We were fortunate to get a site at Salt Springs Recreation Area for 4 nights.
This is the only campground in Ocala National Forest that has hookups. There are 12 campgrounds in total. The others are all primitive campsites.
The Gems of the Ocala
Ocala is known for it’s four freshwater springs, Alexander Springs, Juniper Springs, Silver Glen Springs and Salt Springs. These are called the gems of the Ocala. The springs formed millions of years ago when a shallow sea that once covered much of Florida formed layers of limestone from compressed coral reefs and shells. The water is a constant 72 degrees year-round and the springs pour water from the aquifer daily. At the springs, activities such as swimming, boating, fishing and snorkeling are permitted.
Our campground at Salt Springs was nice but there was not much vegetation between sites like we had elsewhere.
Instead of the camp sites backing up to one another, there was a large grassy open area where kids or adults could run and play. There were some trees and the roadways were nice for biking. There were about 102 RV sites and about 50 primitive tent sites.
Salt Springs was a very beautiful area with waters that ranged from aqua to turquoise to green! Salt Springs has numerous vertical fissures where the water comes up from the aquifer. There were lots of fish, turtles and even crabs.
The area is walled off on three sides to create a nice swimming area.
We saw lots of people swimming and snorkeling. There were families playing in the water and the water was pretty warm.
We had purchased some rafts, so we could relax on the water. It was fun to relax and flow down the stream. If we got into the shade, it got chilly and Linda got off her raft and pulled us back up to the sun.
There was a nice marina at Salt Springs that you had to go out of the campground to get to.
This is another view of the marina.
There is also a nice 2 mile trail that goes out to a pavilion. We hiked down a bit of it with Heidi.
The kayak trip from hell!
We decided to go to Juniper Springs and do the kayak trip down the Juniper Creek. It is a 7 mile, approximately 4-5 hour trip down an extremely narrow creek. We talked to the concessionaire and told her we wanted something with backs on the seat and she recommended a two person kayak, which we rented. We had to watch a safety/rules video and then go to an actual talk. The woman who gave the talk sounded like a Drill Sargent and kept saying, “you will not do this, you will not do that or else”!!!
When all of that was done, we went to get our kayak and it didn’t have backs on the seats!
We talked to the personnel and they said we could get individual kayaks. She walked back up to the rental store with us, but all the kayaks had been rented out even though they were still there. People were getting their indoctrination to the rules! So, the only thing they could offer us was a canoe. We decided to go for it and rented the canoe with a guarantee they would refund the difference in price when we returned. By then it was nearly close to 11am, which was the last trip of the day in order to get back to the take out point for the last shuttle.
We’re trying to follow the rules!
We went to the car to get our snacks and drinks. There are no disposable containers allowed on the creek which is a wilderness area. They told us we were allowed 2 ziploc bags for our phones or cameras. Using only one bag for a phone, we packed cheese, an apple, crackers and fig bars in the other ziploc bag. For a water source, we used a water hydration pack.
We got to our canoe and found out we had to haul the thing about ¼ mile down a boardwalk path to get to the start of the trip.
They had portage wheels, but the canoe was a big, heavy 16 foot steel canoe and it was heavy! When we got it up on the portage wheels, it slid off!! We finally managed to get it going and started down the path. The path was not straight and we kept fighting the canoe trying to keep it on the dolly and going the correct direction. Linda got bumped off the path and had to jump into the marsh about 1.5 feet below her in order to not get banged up! We were sure glad there wasn’t a gator or snake right there! Finally, we made it to the starting point and were surprised at how narrow the creek was. It was about 4 feet wide and the water level was very low!
Another Drill Sargent enforces the rules!
There was a lady there to check our bags to verify we didn’t have any disposable items. We took out our ziploc bag of crackers and she just started saying, “Nope, Nope, Nope”. We explained that we used only one ziploc for our phone – that didn’t matter. Ziplocs bags cannot be used for food! She said we could go back to the store to buy a plastic container to put them in for about $2.00. We told her our money was in the car and we were fed up with all the issues renting the kayak and ending up with a canoe. Feeling exasperated, we just dumped our crackers, cheese, fig bars loosely in the ditty bag and left the ziploc bag on the bench, where we noticed lots of other items left by people that we believe were confused by the rules as well. It didn’t seem to bother her that we were greatly frustrated; she took no pity on us! As a matter of fact, she seemed to like being The Enforcer!
With a twinkle in her eye, she told us we had to take the wheels back to the starting point. Yes… all the way back to the starting point! Kathy took them back but kept running into people coming the other way. Finally, one of the workers saw her struggling and offered to take it back for her.
And we’re off….and it’s almost time for lunch!
We finally got started on our trip after about 1.5 hours of messing around. It wasn’t long when we started off, that we realized it had been a L-O-N-G time since we had canoed! We had lots and lots of problems trying to navigate in the very narrow, very windy stream.
When we would get the bow pointed in the right direction the stern would crash into some trees. We saw people ahead of us having just as many problems!
It was extremely frustrating. We did start getting the groove after a bit, but there were numerous obstacles and low hanging branches that we constantly had to maneuver around.
We did see some nice scenery, a few turtles and a small alligator sunning.
Linda was definitely not having fun and even said, “You couldn’t pay me to go on this trip again!”
It was a long day!
We finally got to the take out point and just made the shuttle. We had to haul that heavy canoe out of the water, up a ramp and thankfully, some guys helped load it on the trailer. When we got back to the rental station, we had to unload the canoe and check everything in. They refunded our money. We had been lamenting that it might be a problem. It was an exhausting adventure!
We did stop and take a picture of Juniper Springs after our canoe trip. This is one of the oldest and best known national forest recreation areas in the southeast. The springs were definitely beautiful and there were people enjoying them.
We drove through the campground as well and it was really nice. It had heavy vegetation and reminded us of Tomoka State Park’s campsite.
Silver Glen Springs
We drove around one day and visited some of the other areas. Silver Glen Springs was not too far and it connected to Lake George, the second largest lake in Florida. Silver Glen Springs was a first order magnitude spring and had crystal clear blue green water.
It was a bit of a dreary day when we visited and we were the only ones there.
Silver Springs State Park
Our friend Lee suggested that we visit Silver Springs State Park while we were in the area.
We love to pour over the maps together and point out places that we found interesting. The springs were beautiful.
There were boat tours available, as well as a gift shop, ice cream store and cafeteria.
We stopped by Silver Springs and took a long walk around the park.
One of the unique things about this park is the colony of Rhesus monkeys that live there. The park used to be an old Florida attraction before becoming a state park and the monkeys escaped and have made themselves at home. We did not see any monkeys though.
There were a couple of large gators sunning themselves along the cement at the edge of the springs!
On our drive we stopped by and checked out a couple of the primitive camping areas. They were less than half full and there were a couple of nice ones. This site is at Fore Lake Campground.
This pond at the edge of the Hopkins Prairie Campgrounds was filled with lily pads.
There obviously was an active bat colony here due to the two large bat houses.
We really enjoyed our time at Salt Springs Recreation Area and we definitely would come back again. If you ever happen to be in the area, be sure to check it out!