Did you know that Florida is home to more large natural springs than any other state in the US? One of these is the Alexander Springs, located within the Alexander Springs Recreation Area. With its subtropical climate and natural beauty, Alexander Springs Recreation Area is a great place for families to visit. There are so many things to do here, like swimming, canoeing, hiking and most importantly, soaking in the beauty of the breathtaking springs themselves! Springs are one of the best ways for kids to have fun within nature and one of the many things to do for kids in the Orlando area. So, read on to find out everything you need to know about this amazing vacation spot.
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Where Is Alexander Springs Recreation Area?
Alexander Recreation Area is located within the Ocala National Forest, which lies off the east side of the Mississippi River in North Central Florida. More specifically, it’s situated between Altoona and Astor, and to get there you’ll need to take County Road (C4) 445, which runs along the northeast side of Lake County.
If you’re going to drive from Astor, you will need to start from State Road (SR) 40 and then proceed to Butler Street to take CR 445A. You will find the recreation area on your right after you take a left and drive on CR 445 for 5.8 miles. If you’re starting from Altoona instead, you should go north along State Route 19 for about five miles and then take CR 445 on your right. After 5.1 miles, you will find yourself at the entrance of the area on the left.
When making the trip by flight, you can either fly to Daytona Beach Regional Airport that is about 50km away or to Orlando Airport (MCO), which is about 78km away. Hailing a taxi or bus from either airports is a piece of cake. Plus there’s plenty of parking space at the recreation area, leaving you one less thing to worry about!
As long as you are not planning to camp here, a visit to Alexander Springs Recreation Area is best planned as a day trip. However, if you do have your heart set on staying the night, there are plenty of hotels for you to choose from, like The Artisan Downtown Hotel and Courtyard DeLand Historic Downtown. While it is true that they are located a little far out (about 17 miles away), they are both still great places to stay with the family.
What Is Alexander Springs Recreation Area?
The Alexander Springs is a natural wonder that is located within the Alexander Springs Recreation Area in Ocala National Forest. It is known to have some of the most scenic spots in the country, and is open to the public for hiking, swimming, camping, and all things outdoorsy! The recreation area was constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and it falls under the USDA Forest Service administration.
Sometimes water has to travel for many miles beneath the surface of the earth, before it finally comes to the surface at a point known as a spring. The Alexander Springs has a large spring pool 25 ft deep and measures 258 ft east to west and 300 ft north to south. The water source (or boil) of the Springs is towards the end of the swimming area, 25 feet below. The water from the springs flows into the Alexander Springs Creek, which eventually becomes part of the St. Johns River. It’s about 8 river miles east, and surrounding the area are both wetlands and forests.
Officially designated an Outstanding Florida Spring, the Alexander Springs is one of Florida’s 27 first-magnitude springs. This means that this spring discharges about 64.6 million gallons of water every day, which is a lot of water by any standard! With its forested scenery, the Alexander Springs Recreation Area is a great place to do a wide range of activities like canoeing, hiking, picnicking and even a little wildlife gazing.
What are the opening times for Alexander Springs Recreation Area?
The Alexander Springs Recreation Area is generally open between 8 a.m. and dusk every day, all year round. The campground gates, however, close at 8 p.m. on summer weekends, and at 6 p.m. during regular winter weeks.
How busy is Alexander Springs Recreation Area
Alexander Springs is an extremely popular swimming hole, and as a result is quite crowded during the summer and spring months. Once the maximum capacity is reached, the recreation area gates close to the public, so it is recommended to call in advance to find out for yourself how crowded it is.
For those looking to avoid the crowds and enjoy a quieter environment, it’s best to visit on a weekday during wintertime. Weekdays in general see far fewer people, making them ideal for families hoping to to snorkel or swim, no matter the season. One thing you do not have to worry about when visiting this recreation area is parking, as there’s plenty of space available within easy walking distance from the springs and other amenities.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit Alexander Springs Recreation Area?
Price of entry depends on car load, with every person above the age of 6 being considered a chargeable occupant. Rates vary between $7 and $10 per person, so visiting Alexander Springs Recreation Area on a weekday can cost a family of four anywhere between $14 and $28, and $20 to $40 on weekends (without taxes). Keep in mind that this fee is exclusive of the cost of equipment you may choose to rent while at the area, like kayaks and canoes. Canoe, kayak and SUP prices range from $35 to $50 per vessel.
If you are planning to visit more often, you can save some money by purchasing an annual or weekly pass, like the Ocala National Forest Recreation Area Pass. This pass is valid for a year and costs around $60. Another option is the Ocala National Forest Springs Hopper Pass, a day-pass that costs about $70 and is also valid for a whole year. If you’re traveling with an elderly member of your family, you may also consider purchasing a senior pass.
What is the water temperature at Alexander Springs Recreation Area?
