Have you ever wanted to paddle in a clear bottom kayak in blue/green spring water and see monkeys native to south and southeast Asia? All without leaving Florida? If so, Silver Springs State Park kayaking is the right Florida State Park adventure for you!
Silver Springs State Park – The Basics
Silver Springs is the largest artesian spring in the world. It also used to house a small amusement park on site and was one of the oldest commercial tourist attractions in Florida.
Getting there: Silver Springs State Park is located in Silver Springs, Florida, approximately 6 miles east of Ocala, Florida
Location: There are two entrances to the park, depending on the activity you plan you want to be sure to park at the correct entrance. The entrances are approximately 1 mile apart so you can easily plan to explore both entrances in one day.
- Main Entrance: 5656 E Silver Springs Blvd. Silver Springs, FL 33448
- Head springs, water rentals, Glass Bottom Boat Tours, and historic structures
- Camping Entrance: 1425 NE 58th Avenue (County Road 35) Ocala, FL 34470
- Campground, Silver River Museum, and many of the hiking trails
Silver Springs is conveniently located within 2 hours of many Florida cities, making it the perfect park to plan a day trip to.
- Approximate driving distance from popular cities
- Gainesville: ~50 minutes
- Orlando: ~1.5 hours
- St. Augustine: ~1.5 hours
- Tampa/St. Pete: ~2 hours
- Jacksonville: ~2 hours
- Hours: 8AM to sundown, 365 days a year
- Fees: Entrance only needs to be paid at one entrance for the day
- Main Entrance: $2 per person
- Camping Entrance: $8 per vehicle, $5 per single occupant vehicle
- Activities: Hiking, biking, boat tours, camping, paddling, and more
- Additional fees may apply for various activities
- Pet Friendly: Some restrictions may apply
- Pets are welcome in the campground, picnic areas, and hiking trails only
Tell me more about the monkeys!
Over 300 rhesus macque monkeys call Silver Springs State Park home and are one of the reasons I was interested in visiting the park. These monkeys were originally released in the park in the 1930’s, almost 100 years ago.
I did not see the monkeys while kayaking down the river, but if you do be sure to keep a safe distance. However, the wildlife in the park was still plentiful during my visit. I saw numerous birds, fish, and sea turtles as well as two alligators, one baby alligator, and four manatees.
What can I do at Silver Springs State Park?
Some of the main attractions at the park include
- Glass Bottom Boat Tours
- Kayak, canoe, or paddle board rentals
- Silver River Museum
Glass Bottom Boat Tours
Silver Springs is well-known for their famous glass bottom boat tours. The glass bottom boat tours last approximately 30 minutes and are available daily. In addition, there is an extended 90-minute tour at 11 AM, 1 PM, and 3 PM Friday through Sunday.
The fee for the 30-minute tour is $12 for adults, $11 for seniors (55 years and older) and children (6 to 12 years), and children less than 6 years are free. The extended 90-minute tour is $25 for adults, $20 for seniors (55 years and older) and children (6 to 12 years), and children less than 6 years ride free.
You can purchase your ticket in advance online at the park website which is recommended for the extended weekend tours.
Do I need a reservation for Silver Springs State Park Kayaking?
While a reservation is not required, I recommend it, especially if you plan to visit the park during a weekend or holiday. I visited on a Monday morning in the middle of summer and made a reservation a couple days in advance. My friend and I reserved a tandem kayak through the park’s website opting for the full day with shuttle service back from Ray Wayside Park.
You can rent kayaks, canoes, or paddleboards and the fee varies depending on the type, duration of trip, and use of the shuttle service. The rental prices range from $20 to $55 and you can choose from a duration of one- or two-hour paddle to a full day paddle.
If you have your own kayak, canoe, or paddleboard you can bring it and pay a $4 launch fee. The shuttle is an additional fee if you chose to bring your own vessel.
We entered the park at the main entrance, checked in, picked up a map, and were set up with our kayak rental within minutes of our arrival.
Surprisingly, we were the first ones on the water and as soon as we launched the kayak we looked to our right and were greeted by three manatees swimming. It was a peaceful morning and the surroundings were beautiful as we slowly made our way down the Silver River.
What can I expect to see at Silver Springs State Park kayaking?
The water was fairly clear in most areas, and we kayaked through several different springs mesmerized by the blue and green hues of the water. It was an easy 5.2-mile paddle down the Silver River and it took us ~2.5 hours to complete.
Shortly after you leave the kayak launch you can continue going straight to pass through the head springs or continue down the Fort King Paddling Trail which is 1.1 miles. This trail connects back to the head springs path and continues along the Silver River.
We chose to go directly to the head springs and there was a current gently moving our kayak along the water even if we didn’t paddle. It’s important to keep in mind if you do not choose the shuttle service back from Ray Wayside Park, you will need to paddle upstream on the way back.
You can make a loop using the head springs path and Fort King Paddling trail if you do not want to complete the entire 5.2-mile paddle (one way). There were also mile markers along the river which was helpful to gauge how far we had paddled. Ensure you bring plenty of water and sunscreen.
Can I go swimming at Silver Springs?
Swimming is not permitted at Silver Springs to help preserve the water. Additionally, you may see alligators in the water. It is recommended to experience the springs by any of the water vessels including paddle boarding, kayaking, canoeing, or the Glass Bottom Boat Tours.
Silver River Museum
If you find yourself at Silver Springs on the weekend for an additional $2 fee you are able to explore the Silver River Museum. Children 5 years of age and younger gain free admission.
The museum is open to the public Saturday and Sunday from 10 AM to 4 PM. During the week the museum serves as an educational opportunity for Marion County Public Schools. There are two main exhibit areas within the museum focusing on Florida history and natural resources. It is an excellent opportunity to learn more about the state of Florida and how we can help preserve the area.
There are several hiking trails at the park with distances ranging from less than one mile to a 4.6-mile loop. Some of the trails can be combined to make a longer hike if desired. See a park map here.
Popular trails include the following
- Creek Trail (0.75-mile loop)
- Spring Connector Trail (2.3 miles, one way)
- Sandhill Trail (1.7-mile loop)
- Sinkhole Trail (2.2-mile loop)
- Old Field Trail (0.8 miles one way)
- Swamp Trail (1.9-mile loop)
- River Trail (1.3-mile loop)
If you plan to go hiking, check out this post for easy hiking snack ideas.
I really enjoyed my first visit at Silver Springs State Park kayaking. There is still so much left to explore and I am certain I will be back for another visit. Next time I visit the park I plan to go on a weekend so I can take advantage of the extended version of the Glass Bottom Boat Tours and the Silver River Museum. Comment below if you’ve ever visited Silver Springs State Park!
Information above was accurate at the time of publishing. If you are planning to check out Silver Springs State Park, I recommend utilizing Florida State Park website and the Silver Springs State Park website to verify information in this post to help plan your trip