Florida springs guide: Silver Springs State Park

August 12, 2019

Crystal-clear spring water shimmers in the sun at Silver Springs State Park on Thursday, July 18, 2019 in Silver Springs, Fla.

Before Walt Disney was even a twinkle in his father’s eye, Silver Springs was offering Florida natives and visitors one of the first — and now oldest — attractions in the state.

Glass bottom boat tours have been showing visitors a unique view of the spring-fed Silver River since the late 1800s. The watercraft may be newer now, but the experience of gazing through glass at fish and turtles swimming below the boat has remained largely the same for more than 100 years.

During its commercial ownership, Silver Springs became home to jungle boat cruises (with wild rhesus monkeys that still exist around the spring), a Jeep wilderness trail ride and a giraffe exhibit.

In 2013, the nearly 5,000-acre swath of land surrounding Silver River changed from a privately held theme park to a state park.

On the glass bottom boat tours, visitors have the opportunity to peer through the crystal-clear spring water to see eelgrass and remnants of sunken watercraft below. Or they can gaze around at birds resting in trees, turtles passing the time on logs and the occasional alligator basking in the sun.

Daily 30-minute boat tours cost $11 for adults and $10 for seniors or children ages 6-12, and kids younger than 5 ride free. Extended 90-minute tours are available Friday-Sunday and cost $25 for adults or $20 for seniors and children ages 6-12.

After the boat tour, visitors wanting more time on the water can explore kayak and canoe rentals in the park. Others can visit the Spring Side Cafe, Paradise Treats, a visitor center, gift shop or education center. Swimming is not allowed at Silver Springs at this time.

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Location: 1425 NE 58th Ave. in Ocala

Hours: 8 a.m. until sundown daily

Fees: $2 per person for park admission, children under 5 are free. Boat tour tickets cost extra.

Amenities: Restaurant, sweet treat shop, gift shop, handicap accessible (except for glass bottom boats), amphitheater, boat tours, pavilions, picnic tables, playground, campground, kayak and canoe rental and launch site, hiking trails, horse equestrian trail, gardens, museum, visitor center

Activities: Glass bottom boat tours, birding, cycling, kayaking, canoeing, camping, family gatherings, weddings, geocaching, hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, walking tours

Natural factor: The nearly 5,000-acre park is home to a first-magnitude spring that forms the headwaters of the Silver River. There are actually 30 springs that comprise the Silver Springs group. The largest is Mammoth Spring, which has two vents in the main pool.

Wildlife is abundant in the park. Visitors can find fish such as gar and bluegill, several varieties of birds, turtles, alligators and even non-native rhesus monkeys that still live around the spring.

Plan your visit: Visitors interested in the standard 30-minute boat ride can access that tour on any day of the week. Those wishing to hop on an extended 90-minute ride can do so Friday-Sunday. In addition, the Silver River Museum is only open Saturday-Sunday and on holidays.

What to bring: Silver Springs guests likely won’t get wet during their visit, but remember to pack water, a dry bag for phone and keys if you plan on paddling and cash to tip your boat tour guide. Well-behaved pets are welcome in the state park, campground, picnic area and hiking trails. Dogs (excluding service animals) are not permitted on glass bottom boats or in any buildings.

What not to bring: Alcoholic beverages are not permitted in the park. Visitors can also leave their swimsuits behind unless they want to wear them while paddling.

Pro tips: If the line for the boat tour looks long, maybe stop by the restaurant or Paradise Treats until a tour takes off and the line dies down. Tickets purchased on site don’t have a specific time printed and can be used on any tour.

 





 


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