Springs In The Ocala National Forest

The Ocala National Forest is just north of Orlando and is a perfect destination for nature lovers. The forest is great for hiking, camping and wildlife viewing, but there are also four crystal-clear natural springs in the Ocala National Forest. They are Juniper Springs, Salt Springs, Silver Glen Springs, and Alexander Springs. Each spring is within a recreation area where there are plenty of activities to do. The springs are great for families, Florida road trips and even day trips.

These four springs are all within a 30 minute drive of each other. It is very possible to visit multiple within one day, depending on how long you spend at each one. However each spring has a variety of activities so you may want to allot more time to explore each recreation area fully.

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Juniper Springs

juniper springs ocala national forest

Juniper Springs Recreation Area is one of my favorite springs in the Ocala National Forest. The spring is beautiful with a picturesque water mill built in the 1930’s by the CCC.

The swimming area is around 8-10 feet deep in most areas. You won’t be able to stand on the bottom anywhere. There is a concrete ledge around the whole spring where you can stand about knee deep, similar to a swimming pool.

There are a couple of deeper spring vents, where water flows out from underground limestone caves. Because the water comes from underground, is a constant 72-degrees year round.

This is not the biggest of the springs in the Ocala National Forest, but it is beautiful. This is definitely one to bring your snorkel! A large part of the swimming area is covered in eel grass. The grass indicates a healthy, natural spring, but most people don’t like to be touched by it. The spring is also filled with little minnows. They are completely harmless, but they were nibbling on my legs and feet if I stood still too long!

Tip: If you want to take underwater pictures at the springs without spending a lot of money, buy an inexpensive dry bag! I have used mine for 2 years at a ton of springs, rivers, and beaches and it works amazing!

Another exciting thing we saw at this park was a black bear! It was just a juvenile, but we were fairly close to it. We spotted it while we were on the boardwalk just behind the water mill. It was up a tree and it ran away as soon as it saw us coming. The Ocala National Forest is bear country, so be aware of your surroundings and always follow bear safety guidelines.

Fern Hammock Springs

Tucked away in the back of the park, you can find Fern Hammock Springs. You can’t swim in this spring, but it is pretty to look at. The water is bright blue and there are several big spring boils where water bubbles up through the sand. It was less than a mile hike to get to Fern Hammock Spring from the main recreation area. Typically there is a boardwalk trail leading to Fern Hammock Springs, but it was closed during our visit. Luckily you can cut through the campground to get there.

Other Activities:

Hiking: The interpretive Juniper Springs Nature Trail boardwalk winds around the Juniper Springs run and to Fern Hammock Springs. It was closed at the time of our visit, but there are several interconnected trails around the campground between the two springs. If you’re looking for a longer hike, The Florida Trail runs through the entrance of the park. Although you cannot park right at the trailhead, you can park in the regular parking lot and walk to the trail, then hike for as far as you would like. Hike north through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness or south through Farles Prairie. Please note: the Ocala National Forest is popular during general hunting season (between November and January) be sure to wear bright orange while hiking for your safety.

hiking juniper springs

Camping: There are 79 campsites at the park. The nightly fee is $28. From what we saw, each campsite also includes a bear safety locker. Plan accordingly, because there are bears in the area.

Paddling: On-site canoe rentals are available to paddle the seven-mile Juniper Springs run. There are some small rapids, and it can be a challenging paddle. Rentals are $20 for two hours, $28 for 4 hours, or $45 all day. The rental includes shuttle transport back to the park. Or bring your own vessel and launch for $6.

Picnicing: There are several picnic benches and pavilions available around the park and near the swimming area.

Park Info:

Hours: 8am – 8pm daily, hours vary by season

Cost: $11 per person weekends, $8 per person weekdays

Salt Springs

salt springs in ocala national forest

Salt Springs is another one of the springs in the Ocala National Forest. The Salt Springs Recreation area is large with lots of activities to do. The spring gets its name because of the presence of minerals in the water including sodium, potassium and magnesium. This makes the water slightly saline, but you probably won’t even notice it. It’s nowhere near salty like the ocean. The presence of minerals indicates that the water comes from deep underground. You can see where the water comes from deep fissures in the rock.

The swimming area is surrounded by a concrete wall with just two points of entry into the spring.

The first entrance you’ll come upon leads you into deep water. If you want to touch the bottom, go to the further entrance. The water at this location was about waist to chest deep. The closer you go towards the spring vent, the deeper it gets. Right around the vent, it is very rocky, which allows you to stand in some places. But be careful, the rocks can get slippery. I recommend wearing water shoes to keep you from slipping. Another thing to look out for is blue crabs! We counted four around the spring area!

