Silver Springs State Park is one of Florida’s oldest tourist attractions. The park’s world famous Glass Bottom Boats have been delighting guests in central Florida since the 1870s.
Silver Springs became a state park in 2013. Prior to that it was a privately owned “nature theme park” that featured zoo-type animal exhibits, entertainment and rides. The state has returned the park to a more natural state since then, but there are still some remnants including the entrance signs, gardens, and of course the iconic glass bottom boats.
There are two entrances at Silver Springs State Park. The main entrance is located on Silver Springs Blvd. This is where you can find the glass bottom boats, the headspring, gift shop and cafe.
The second entrance is about 10 minutes away on NE 7th St. This entrance has campsites, the Silver River Museum, picnic area, biking trails and the majority of hiking trails.
You can hike between the two sides via the Springs Connector trail which connects the two areas. It is a 2.3 mile hike one way.
About the Springs
Silver Springs refers to a group of over 30 individual springs that feed the Silver River. You’ll be able to see a handful of these springs on the glass bottom boat tour. You can also observe the headspring, Mammoth Spring, from a viewing deck near the boat dock.
Silver Springs has been the filming site for various movies and TV shows throughout the years, including Creature from the Black Lagoon and various Tarzan films. You’ll hear about some of these on the glass bottom boat tour and even get to see some artifacts like submerged statues from the 1960’s series I Spy.
You may have also heard about Silver Springs’ famous monkeys. They were brought to the area in 1938 by a tour boat operator to enhance his “Jungle Cruise” ride. He left them on an island, thinking they’d be contained. But as it turned out, rhesus macaques are good swimmers and they quickly escaped and made Silver Springs their home. If you’re lucky you might spot them. You’ll have the best chance when out paddling on the river and Fort King Paddling Trail, especially earlier in the morning.
Glass Bottom Boat Tours
To get a good view of the underwater springs, I highly suggest taking a ride on the famous glass bottom boats. The tour will run about 30-40 minutes and the guide will take you around several springs, point out artifacts, and offer opportunities for wildlife viewing. The crystal clear blue water and lush landscape make for a beautiful trip. You’ll be able to see a Native American dugout canoe, submerged statues, ancient trees, and more.
It costs $12 for adults, and $11 for children ages 6-12 and adults over 55. You purchase your tickets at the entrance when your purchase park admission. You do not need reservations, and the boats run continuously throughout the day.
If you choose to paddle the Fort King Paddling Trail and/or the Silver River, you can rent a kayak/canoe or bring your own. The launch is accessible from the parking lot of the main entrance.
The Fort King Paddling trail runs beside the Silver River. For the 1- and 2-hour rentals, you’ll paddle down the trail, then turn left and paddle upstream in the Silver River back towards the launch. The paddle is not difficult, especially in the paddling trail. The water in the Silver River portion is much wider and is very deep in some places. But it was not too difficult to paddle against the current.
Please note: There is no swimming allowed in Silver Springs or the Silver River.
There are multiple trails to choose from if you like to hike. At the main entrance, the Ross Allen Island Boardwalk is a short 0.3 mile boardwalk that runs near the Fort King Paddling Trail.
If you’re looking for a longer hike, you’ll want to head to the south entrance, either via driving or the Spring Connector trail.
The south entrance has over 5 miles of hiking trails available, including trails with scenic views of the Silver River. Some trails can also be shared by bicyclists and horseback riders.
Other Activities at Silver Springs State Park
Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center: The museum is located at the south entrance and contains exhibits relating to Florida geology, paleontology, archaeology and natural history. It is open weekends and holidays, and costs an additional $2 per person. The museum was very informative and filled with tons of exhibits, artifacts, and stories. There’s also the Pioneer Village which is a replica of a 19th century pioneer settlement. You can walk around the historic houses and structures, but they are only open for tours during limited times. It’s best to call ahead if you’d like to tour inside.
Springside Cafe & Paradise Treats Sweet Shop: Springside Cafe is a counter service restaurant serving sandwiches, hamburgers, hot dogs. Paradise Treats serves ice cream, baked goods, and other treats. Located right inside the main entrance of the park.
Camping: The park has a 59-site full-facility campground and 10 modern cabins. Campsites are $24 per night, plus tax, plus a nonrefundable $6.70 reservation fee. Includes water and electricity. Cabins are $110 per night, plus tax, plus a nonrefundable $6.70 reservation fee. The cabins look really fun for a family camping trip, but be sure to book well in advance of your trip, as they get booked fast.
Biking: there is an unpaved bike trail at the south entrance off the River Trail. It’s a 4.5 mile loop shown on the map as the Fort King and Ross Island Camp Loop trails. We saw this sign at the start of the trail. Proceed with caution!
Good Luck Tree: This famous palm tree forms a loop with its trunk. You used to be able to stand inside the loop for good luck. However, now they have removed the standing platform and fenced off the tree. It’s still fun to see and take pictures of!
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Silver Springs Information
Hours: 8am to sundown, 365 days per year
Cost: $2 per person
Main Entrance: 5656 E Silver Springs Blvd, Silver Springs, FL 34488
South Entrance: 1425 N.E. 58th Ave., Ocala FL 34470
The information in this post was accurate at the time of publishing to the best of the author’s knowledge. If you are planning to visit any of the sites mentioned in this post, we recommend checking the most up-to-date information on their respective websites.