Everyone knows Florida has beautiful beaches and fabulous theme parks to enjoy during vacations. But one of the state’s best-kept “secrets” is its wealth of natural springs. North and north central Florida are brimming with amazing crystal clear rivers and pools, each fed by one or more of its own natural springs. One such spot is beautiful Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, a perfect day trip during your Orlando vacation.
About Silver Springs
At the Silver Springs State Park, these springs pump out enough sparkling clear water to supply the entire city of New York. Of course, this abundance of fresh water attracts visitors eager to see her beauty. No longer a commercial themed amusement park, Silver Springs is part of Florida’s state parks system, complete with campground and RV sites, a picnic area with free grills and pavilions for rent, and a host of hiking and biking trails. There’s also an equestrian trail, a botanical gardens, a museum and education center, and even an authentic Florida cracker village with historically accurate portrayal of 1840s pioneer life in Florida. The park’s mission is to provide opportunities for exploration of the beauty of this unique part of the state—above ground, on the water and even underwater.
Glass Bottom Boat Tour
There’s no more memorable experience at Silver Springs State Park than a glass bottom boat tour, a popular holdover from the time prior to state management of the park—in fact, the area’s signature tourist attraction in some form since the 1870s. This mesmerizing tour slowly glides through water that is 99.8% pure, and clear as a bell all the way to its depths where 70 million-year-old fossils lie quietly. Glass bottom boat passengers get to visit all seven spring formations at the headwaters, gazing down upon alligators, crawfish, shrimp, dozens of fish varieties, turtles and clams. These boats have seating for everyone and an overhead enclosure to protect from the sun. The 90-minute tours depart every half hour to 45 minutes.
The gardeners in your vacation group will be taken by Silver Springs beautiful botanical gardens at Silver Springs State Park. Over 138 varieties of exotic and native and exotic plants adorn the shores of the Silver River. A winding pathway through the gardens offers the perfect place to meander or take photos. Many a wedding are held in this gorgeous spot.
Canoe and Kayak Rentals
You don’t have to board a boat to enjoy the Silver River. Canoes and one- and two-person kayaks are available for rental. You can rent the crafts for a full day or by the hour. You can explore the river on your own or, for an additional fee, join in a guided, 2-mile kayak tour around Ross Allen Island.
Silver Springs State Park includes a horse trail through the park’s wetlands. You’re free to saddle up on your own horse, but a park vendor, Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides, provides guided riding tours.
Silver River Museum and Cracker Homestead
The Silver River Museum and Environmental Educational Center is open weekends, sometimes for self-guided exploration but other times with park rangers or other volunteers available to lead special presentations or answer questions. The museum actually exists as an educational program of a local public school system in Marion County, Florida. Two museum comprises two wings that together house more than 50 exhibits. One wing is dedicated to local ecology, geology and natural history and includes prehistoric fossils and ancient anthropological artifacts. One highlights is the skull of a mastodon. The other wing documents the human footprint in Florida, dating from the earliest Spanish settlements in the 1500s.
Adjacent to the museum, the Cracker Homestead presents pioneer life in Ocala. The “crackers” were resourceful and self-sufficient Florida settlers of English descent who built tiny communities and survived off the land they farmed.The Cracker Homestead includes two family dwellings, outhouses, a one-room church and school, a blacksmith’s shop and more.