One of the best and most underrated places to visit in Central Florida is the Salt Springs Recreation Area in Ocala. Yet, the crystal blue-green waters of the spring are considered by many to be the ultimate cure for the Florida summer heat, and the perfect antidote to aging! 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. Whether you want to cool-off, go camping or are just craving some extra adventure, the shallow spring run and trail loops teeming with wildlife are sure to be the ultimate fun-package for you and the kids. Before you can head to the pristine springs to take a dip in its healing waters, however, you need to know everything you can about them, so keep reading!
Where is Salt Springs?
Salt Springs is located right in the heart of the Ocala National Forest area in Marion County, Florida, about 35 miles east of Ocala near Lake George.
To reach the springs by road, drive up FL-19 N through the Florida turnpike toll road from Orlando. Ride straight for 1.5 hours while you take in the view of the lake on your right, and pass by the Ocala National Reserve area before you arrive at Salt Springs. County roads 314, 316 and north of State Road 40 are the other main roads that run through the springs depending on where you are coming from.
You can also choose to ditch the wheel and take a taxi from Orlando Car Hire or MCO transport, but just keep in mind that this option will unfortunately cost you about 10 times more. Alternatively, you can also arrive at the springs through a combination of rail travel and taxi where you will be able to cut costs without having to compromise on fun or leisure. The 2 hour Silver Meteor train service from Orlando that runs thrice daily is a great option for this route. It takes you to Palatka Amtrak, which is located a mere 25 miles from the Salt Springs Recreation Area by taxi.
What is Salt Springs?
A salt spring is formed when groundwater leaks through salt-bearing mineral-rich rocks onto the surface. The Salt Springs in Ocala Florida is a second magnitude natural spring that releases 52 million gallons of water per day from 4 boils formed by limestone reefs. They were believed to be the earliest natural salt mines of the native Timicuan tribe before they were harvested by the State. The spring run joins Lake George in a slow shallow simmer.
Originally a Royal gift from King George, the Salt Springs went on to serve the commercial interests of nobles and merchants for over a century before being assimilated into the Ocala National Forest. The spring was a remote Florida treasure until the early nineteenth century, but that didn’t stop people from seeking it out for its medicinal waters and a rejuvenating summer dip. And once the County Roads opened, this unincorporated community became a favorite family destination for locals and outsiders alike.
What are the opening times for Salt Springs?
Salt Springs offers year-round recreation within a 12-hour window from 8 to 8 everyday, except on State and Federal holidays. The timings may vary slightly depending on the season, so it’s a good idea to ring the Lake George Ranger District office or the Seminole Office Ranger District office before you plan your visit.
How busy is Salt Springs?
You’ll find the spring run to be busiest during the summer, between May and June. But unlike state parks, the crowds are more evenly spread throughout the year due to the woods having an ethereal beauty that transcends seasons. On an average, Salts Springs recreational area is more full on the weekends than it is during the weekdays.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit Salt Springs?
The Salt Springs Recreation Area is not a state park so the costs are slightly higher. However, we definitely think a $6 entry fee per person for a day is worth it for the fun you will have inside. If you wish to swim in the springs frequently throughout the year without camping, it’s a good idea to opt for the Ocala National Forest Recreation Pass for $60 which will allow you to access any of the springs inside the forest reserve for a year.
Tubes and floats can be rented for a reasonable price inside. Kayaks are $22 for 2 hours, $24 for 4 hours, and $38 for a day. If you bring your own floats and swim noodles, you can further reduce costs.
Salt Springs has a huge camping area unlike any other in Florida. If you plan on camping there overnight, expect to shell out an upwards of $25 for primitive sites and $35 for RVs, trailers and full hookup sites. The rates can go over $55 on busier days like Fridays and Saturdays.
If you’ve got your heart set on a fun, cool dip in the springs without all the bells and whistles, a small family of four can enjoy it for less than $30. It ultimately all depends on what kind of family vacation you enjoy the most.
What is the water temperature at Salt Springs?
Salt Springs maintains a constant 74°F throughout the year which makes it a swimming hotspot during Florida summers. The state’s mild winters also draw in their fair share of swimmers who are looking for one last dip between October and early November, before it gets too cold.
Can You Tube At Salt Springs?
The tube run at Salt Springs is one of the safest and most fun tube runs in Florida, making it a great way to have fun with your family. Start your journey at the swimming area that is roped off at the start of the Salt Run, where canoes, kayaks and boats are launched. The tube run is shallow and very gentle, allowing even the youngest members of your troop the time to see the rocky underwater bed and large fish as they float down the run.
Are There Alligators At Salt Springs?
Yes, but they are not known for enter the swimming hole during the day, which is clearly separated from the rest of the run that joins Lake George. Note that there are no lifeguards on duty at Salt Springs, so it is always a good idea to keep a close eye on little ones while they are in the water to avoid mishaps of all sorts. As always in Florida, keep an eye out!
