Beyond the glitz of Miami, and the thrill-ride theme-parks of Orlando, there’s a natural beauty to Florida few tourists ever see. In college, I spent many weekends drifting on an inflatable raft across the bright turquoise waters of the natural springs in the Ocala National Forest. Yes, they really are that blue!
Believe it or not, there are over 700 natural springs throughout Florida, making the sunshine state the largest convergence of freshwater springs on the planet. Most are located in north and north-central Florida, with a few around Tampa Bay.
Remarkably, the springs stay a cool 72°F year-round, making them a local favorite for escaping the heat.
Come discover the real Florida as I visit the five natural springs of the Ocala National Forest.
Though most of the springs are great for snorkeling, Alexander Springs is one of the best. Teeming with aquatic life, the swimming area is a huge wide open space with a lot of sunshine to light up the crystal clear waters.
If you are a certified diver, bring your gear and license to dive into the spring hole. However, we suggest getting there early. As it’s an easy dive, at around 20-25 feet, dive schools like to use it for training.
Yes, there are gators here. Actually, us Floridians say, “if it has water, there could be a gator.” This is particularly true of Alexander Springs.
You may not only encounter an alligator while canoeing the Spring Creek river system, but snorkelers and divers often note seeing a gator on the far side of the spring. We are not aware of any incidents, just be mindful.
Juniper Springs & Fern Hammock Springs
The defining feature of Juniper Springs is the old watermill. Built by Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930’s, the watermill was originally the primary power generation for the park.
The Corps then used the limestone dug out of the aquifer when building the watermill to make the gorgeous swimming pool still there today.
Luckily, you won’t spot an alligator near the pool at Juniper Springs. However, taking a canoe down Juniper Creek’s quite narrow river system practically guarantees seeing a gator.
Accessible from Juniper Springs, Fern Hammock Springs is only a short walk away. With gators lurking about you can’t swim here, but it’s one of the a prettiest views.
Although the main trail was closed, the springs were still accessible from the camping area. Find your way to campsite and the trail starts just behind it.
Florida Springs Headed For Tragedy
I’m heartbroken. The state is failing to protect our delicate natural springs from corporations. For example, BlueTriton (formerly Nestle Water) received permits to pump out nearly 1 million gallons of water a day from Ginnie Springs to sell as bottled water, 30% more than environmental scientists say it can handle.
OurSantaFeRiver.org explains the situation further.
In protest, we are donating members of the Florida Springs Council, a non-profit coalition leading the legal battle against these damaging permits. We are also boycotting Blue Triton brands, including Deer Park and Zephyrhills bottled water.
We encourage you to get informed on the issue and support the fight to protect Florida’s most important natural resource.
Now back to your regularly scheduled program…
Silver Glen Springs
There’s so much to tell you about this stunning spot. First off, it’s in my top 5 of all the Florida springs I’ve been to, that’s how much I love it.
The water is crystal clear, the pool is large and open to the sun. You definitely want to bring a snorkel. The moss covered tress and palms gently leaning over the edge of the pool give it a relaxed vibe. It’s beyond stunning.
There’s also an abundance of wildlife. In winter, manatees grace the park with their presence.
The rest of the year, typically in the mornings or late afternoons, black bears wander the grounds. On our last trip we just missed one; however, the ranger was kind enough to point out the giant paw print left on the bear proof trash bins.
Plus, Silver Glen Springs is a significant archaeological site. Once home to at least one ancient village, scientists believe the site has been in use for over 10,000 years.
Named after the salty taste given to the springs by its high levels of natural magnesium and potassium salts, this beautiful spring looked very different from my college days.
These days, a nice walled off pool surrounds the springs. The large swimming area is full of slippery (slimy) rocks so consider bringing wet shoes with your snorkel gear.
In addition to a lot of fish, Salt Springs is known for an abundance of blue crab. Another good reason for those wet shoes.
It’s another good location to see the manatees in winter.
If you’re after a short hike, just outside the springs on Hwy 19, with free parking, there’s the Salt Springs Observation Trail. Only 1.9-miles, the small trail leads to a lovely observation platform on the Salt Spring Run. Another spot you’re likely to see an abundance of wildlife.
Entrance Fees For Natural Springs In the Ocala National Forest
All the springs require separate entrance fees.
- Weekdays $7 per person; Weekends $10 per person.
- Except Salt Springs which is $6.50 per person, $10 to park at the marina.
- Canoe and kayak rentals separate.
Even though the natural springs are within the Ocala National Forest, the National Park Pass is not valid here. Instead, there is a separate Ocala National Forest/Springs Hopper Pass. The day use pass is $70 + tax/person; good from date of purchase through end of the year.