Before Disney World, Silver Springs State Park was THE destination for families and friends who wanted to relax and have fun. And with everything that there is to see and do there, it’s no wonder why either! From going on glass-bottom boat tours to seeing exotic birds, Silver Springs State Park has so much to offer for vacationing families. Just one of the many things to do for kids in the Orlando area. This article covers everything there is to know about this amazing state park, including the ins and outs of camping at the very famous silver springs campground!
Where is Silver Springs State Park?
Silver Springs State Park is located towards the eastern side of downtown Ocala. I hour and 20 minutes from Orlando. If you are traveling by car, start from Yorkville, take Route 47, turn south and keep driving for about 5 miles. If you plan to take a bus, the nearest station, Ne 55th Ave. & Ne 30th St. is about 11 minutes away.
You can access this park through both the main entrance and the camping entrance. The main entrance is located at 5656 East Silver Springs Boulevard off State Road 40, and the camping entrance is at 1425 NE 58th Avenue off County Road 35.
By entering through the main entrance, you will directly be able to access some of the park’s must-see attractions, like the headsprings and the gardens. On the other hand, the camping entrance will lead you directly to the silver springs campground, the hiking trails, and other attractions, like the Silver River Museum and Pioneer Cracker Village.
A trip to the park is best planned as a day trip, but if you are thinking of spending the weekend there, there is a lovely place right opposite the park, called the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Silver Springs.
What is Silver Springs State Park?
The Silver Springs State Park, previously known as the Silver River State Park, is home to Florida’s first-ever tourist attraction, Silver Springs. Located on the Silver River, the Silver Springs refers to a group of springs that flow into the river in Marion County. Springs like this one are natural wonders mainly because they are points on the earth’s surface where underground water springs up due to pressure. They make wonderful places to relax and have fun!
The Silver Springs draw water from a cavern 20 meters long and 3.6 meters high, discharging more than 73,500,000 cubic feet of water per day. The region sees a lot of rainfall and is home to many aquatic and wildlife species.
Here is an interesting bit of trivia for you; Silver Springs has been a popular tourist attraction ever since the 1820s. Despite this, the park itself wasn’t created until 1985, and the Silver River Museum and Environmental Center were opened soon after. In fact, the entrance station was only built in 2000!
What Are The Opening Times For Silver Springs State Park?
Silver Springs State Park is open 365 days a year, from 8 a.m. to sundown. However, it is advisable to call and check in advance if the park will be fully open, as some parts are kept closed during special occasions. Also, keep in mind that the Environmental Center and the Silver River Museum operate on a different schedule and are open only for a limited period of time.
Remember that there is no check-point upon arrival at Silver Springs State Park. Instead, guests are required to park in one of the parking lots and then check-in to the state park through either of the two entrances. If you plan to visit often, purchasing an Annual Entrance Pass can be a good option.
How Busy Is Silver Springs State Park?
Summer is easily the busiest time at the Park. July is pretty crowded, with August and June following close behind. However, the fall season (between September and November) is also quite busy. Prices might also be a little steeper than usual during these months, so we advise you to plan accordingly.
Between March and May, Florida’s springs tend to be on the warmer side, and there’s not as much traffic either, making it an excellent time for discounts and deals. Winter (December through February) is the slowest season, and is also when you should expect the most rain.
Remember that on average, weekdays are quieter than the weekends. The launch area, in particular, sees the most traffic on the weekends. If you are really looking to avoid the crowds, early in the morning is the ideal time to visit. Another great way to beat the crowds is to purchase a single-use day pass in advance online.
How Much Does It Cost To Visit Silver Springs State Park?
When planning a trip to Silver Springs State Park, it’s important to think about the costs of all the various things you’ll encounter along the way. But if you plan to keep things simple, you can be pretty sure it won’t burn a hole in your pocket.
For a family of four driving in by car, the cost of admission will be no more than $8 per vehicle, since that’s the cost of parking a regular vehicle. Discounts apply for those who possess an Annual Individual Entrance Pass. Entry for guests arriving on foot or bicycle costs $2 per head.
Kayaking and canoeing are arguably the best things to do at Silver Springs. Renting a canoe or kayak costs anywhere from $15 to $20 per hour, but you could always choose to bring your own. Just remember that you’ll still be charged $4 to launch it. A visit to the park would be incomplete without also going on a glass-bottom tour, which costs $12 for adults and $11 for children. But for children under six years of age, it’s free.
Camping at Silver Springs State Park is another wonderful option for families. The average price per night is about $40, but renting a cabin can cost almost thrice as much.
Don’t worry if you’re not planning on doing any of this the first time you visit. Instead, you can choose to immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the springs by walking with your family. They make for great bonding moments, and are also a great way to have fun while spending very little money.
What is the water temperature at Silver Springs State Park?
The water temperature at Silver Springs is a constant 74°F, nice and warm. Swimming is unfortunately not currently allowed at the springs, but don’t let that deter you from visiting because there’s plenty of other things to do there.
Are There Alligators At Silver Springs State Park?
The warm temperatures of the Silver Springs unfortunately make it perfect for alligators that frequent the location. As a precaution, don’t get too close to alligators when kayaking or canoeing. And be extra careful with children younger than 6.
