S2E10 -Silver Springs State Park, Ocala, FL

20140323-202232.jpg This park was another reminder of that old adage, ‘If you don’t get what you want you often get something better.”  We planned to spend Tuesday and Wednesday nights at Paynes Praire Preserve State Park in Gainesville but when I went online to make the reservation Monday morning they were sold out. This was a surprise as usually the parks away from the coast don’t fill up 100%. We wanted to go back to Paynes Praire because it is almost exactly half way between Port Charlotte and Enterprise, AL. We picked the next closest state park along I75, Silver Springs near Ocala. It had a few sites available so we made the reservation.

As we drove in we thought, “Gee, this looks pretty nice.”  When we pulled into our campsite we thought, “Boy, this is nice.” The sites are not carved out of the jungle like in southern Florida, but are nicely wooded and easily twice as big as most other state parks. As a bonus, the bathrooms were modern and well maintained. They even had heat lamps in the showers. Talk about living large!

Tuesday afternoon we took a little orientation bike ride then hiked four miles along one of the scenic marked trails.

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Wednesday morning we drove a couple of miles to the other side of the park to see the Silver Springs tourist attraction.

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The largest spring in Florida flows out of the ground here and becomes the Silver River. The crystal clear cool water (500 million gallons per day, 72 degrees year around) has attracted people since 10,000 B.C. In more recent history, Hullman Jones invented the glass bottom boat and started selling rides to post Civil War tourists who travelled here by train. When automobiles became common in the early twentieth century the tourist industry grew and by the 1950’s Silver Springs, along with other attractions like Cypress Gardens, were booming. Silver Springs featured a zoo, a monkey island, alligator wrestling and rattle snake milking along with the glass bottom boats. It was also the site of many movies and TV shows. The Tarzan movies and TV shows were shot here. A local man developed the underwater movie camera and the Florida climate and clear water made Silver Springs a popular place to film scenes underwater.

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Disney World and the other mega-attractions around Orlando have put most of these old time Florida attractions out of business. Several, like Silver Springs, have become state parks.

The zoo is gone, many of the buildings torn down, but some are being renovated, the glass bottom boat rides are still offered and the landscaping around the spring head are well maintained. It is easy to imagine the glamour and excitement of Silver Springs at its height of popularity.

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In the afternoon we rented a double kayak and paddled a couple of miles down the river looking at the fish (lots of mullet jumping), birds, turtles and watching the trees for monkeys. In 1938 the Jungle Cruise tour operator here put a group of monkeys on an island to build interest in his excursion. Of course they quickly escaped and to this day live in the forest surrounding the river. They have increased from 74 monkeys to around 1,000. We did not see any, but heard a weird screeching call that sounded a lot like what the internet says a rhesus monkey sounds like. In addition to the above we also spotted about 20 alligators at rest in the water and one large alligator swam across the river in front of our kayak.

We needed to get to Enterprise Thursday by dinner time, so our mid-morning departure allowed enough time to stop at Suwannee River State Park for a picnic and walk along the river.  Spring had definitely sprung in the park.

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We will visit the kids and grand kids for ten days and then head west for a three week visit to Texas and New Mexico.

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10 thoughts on “S2E10 -Silver Springs State Park, Ocala, FL

  1. Hate you missed the monkeys.. I see them almost every time I kayak that river. Silver River is one of the main reasons I moved to central Fla, to get to paddle with more wild life than any other river I have ever paddled, and of course to ride bicycle on the wonderful Withlacoochee Rails to Trails in Inverness area. It is heaven in our area for those who love the spring fed rivers and riding. I am so grateful to be able to retire in our area. Silver River State Park is definitely one of the better state parks in Florida, and it was amazing you got a campsite there on short notice. It is normally booked for months in advance. Sometimes you have Paynes Pararie to yourself, but that will never happen at Silver
    Enjoy your travels, I surely enjoy following your camping experiences.

  2. Thanks for the trip down memory lane Dennis. As a high school kid I did several road-trips to visit my grandparents who wintered in Florida. We did all the attractions, Silver Springs, Cypress Gardens, Weeki Wachee’s Mermaid Show. We did the glass bottom boat and went to the Kapok Tree restaurant for dinner, and ate at Red Lobster. We went to the beach… I remember my Italian grandfather shoveling up three huge buckets of dead fish that came in with what he called “the red tied.” I watched him put those buckets in the trunk of his car. Why? Because they would make great fertilizer for his grapefruit trees. All was well until another driver decided to run a stop sign and my grandfather had to slam on the brakes. Our cars did not crash but the sudden stop in momentum toppled the buckets of rotting fish all over the trunk. The remainder of the ride home about killed us, and not just because of the SMELL! My cousins and I were dying in the back seat trying so hard not to laugh out load, at our grandfather’s repeated phrase of….Dats-a-sun-a-magon. I am laughing as I write this! Hadn’t thought of that in years Dennis, thanks. As always your photos are lovely. Thanks for sharing. All love to you and Sue! Peace, Di

    • Great story Diane.

      There were enough red-tide-killed fish on the beach in Naples last winter to fill a dumpster. Even the seagulls were taking a pass.

  3. Nice to travel while at the computer! Thanks for the stories and photos. May your travels west as wonderful as those you’ve had in Florida.

    • Hi Veronica, I’m working hard this week getting the solar panel and propane furnaces installed for our trip west. Leaving Enterprise next Monday.

  4. Denny, any chance of coming to Az? We will be picking up our Lil Snoozy July 1st, so I am really interested in your modifications. I sent them the same kind of refrigerator that you used, for them to install. Solar & propane will be added by me this summer.
    Dave in Az.

    • Dave, maybe we will make it to AZ next winter.

      We have about ten days in west Texas, then two weeks of commitments visiting friends in NM, then heading back to Michigan.

      I’ll be posting details of my solar and propane installation on FGRV in the next few days.

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