At a constant 72℉, the water temperature is comfortably cool, with clear blue waters and a sandy bottom. The best part is that the water temperature stays close to constant even as the seasons change, making it a great place to swim no matter the time of year!
Pro-tip: Wearing a wetsuit can help you stay comfortable in the water for longer.
The swimming area is very safe. It starts out really shallow, and then gradually gets deeper, which makes it perfect for both children and adults. And because there is always a lifeguard on duty, you can safely swim with your toddler without any worries. Please remember to pay attention to the clearly marked areas where people are prohibited from swimming, so as to avoid any interactions between the crowds and the native flora.
Can You Tube At Alexander Springs Recreation Area
Tubing is one of the best activities for a family to do during a vacation at Alexander Springs. With it being shallow enough for kids of all ages and large enough for families of every size, all you really need to do is lay back and enjoy the scenery as you float gently downstream. Just note that it’s still not a recommended activity for kids under five years of age to attempt on their own so make sure you are close by at all times.
Are There Alligators at Alexander Springs Recreation Area?
Most of Florida’s natural springs are home to alligators and snakes, and Alexander Springs is no exception. However, you won’t need to worry about them all too much either, as the few alligators that have been reported here have been found to be quite small. And, alligators and other wildlife don’t normally stray into areas that are occupied by humans, so you should be fine as long as you stay where the crowds are, and keep away from the swamps. Remember to always keep your toddlers and pets close when out in the wild. As always in Florida, keep an eye out.
Alexander Springs Recreation Area Campground Information
There are many great things about Alexander Springs Campground. For one, it’s got 67 campsites that are all located at a comfortable walking distance from the picnicking spots and swimming areas. Some of these sites operate on a first-come-first-serve basis, while others require campers to make prior reservations. Another great thing is that you can book your site up to 6 months in advance, or even at the very latest 3 days prior, by going to Recreation.gov. And finally, campers are welcome to stay at this campground for 14 consecutive days within a 30 day period.
When it comes to rules and restrictions, the campgrounds require that your RV be smaller than 35 feet in length. They also close the gates at dusk, so if you plan to arrive after dark, you will need to call and get an access code beforehand. And while bicycles, alcohol and pets are allowed at the campsites, they are not permitted in the day use and spring area.
Things To Do At Alexander Springs Recreation Area With Kids
Hiking and Picknicking
A day at Alexander Springs is incomplete without a short hike! Take a stroll down the boardwalk beside the swimming area and let it take you deep into the palm trees and the swamps. This path, called the Timucuan Trail, is named after the Timucuan Indians who are one of Florida’s earliest tribes. The trail begins where the boardwalk connects to a dirt path that ultimately leads to the Timucuan Indian shell mounds.
The entire loop is 1.1 miles long, and best suited for families with older kids. Be warned that these parts of the recreation area are home to several animals, including raccoons, herons, and even the occasional gator! So if that is a concern, you may want to choose to stop where the boardwalk ends and skip the dirt trail.
If you’re looking for a more challenging hike, you might want to consider the 1,400 mile long Florida National Scenic Trail. Don’t forget to bring everything you’ll need with you, like all of your hiking essentials and some goodies for when you reach your destination. Because nothing beats rewarding yourself and your family with a picnic under the oaks that’s complete with a barbecue!
Canoeing/Kayaking down Alexander Run
The Alexander Springs Recreation Area launch is located beyond the swimming area, and it is from there that the Alexander Run begins. The run makes its way through the swamp for 14 miles before joining the St. John’s River, and is the ideal stretch for a range of activities like kayaking, canoeing and even paddling.
You can either bring your own equipment or rent it at the recreation area. One thing that is important to know, however, is that there is no shuttle to take visitors back to the start of the run. This means you should either be prepared to do a round trip, or have arranged for a pickup at the Country Road 445 bridge.
Teach your kids to fish for the first time at Alexander Springs and catch a variety of fish like the bluegill, redear, and largemouth bass. Just don’t forget to bring your Florida state fishing license along with your equipment!
Family Tips For Alexander Springs Recreation Area
- Florida can get pretty hot, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled for a heat advisory. Remember to pack plenty of water, bug spray, sunblock, a camera (preferably a water-proof one), a fully stocked diaper bag, and extra pairs of clothing.
- While the drive to Alexander Springs isn’t difficult, it can seem narrow and winding at times, so make sure you carry enough food for the journey. Once at the recreation area, the concession stand is a great option for a quick meal, but nothing comes close to carrying your own packed lunches for a good old fashioned picnic, so pack accordingly!
- Make sure your food is sealed properly and kept away from curious, non-human friends like vultures and raccoons! Also remind to your little ones to dispose of their leftovers in the garbage cans that are placed around the area. Helping children understand the importance of respecting the environment and all of its inhabitants is one of the most valuable lessons you can teach them while spending time together in the wild.
- If you are planning to take part in water activities, remember to pack snorkels and swimming gear, but leave your flippers behind as you don’t want to kick up the sand from the bed.
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