while riding, particularly on a beautiful day, and find yourself lost in the forest.
Once back safely at Fiddler's Green, you just might want to grill a few hamburgers on the sun-deck barbeque, sit back, and enjoy the peace and quiet of the ranch. Some things are worth more than a mint on your pillow.
For more information, contact Fiddler's Green Ranch, (800) 947-2624; www.fiddlersgreenranch.com