The swimming area at Salt Springs Recreation Area is gigantic. Even if the spring is crowded, you’ll be able to easily spread out and enjoy floating on a tube without bumping into anyone.

Other Activities:

Hiking: The 1.4 mile Bear Swamp Trail loop starts near the campground. There are also walking paths around the whole recreation area with beautiful live oaks dripping with Spanish moss.

Camping: With over 150 campsites, Salt Springs Recreation Area is home to the largest campground in the Ocala National Forest, and the only one with full RV hookups. The campground is away from the busy day use area so you’ll have some privacy. Fees are $34 for full hookup sites, and $23 for tent sites, nightly.

Boating & Fishing: Salt Springs Marina is down the road from the main recreation area. There is a boat launch there, and kayak rentals available. Parking costs $10. You are also able to fish from a spot located near the campground. A valid Florida Freshwater Fishing License is required to fish in the Ocala National Forest. No fishing or boating is allowed inside the swimming area.

Picnicing: Picnic benches are available surrounding the swimming area and throughout the park. There is also a concessionaire at the parking area selling ice cream, camp supplies and other snacks.

Park Info:

Hours: 8am – 8pm daily, hours vary by season

Cost: the website lists the cost as $6.50 per person, but the fee was actually $10 per person on a weekend

Silver Glen Springs

One of the prettiest springs in the Ocala National Forest is Silver Glen Springs. The water is crystal clear with a deep blue spring vent. One of my favorite features is the palm tree growing right up through the water. It’s a great photo op!

Silver Glen Springs has a large swimming area with a sandy bottom. There is only one entrance into the spring which gently slopes into the water. Beyond the entrance point the water gets deeper, and there are no other points where you can touch the bottom. This is definitely a spring where you’ll want to bring a tube or raft.

The spring is full of mullet and other fish. In the wintertime, you might even see manatees coming into the warmer waters of the spring.

Other Activities

Hiking: There are a couple of hiking options here. Take the 3-mile (round trip) Lake George Trail which winds around the lake and through woods. Or take the short hike to Jody’s Spring via the 3/4 mile (round trip) Spring Boil Trail. This spring inspired one of the settings in the novel The Yearling.

Paddling: Canoes are available to rent right next to the swimming area. There is no boating inside the swimming area, but you’ll paddle out in to the spring run. Rentals are $20 for two hours, $28 for 4 hours, or $45 all day.

Picnicing: There were many picnic tables and grills around the spring. We packed a picnic and ate there. One unusual thing was that there were tons of vultures hanging around the picnic area, trying to get people’s food. Similar to seagulls at the beach, they would swarm to a table as soon as someone got up, looking for food left behind. They didn’t get too close to the people though, but they did make a lot of noise fighting with each other!

Park Info

This is one of the less developed recreation areas in the Ocala National Forest. There are no restrooms here, just port-a-potties.

Hours: 8am – 8pm daily, hours vary by season

Cost: $10 per person weekends, $7 per person weekdays

Alexander Springs

Alexander Springs is the only spring in the Ocala National Forest I haven’t been to yet. It’s a first magnitude spring with a large swimming area. Unlike other springs, the swimming area at Alexander has a gentle slope with plenty of shallow areas for wading. The spring is perfect for families.

This is also the only spring within the Ocala National Forest that allows scuba diving. You can explore the wide mouth of the spring vent. Keep in mind there is an additional scuba fee of $6.50 per person.

Other Activities

Hiking: The 1-mile interpretive Timucuan Trail is popular for a quick scenic hike by the spring run. There are also fishing platforms that can be accessed from the trail. If you’re looking for a longer hike, the Florida Trail also runs near the park and can be accessed via a trail at the campground.

Biking: Explore 22 miles of singletrack along the Paisley Woods Bicycle Trail between Alexander Springs Recreation Area and Clearwater Lake Recreation Area.

Camping: The 67 site campground can accommodate RVs and tents. Campsites cost $24 per night. This is a more primitive campground with no electric or water hookups.

Park Info

Hours: 8am – 8pm daily, hours vary by season

Cost: $10 per person weekends, $7 per person weekdays

Florida Springs FAQ’s

What is a spring?

Springs are created when rainwater collects underground and flows to the surface through the aquifer.  The aquifer is a network of limestone caves and crevasses which form the drinking water reserve for most of Florida. Many springs feed rivers or lakes around the state. Florida is the premier location to experience springs worldwide, because of the abundance and magnitude of our many springs. 

Are there alligators in the springs in the Ocala National Forest?

Most big springs (and all featured in this post) flow out into a river or other body of water. Alligators are commonly found in most Florida rivers and lakes. So it is possible that an alligator could make its way into a spring. However, it is pretty unlikely that they would come up into a cold, crowded swimming area. For the most part, alligators want nothing to do with you and if you leave them alone, they will not bother you. The idea of alligators should not stop you from enjoying Florida’s beautiful natural springs!

