Just 90 miles north of Orlando, Silver Springs is one of Florida’s most spectacular natural attractions and a great place to escape the crowds and enjoy an action-packed vacation.
One of Florida’s first tourist attractions for visitors arriving by steamship in the 19th century, Silver Springs State Park still draws visitors to its exquisite 4,000ac (1,618ha) of dense sandhill forest, immaculate gardens, rushing river and gin-clear springs. Nowadays, its family-friendly facilities and turquoise clear waters make it perfect for swimming, camping, water sports and the park’s iconic glass-bottom boat tour.
Spend an afternoon in blissful silence by renting a kayak to paddle down glossy Silver Springs. Take the circular Fort King Waterway or head straight down the head spring to venture deep into the forest where only chattering birds, scurrying squirrels and snorting deer can be heard. Make the most of the famous translucent water by choosing a glass-bottom kayak to spy darting fish and manatees below you as you glide.
Fascinated by Florida? The Silver River Museum is the best way to find out more about this intriguing state’s varied cultural and natural history and how it can be preserved. Exhibits include prehistoric artefacts dating back 12,000 years, rare Florida fossils and Native American displays, and the museum also traces the story of Florida after the arrival of Europeans. Don’t miss the historical pioneer village that shows life exactly as it would have been on the Florida frontier in the 1800s.
Those with a great sense of balance or a core of steel can show off their stamina by guiding a paddleboard all the way from the head spring five miles (eight kilometers) downstream to peaceful Ray Wayside Park. Don’t panic: the park provides transport to whisk you back upstream once you’re ready. If even that sounds like hard work, stick to the park itself and drift across the pancake-flat waters lined with fragrant trees and tropical plants.
Hidden among aromatic cypress and pine trees, the Juniper Creek swimming area may be the most memorable pool you will ever see. Hike through the forest first then cool off in the sparkling water which shimmers in a sheet of turquoise under the trees. Take in sun-dappled patterns dancing on the water, the echoing call of exotic birds and the heady scent of tropical vegetation as you soak in this blissfully warm natural pool surrounded by serene Florida wilderness.
Look up when strolling through Silver Springs State Park and you could be in for a surprise. The park is home to hundreds of wild rhesus macaque monkeys, usually native to South and Southeast Asia. They were brought to Silver Springs in the 1930s by the eccentric Colonel Tooey, who operated boat rides in the area and wanted to draw more tourists in. These days, you might spot their ancestors jumping through the trees or even swimming in the river.