Florida’s first tourist attraction, Silver Springs, opened in 1878 and closed in 2013. The state park system took it over after that and it is now a state park. It contains the largest artesian spring in the world.
First off, a little fyi on how to get here. From I-75 take exit 352. There are two sections to the park. The campground section is off SR 35. The part with the boat rides is off SR 40. We took Silver Springs Blvd (SR 40) to NE 7th (turn right) to SR 35 (turn left) and the campground was about a mile up on the right.
Our friends followed their GPS and it took them to the other part of the park – not where the campground was.
As we were pulling into this state park campground, I was really amazed at how beautiful it was! So many trees (palm, pine and hardwoods) and wildlife. We came across this turtle before we even made it into our site.
The park is literally on the edge of Ocala. There’s a Wal Mart just a few miles away along with lots of other shopping, dining, gas etc choices making it very convenient.
We were in site 6 in the first camping loop (Sharpe’s Ferry) which I think was nicer than the other loop. The other loop (Fort King) looked like it had more scrubby brush and trees and just looked more unkept.
Our site was a huge pull through site, covered in packed gravel and nicely level! A picnic table, grill, and fire pit are included. The sites were all nicely manicured and everything was clean and beautiful, including the bathrooms and showers (yes I used the showers – huge, clean, and very hot water with great pressure!)
The office sells firewood and ice. There is a washer and dryer to use at the bathhouse as well as a kitchen sink and large counter for washing dishes. There is a soda vending machine by the bathhouse as well. We spent four nights here on a water/electric site with 50amp electric. Some of the sites do have sewer available. We were able to get tv stations via antenna and cell service (Verizon). If you wanted wifi, you had to go to the office which was a mile away.
There are several hiking trails in both sections of the park, but we only did the campground trails. They are marked well and include the distances.
The swamp trail has a nice wooden boardwalk at the end that leads to the river. This was my favorite trail.
Some passers-by told us there were monkeys down by the river off the swamp trail. I didn’t know Florida had monkeys! I later found out that Silver Springs used to be a tourist attraction complete with a water park and Jungle Safari. They had zoo animals and they say that some of the monkeys were either let go or escaped and now there are a few herds of wild Rhesus monkeys in the park. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any on our visit. Another side note – many movies and TV shows were filmed here back in the 1930’s- 1970’s including Tarzan, I Spy, Creature from the Black Lagoon and Sea Hunt to name a few.
There are paved roads to bike on and a 4.5 mile dirt bike trail, which is more like a mountain bike trail, complete with tree roots, small dips, a few sandy areas and at least one place to take a nice spill – which I confirmed. It’s like riding your bike through the jungle though!
Also on the campground side is a museum which is only open in weekends and major holidays, so we didn’t get to go into it as we were there during the week. There’s a playground and pavilion and they also rent out cabins which looked like actual houses with screened in porches.
There is no shortage of things to do here. You can take a Segway tour (which we didn’t do but we saw them on the hiking trail and it looked like fun), rent kayaks or canoes, and even rent bicycles if you didn’t bring your own.
Over in the section of the park off SR 40 is where the glass bottom boat rides are as well as a restaurant, ice cream/fudge shop, museum with movies on the parks history, kayak and canoe rentals, more waking trails and boardwalks, gardens, etc etc.
We took the glass bottom boat ride with Captain Steve, a retired air Force guy. It was $11 a person and lasts approximately 30 minutes.
He told us a lot about the history of the park including that a university had come in to do research and verified that there is a large Cypress dugout canoe at the bottom of the river dated from the 1500’s from the Timucuan Indian tribe.
Also at the bottom are props (statues) from the Bill Cosby series “I Spy”.
I was hoping for a manatee siting but the best fish siting we got was a gar.
There are many birds you can see up close from the boat.
We also spotted turtles and alligators sunning themselves.
On our walk on the Ross Allen boardwalk we spotted kayakers enjoying the smooth waters of the Silver River and very large alligators floating along with them! I’m not sure I’d want to kayak with this guy!
As such, there is no swimming or diving aloud in this area anymore.
Back in the campground, we spent time visiting with our friends Duane and Denise and her 84 year old mother, Erdine. Erdine even did a 2 mile hike with us! I was very impressed!!
A game of Cornhole
Cookouts and campfires, and general lounging. Ahhhh – we’ve totally learned how to do this relaxing thing on this adventure!!
We didn’t see and do everything in the whole park, but we definately enjoyed our time here and I would definately go back there again!