Silver Springs State Park Campground Information
If you want to enjoy some quality time with your family without the hassle of finding a hotel, then you must consider Silver Springs camping. The Silver Springs State Park camping grounds are suitable for families with children of all ages, from toddlers and young kids to teenagers and young adults. There are 59 sites located within two campground loops, with enough space for you to set up camp, pitch your tent, or park your RV. The campgrounds offer access to electric hook-ups, barbecue grills, picnic tables, hot showers, flush toilets, a dump station, and even a laundry area.
You may also choose to stay in the picaresque cabins nestled deep within the beautiful pine trees if you are looking for a more sophisticated experience. The cabins are best suited for a family of six, but have huge, screened porches and large picnic tables that can easily accommodate upto 20 members. So, if you are planning a large family gathering, this would be ideal! You can make reservations for both the cabin and the campground online.
Things To Do At Silver Springs State Park With Kids
Here’s a list of all the most fun things to do at Silver Springs State Park with the family:
Glass Bottom Boat tours
Glide along the Springs in an iconic glass-bottom boat and revel in the mesmerizing underwater view of the countless species of fishes and other aquatic life. Keep your eyes peeled for historical artifacts that are rumored to have belonged to the Timucuan Native Indians. If you are really lucky, you might even spot a few abandoned movie props inside the Spring!
You can either opt for a 30-minute guided tour that is available daily, or go on an extended ride that lasts 1.5 hours. Extended tours are only offered on weekends and require riders to register beforehand.
Pro tip: If you are visiting the state park between November and April, consider taking the 90-minute ride, as it’s one of the best ways to spot some manatees.
Silver Springs kayaking and Canoeing
What’s a day at Silver Springs without kayaking and canoeing? The Silver River flows for about five miles from the head spring until it joins the Ocklawaha River, paddling the whole five miles will take you about 3-4 hours to complete. This can get exhausting for families with kids, so it makes more sense to make it a one hour-ride instead. However long you want to stay on the river, there is transportation provided to take you back upstream, so you won’t have to worry about anything. You can either rent your own canoe/kayak or bring your own and paddle downstream. There is even a clear-bottom kayak that you can rent for an even more exciting time!
Whether you are a novice or an experienced hiker, Silver Springs State Park offers a lot to see and do. The Creek Trail is a good choice if you have young kids, as it only goes for less than a mile. It’s actually along this trek that you will find the Half-Mile Creek, the only tributary of the Silver River.
The more experienced hikers should check out Sandhill Trail. This 1.7 mile long trail is located next to the Camping Entrance ranger station, and allows you to catch a glimpse of the longleaf pine uplands. Parking right next to the ranger station is permitted. If you are after even more adventure, you’ll enjoy the challenge of taking on the Spring Connector Trail, which is about 4.6 miles long as a round trip. It is a blue-blazed trail that can be accessed from the main entrance.
Wildlife watching and birding
The Silver Springs Park stretches for about 5,000 acres and hosts a diverse range of reptiles, fish, and mammals. In the uplands, you will catch sight of animals like the armadillo, coyote, Sherman fox squirrel and Gopher tortoise. If you are really lucky, you might even see a Florida black bear! Bird enthusiasts will definitely love it here, as the upland area is famous for bobwhite quails, American kestrels, and limpkins. More of an aquatic life lover? Head to the river, home to the occasional manatees, alligators, turtles, and several kinds of fish.
Visiting the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center
A trip to the park doesn’t have to be all about canoeing, biking, and hiking. You can also get educated about Florida’s history and geology! The Center and Museum, which are both a part of the Marion County Public School, will help you learn all about this.
Within the park, there are limited trails for cycling, but that isn’t to say there aren’t any noteworthy ones! The sidewalks around the headsprings and gardens are especially recommended for cycling, along with the entrance section and the paved trail near Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway.
A picnic is such a simple, elegant way to enjoy a lovely day out. For this purpose, several picnic tables are available throughout the park and at the picnic pavilions. Some of these locations even have charcoal grills. Just be sure to keep an eye out for monkeys and raccoons!
Family Tips For Silver Springs State Park
- Florida can be pretty warm, especially during the summers! So, it’s always a good idea to dress for the weather, carry hats, visors, umbrellas and sunblock.
- Carrying along an extra pair of clothes and footwear can also come in handy, in case anyone gets wet. If you are traveling with a toddler, make sure to pack extra diapers.
- Make sure to pack enough food and water for the journey if you are driving. Once you’ve arrived at the park, you will find plenty of eateries where you can enjoy a delicious meal. No need to worry about toilets either, as there are several within the park premises.
- Next, you want to carry along hiking essentials – appropriate footwear, a first-aid kit, and even some rain gear. If you are bringing your own canoe/kayak, then make sure to bring along a buoyancy aid, a dry bag (to keep your belongings dry), and a whistle (for emergencies).
- Some people experience motion sickness when boating, especially kids! If that sounds like you or your family, pack some medications for the same.
- Lastly, always remain aware of your surroundings, as alligators have been reported to laze around the river banks.
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