Are the springs cold?

Yes, the springs can feel chilly. Florida springs are typically 72-74 degrees year round. In the summer when it is 90+ degrees outside, it can feel very cold. But, as you start to swim and move around, your body will adjust to the temperature. The colder the air temperature, the warmer the springs will feel. My recommendation is to go during the fall, winter, and spring when the air temperature is in the 70s and 80s. It won’t be as big of an adjustment to get into the water. That being said, bring warm towels and dry clothes to change into after swimming.

What should I bring to the springs?

The essentials are a swimsuit and towel. You may also want water shoes because sometimes springs have slippery rocks or sharp shells. My favorite activity is snorkeling at the springs, so I suggest bringing a snorkel set or goggles. It’s also nice to float along the water on a noodle or tube. I always bring a dry bag to keep my phone dry, and also to take underwater photos and video. And don’t forget to bring plenty of water, and snacks if you like. Most parks have picnic areas around the spring. See my recommendations below!

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What animals might I see in the springs?

Fish are the most common animal you’ll see in the spring. Depending on the spring, you might see different kinds like mullet, sucker fish, and gar. You can also see turtles, crabs, and birds. If you visit during the winter, you might even see manatees!

Can I snorkel or scuba dive in the springs in the Ocala National Forest?

Snorkeling- yes! Definitely bring your mask, snorkel and/or fins. There is lots to see under the surface. Scuba diving is prohibited in all areas of the Ocala National Forest besides Alexander Springs.

Can I bring my own food, drinks, grill, chairs, and/or canopy tent?

Yes! I definitely recommend bringing your own food and drinks to the springs. Plenty of water is a must for each person in your group. Not all springs have water fountains. You can also bring a picnic lunch to enjoy at the picnic areas. You are allowed to bring your own portable grills and canopy tents. There is lots of space to set up near all these springs.

When is the best time to visit the springs in the Ocala National Forest?

All times of year are great to visit Florida springs. The springs will feel most refreshing (chilly) in the summer when it’s hot outside. They are the most crowded during summertime, holidays and school breaks. As with most activities, the springs will be less crowded if you visit on a weekday. I’ve also found that going on an overcast day will keep most of the crowds away. During the winter, springs become sanctuaries for manatees seeking refuge from the cold ocean waters, so some springs may close to water activities during winter. My personal favorite time of year to visit the springs is during spring and fall when they are least crowded and the weather is mild.

Are there any discounts for the springs in the Ocala National Forest?

Not really… which is unfortunate since the costs of these springs can add up if you’re visiting with a group. The best offer is buying an Annual Recreation Pass which allows you to enter any of the Ocala National Forest Recreation areas for free during the calendar year. The passes start at $60 per person. So it might be worth it if you live in the area or are a frequent visitor of the springs in the Ocala National Forest.

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.

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14 thoughts on “Springs In The Ocala National Forest”

  1. Have you seen the trash heaps and meth heads in the Ocala national forest, anyone with any sense would not bring their family out to this part of florida.

      1. Thanks for your input Elle! I thought the recreation areas were well maintained and great for families.

  2. The Ocala National Forest is a fantastic place to visit. The Springs are tranquil and relaxing. A great place to visit to get away from the hussle -bussle of city life. One of Florida’s best kept secrets!!! A true look at old Florida.

  3. Question – once you enter the national forest, do you have a separate entrance to each spring? Do they turn ppl away from the springs at capacity? Or is it once you’re in the forest you go wherever you want, including each spring?

    1. Hi Brittany! Yes, each spring and recreation area has its own separate entrance with its own separate entrance fees. There is no official entrance into the forest itself, since quite a few roads cross through it. As for capacity, I personally didn’t experience anyone being turned away so I can’t say for sure. But from what I’m reading from others, it seems like you won’t be turned away but might have to wait awhile outside the entrance until a spot is available. I always recommend getting there early for the springs to beat some of the crowds. Hope this helps

  4. Pingback: Things to Do in Tallahassee, FL - Florida Lives

    1. Hi Robert, great question! The pass website doesn’t say anything about camping. I haven’t personally purchased the pass, so I’m not sure. I would call one of the recreation areas to find out!

  5. Can I bring my small toy poodle? Me and my wife are truckers stopping in Ocala for a load and want to visit the park

  6. Can I bring my small toy poodle? Me and my wife are truckers stopping in Ocala for a load and want to visit the park

    1. Hi Rickey, it’s my understanding that pets are not allowed inside the springs recreation areas. However you may want to call the park’s ranger station for more specific information.

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