Salt Springs Florida Campground Information
With 160 camping sites, Salt Springs Florida campground is the largest in the Ocala forests. There are 54 primitive sites, and 106 that are well equipped with water, electricity and full hookups for RVs and trailers. The campground is divided into two areas that are separated by a large overflow parking lot, making extra vehicles a non-issue here.
The campground is 40 feet wide and can accommodate a maximum of 180 people. Camp gear and amenities include picnic tables, firewood, trash dumps, barbecue grills, bear canopies, bathhouses, flush toilets and hot showers. Pets are allowed as long as they are leashed, and the fact that the entire area is well-maintained and kept absolutely clean comes as a pleasant bonus.
The only downside to the campground is that it’s a long walk from the swimming area to the campgrounds. But for most campers, this same walk which seems tiring during the summer months, can feel like a lovely warm up during the winter months. Another thing to note is that the sandy scrub ecosystem of the Ocala offers moderately shaded spots at best, therefore making it best to avoid open air camping during the summers.
Things To Do At Salt Springs With Kids
Head down to the swimming hole and soak up some mineral goodness. The pool is cordoned off from the rest of the run and is the same depth throughout, making it the perfect place for kids to get their first swimming lessons! They’re also be excited to spot the 6 foot long fish that sometimes manage to wriggle their way into the pool. A little ways off from the swimming area is a 35 foot spring vent that offers a miniature diving experience for your older kids.
Put on your snorkels and enter a magical underwater world at the Salt Springs. Children will get to see a sun-bleached limestone spring bed decked with bright green moss, blue crabs and a variety of fishes, among a lot else!
Kayaking, Canoeing and Paddling
A few feet from the swimming bay begins the Salt Run from where kayaks, paddle boats and canoes are launched. It is at this location that all rentals are available as well, making the gentle 4.5 mile waterway convenient to access for all kinds of families. Two side creeks offer a sneak peak into the most beautiful part of the spring run, which opens out into wide wetland marshes before meeting with Lake George. You will encounter the longest stretches of no-wake zones before you see some shade.
So get ready to make your way down the bubbling spring where you will see gopher tortoises lazing on the banks in large numbers, alligators basking in the sun, eastern indigo snakes, ladyfish, sea robins, needlefish and striped bass swim that so close to your paddles!
Salt Spring Loop, a popular 1.2 mile trail that starts at the parking lot takes you through a medley of habitats. This short and easy hike leads to an observation platform along the spring run which is a great spot for photography.
Take your cue from the interpretive kiosk at the trailhead and watch nature change its scenic wallpapers at every turn. From a floodplain ecosystem, you step into a scrub oak habitat and then finally into a wild oak hammock with towering slash pines. Sweetgum, red maple, pink and white lichen beautifying the sand-like oaks, dogwoods, southern magnolia, saw palmetto and rusty lyonia are some of what you will see flanking the trails as you take your stroll.
Keep in mind that wild black mama bears are sometimes spotted walking the trail with their cubs, but they are not known to attack unprovoked. So keep your own littles close, keep a safe distance from wild animals, and you should be good to go!
The observation platform overlooking the Salt Spring Run makes for the perfect bird watching area to show kids soaring eagles, hawks and ospreys in the blue skies above. Don’t forget to look below to catch the majestic blue herons stealing some fish from the shallow spring run!
Enjoy a gentle cruise down a 5 mile long waterway while taking in the splendid scenery and the unique wildlife that dwell in the springs. The waterway runs from the Salt Spring Run Marina, joins Lake George, to then meet the St Johns’ River. The launch has a boat ramp for those who bring their own boat, but rentals are also available and go quickly! For reservations and inquiry, visit the website.
Spooky Historical Ruins
Take the kids to see the spooky, deserted remains of a 20th century mansion called the “Morgan-Townsend House.” It’s located amid the Timicuan and Seminole relics that are scattered around the Salt Spring area, and is famous in the locale for several alleged paranormal sightings. Whether you’re a believer or not, the experience of visiting a “haunted house” with your family is sure to be unforgettable.
Set up your fishing gear at the Salt Spring Run by the small coves along the calm shoreline. The Cypress trees here give ample shade and offer a great fishing experience. Bass is the most common fish found in the springs but the bluegill is quite the catch if you’ve got the patience and the skill! You can also choose to go kayak fishing and anchor your rods where you please within the Salt Run fishing area.
Family Tips For Salt Springs
The Salt Springs in Ocala Florida is a popular family destination during every season, so be early even on weekdays to skip the crowds.
Carry enough (and extra) diapers, paper towels and a broad spectrum sunblock!
The concessionaire at the springs has good food but few options to choose from, so stock up on drinking water and keep some snacks handy, especially if you have some picky eaters.
Pack appropriate hiking, camping and swimming gear. Don’t forget to carry essential first-aid and a good insect repellent spray.
Water shoes or flippers are a must to wade through the mossy spring bed. Carry wide hats or umbrellas during summer to shield yourself from direct sunlight on the walkway from the campground towards the spring.
Be aware of the wildlife that share the springscape and keep toddlers and small kids within reach.
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