We've been writing a lot about Florida destinations, and that's all part of us preparing for a Florida trip! One destination that really captured our attention is Silver Springs State Park. We're shooting for a winter vacation in Florida with good wildlife viewing. Not only does this park offer great manatee and aligator viewing, they even have wild monkeys! What else can you ask for?
With that in mind, we've put together this quick guide for visiting Silver Springs State Park. Consider it our own cheat notes, and hopefully they'll help you to.
Where is Silver Springs?
Silver Springs State Park is located in the town of Silver Springs, Florida, right on State Road 40. That means it is just 30 minutes east of Ocala, which has the closest international airport. And if you would prefer to see the sights of Orlando while you are there, that is just a 90-minute drive to the South.
While many vacationers picture lounging on the beach during their Florida trip, you should note that Silver Springs is located in the center of the state, over an hour's drive from the nearest major beach at Daytona.
What is There to Do in Silver Springs?
One of the prime reasons people love visiting Silver Springs State Park is the glass-bottom boat tours. These daily boat tours wow guests with the amazing views of the crystal-clear water and wildlife that live in the springs.
These boat tours are offered multiple times per day, every day of the year. While reservations are not required for the 30-minute tours, you will need to book ahead of time for the 90-minute tours.
Various trials snake throughout the park, making it a hiker's paradise. Trail lengths vary from the 3/4-mile Creek Trail to the 4.6-mile out-and-back Spring Connector Trail that bridges the gap between the Silver River Museum and the Main Entrance. Various other trails range from around 1 mile to just over 2 miles in length.
Silver Springs allows mountain bikes on the 4.5 miles of dedicated off-road bicycling trails throughout the park, as well as the 10 miles of hiking trails (just remember to dismount and yield to pedestrians). And, because there are few paved routes where bikes are permitted, mountain biking is the best way to experience the park on two wheels.
The park service recommends using a helmet and brining your own locks to protect your bikes when not in use. Also, note that bicycles are not allowed on the entrance boardwalk or the town center and glass-bottom boat area due to issues with congestion.
Horseback riding is another popular activity that allows visitors to get out and enjoy the park. Whether you bring your own or rent a horse from Cactus Jack's Trail Rides, you will be able to enjoy the sights of the wetlands from your steed. Maps are located at the trailheads, which open at 8:00 am and close one hour before sunset. Non-potable water is available for your horses as well - just bring your own buckets.
Recreational Vehicle Sites
Two campgrounds offer 59 campsites within Silver Springs State Park. Each of these sites has water and 50-amp electric hookups, so go ahead and bring your trailer or RV! Other amenities include a barbeque grill, picnic table, and fire ring. Pets are allowed in the campground, as long as they are well-behaved, and firewood is available for purchase at the ranger station.
Primitive Camping Sites
A primitive camping area is available for groups to use. The park gives preference to youth groups, so this is a perfect spot to bring your local scouts or other youth groups!
These tent sites are set within tall pines, making for a wonderful natural setting. Note that there are no water or shower facilities are offered at the primitive campsite.
After launching from the Ray Wayside County Park, you may explore the 5-mile Silver River from your boat. The entire length, however, is "Idle Speed Only," so plan on the round trip taking roughly 3 hours. That means you will have a chance to see the sights and allow others to enjoy the park as well. Also, note there are no disembarking points along the way, so no anchoring or tying off is permitted within the park.
a. Can You Swim at Silver Springs State Park?
Currently, swimming is not allowed inside the park. According to a local news source, there are plenty of folks who would love to see this rule changed. However, considering there are alligators in the water, this might not be an appealing proposition to everyone. Luckily, you can consider the glass-bottom boat rides the next best thing to immerse yourself in those beautiful waters.
b. How Can You See the Monkeys There?
Once inside Silver Springs State Park, you probably won't have a hard time finding some monkeys. That's because these monkeys, rhesus macaques imported to Florida in the early 20th century, are currently experiencing a population boom.
That means it is not hard to come across one or even a pack of these monkeys while vacationing at the park. If you do see them, however, it is important to note that it is illegal to feed these guys. Doing so will bring them closer to humans, and increase the chance of getting bit, which can spread a deadly disease. So, enjoy the monkeys from a safe distance!
c. What Other Types of Wildlife Can You See in the Park?
In addition to the infamous monkeys, there is a plethora of wildlife to see in the park. Here are some of the highlights:
Birds are perhaps the premier wildlife to spot in the park, as it is part of the Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail. Wood ducks, various wading birds, wild turkeys, hairy woodpeckers, limpkin, American kestrels, thrushes, warblers, and wild turkeys all inhabit the park.
