Silver Springs in Ocala, Florida used to be a roadside attraction/theme park. No coasters, no Mickey Mouse, but plenty of flowers, animals, and attractions (famous glass bottom boats that originated in the 1800s). You bought tickets and spent the day. There used to be a lot of things like it in Florida; few are left still operating. I remember going on a field trip once in 5th grade and seeing giraffes.
Well, a few years ago Silver Springs was sold to the state, so now it’s a state park. They left a lot of the structures, and the restaurant and glass bottom boats are still there. Took a day off work and visited to go kayak!
First we wandered around trying to find the kayak area, past the “shop” with the restaurant:
And the treat place that still makes fudge:
Which is right by the dock for the glass bottom boats with pretty glass windows:
The boat area is right by the head springs..
…and you can circle around that and walk down the river, admiring the flowers, like azaleas just starting to bloom (a couple weeks ago)…
….and whatever this pretty thing is:
But we were there for the kayaking. I had never kayaked before, and Silver Springs seemed like a great option for a beginner. You can rent from the park directly kayaks, canoes, and tandem kayaks at reasonable prices, and can choose between a 2+ mile loop course or a longer 5 mile one that goes down the river. We choose the shorter one and made our way to the kayak area. Currently the path from the park to it is under construction, so you walk back into the parking lot and can get to it there.
It’s a small but serviceable launch area. Behind us in the above pic were the guys you rent from. They provide you with life vests, a whistle, and a laminated course map. It was a cold morning, so they had a fire going:
But we were ready! We opted for a tandem kayak:
The guys pull your kayak to the launch ramp and push you off when you get set up, so you don’t even have to get your feet wet. And we’re off!
You make a right at the tiny little bridge in the pic above to follow the Fort King Paddle Trail:
And it’s pretty much smooth sailing the first half of the loop. Even at midday (around noon), there was plenty of wildlife to see.
And interestingly, plenty of ruins too from its “roadside attraction” days. Maybe some would find them an eye sore amid all the trees and water, but I’ve always liked ruins.
Soon, we approached one of the highlights of the trip: a gator sighting! Thought it was fake at first.
But it was definitely real. And look at all those turtles! Immediately after, we caught a glimpse of what I’d really been looking for the whole trip:
Monkeys! The land in the middle of the loop is sometimes called “Monkey Island” because of all the wild monkeys running around. I need to research their origin (either escapees from the original park or descendants of former pets of a guy that lived near there decades ago).
They’re pretty used to people, but we were warned not to feed them, or they might jump in the boat!
We didn’t get that long with the monkeys… they had some kind of argument/commotion and rambled off. Shortly after that, we reached the turning point: a left turn would take you around the loop and up to the head springs; a right takes you down the river. We went left – most everyone else went right:
Paddling this way took more effort. You’re going against current and against a lot of wind, at least that day. But we had cormorants to keep us company:
And a glass bottom boat:
You have to give way to the boats, which made me nervous, because with all the wind I couldn’t paddle anywhere quickly. But the boats do their own thing; it wasn’t a problem..
The next picture was taken after the kayaking, looking down into the headspring, but I thought it sums up the water nicely: crystal clear and gorgeous!
At the head spring, you turn left down a small canal to head back to the launch:
We got photobombed by a cormorant! You can see the little bridge thing up ahead. Once you cross under it, it’s a short bit back to the launch, where the guys pull up your boat and help you out.
It took a couple of hours, so there was still plenty of time to wander the park. We walked in a museum-like area near the restaurant. It’s crazy to think how busy this place would have been in the past:
It’s a little sad to see these places go underappreciated these days in favor of more commercialized things, but as a state park you can still enjoy it if you take the time to drive out. A Florida classic!