While visiting Silver Springs, you may also run across various mammals including armadillos, deer, turkeys, fox, squirrels, coyotes, bobcats, and even the occasional black bear.
Of course, the big news here is that you can see alligators in the water at the park. Whether that is a good or bad thing depends on your outlook. Gopher tortoises and many species of fish call the park home as well.
d. Kayaking in Silver Springs State Park
Visitors are allowed to kayak, canoe, and paddleboard inside the park. Here is what you need to know before you plan your paddling trip:
There are two main routes you can take your kayak on, both begin at the entrance of the park.
For a nice leisurely experience, you paddle around the 1.1-mile loop around Ross Allen Island. Known as the Fort King Paddling trail, this loop starts at the main entrance before heading upstream at the Silver River. Along the way, there are various springs you can stop and check out. The park estimates that the total trail takes between 1 and 2 hours to complete.
If something more strenuous is what you crave, there is a 5-mile trail that connects the main entrance to the boat launch at Ray Wayside Park (note that you might be asked to pay an admission fee to get in). Once there, you can arrange for transportation back to Silver Springs or muscle your way 5 miles back against the 3-5 mile-per-hour current.
Kayaks and canoes are available for rent inside the park. The cost is currently listed at $15 to $35 for kayaks and $20 to $45 for canoes, tandem kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards. In addition, you can rent. If you bring your own vessel, the park charges a $4 launch fee.
When's the Best Time of Year to Visit Silver Springs State Park?
Because swimming is not allowed in the park, most travelers opt to avoid the hot season, which runs from May to September. During those months, the temperatures regularly exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit. June also happens to be the wettest month in the park, so there is another good reason to avoid it.
The best weather in Silver Springs tends to occur during the months of January, February, and December. Going during those winter months typically results in high temperatures between 68 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, which is just about perfect for most people.
What Time Does Silver Springs Open?
Silver Springs State Park opens at 8:00 am, every day of the year. However, any special events such as concerts or weddings could mean portions of the park are closed.
The Museum and Environmental Center are open only on weekends and state holidays from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm.
How Much Does it Cost to Get Into Silver Springs?
How much you will pay to get into the park depends on how you arrive. Here is the breakdown:
Vehicles with 2 - 8 people: $8
Single-occupant vehicles or motorcycles: $5
Museum and Environmental Center: $2 per person (children are free under 6 years old)
Where to Stay When Visiting Silver Springs
There are plenty of options for accommodations in and around Silver Springs State Park.
Cabins inside the park can be rented for $110 per night, plus a $6.70 reservation fee (non-refundable). Once you have seen these cabins, which is a very good value. These cabins are very large, with fireplaces, multiple bedrooms, large decks, and a full kitchen.
State Park Campground
The campsite inside the park will accommodate RVs between 10 to 104 feet in length. One night in the campground will cost you $24 per night, plus a $6.70 non-refundable deposit. This price includes water and electricity. Some discounts are available to senior citizens and other groups.
The park also offers primitive camping for children. The cost is $1 per child and $5 per adult chaperone per night.
Silver Springs RV Park
Just a mile from the park, we find Silver Springs RV Park. This pet-friendly campground includes WiFi and a swimming pool. There is also a laundry facility and dump station on the premises.
The Springs RV Resort
Another nearby campground, The Springs, has plenty of amenities to make your camping trip comfortable. From the giant clubhouse to the swimming pool and various activities and games on-site, you could spend your entire trip at this resort.
Hotels Near the Park
If hotels are more your speed, here are some of the best-reviewed hotels in Silver Springs, according to booking.com.
Holiday Inn Express
Families will love this Holiday Inn property, mainly because it sits adjacent to the Silver Springs Theme Park and Wild Waters park. There is also a hot breakfast buffet offered every day as well as a heated outdoor pool. And you won't have far to drive when you visit the state park, as this hotel is just a half-mile from the entrance.
Sun Plaza Motel by Magnuson Worldwide
Located less than a half-mile from the park entrance, the Sun Plaza is about as close as it gets. Bring your cooler when you visit, as this motel includes barbeque facilities. Rooms also feature air conditioning and free WiFi.
OYO Hotel Mustang
Drive up the street and you will find the OYO Hotel Mustang, still less than a mile from the entrance to Silver Springs State Park. Book this property, and you will have access to an outdoor pool, free WiFi, and cable TV.
We hope you find this guide helpful! If you've been to Silver Springs park and have some feedback for us, please leave a comment and let us know. Thank you!