Summary of Features
- Scale - 2nd magnitude
- Scenery - excellent
- How Pristine? - enclosed on three sides, land partially cleared around spring, exotic vegetation in spring and run
- Swimming - fine; unsurpassed snorkeling
- Protection - excellent
- Crowds - heavy on warm weekends
- Access - excellent
- Facilities - fine
- Safety - very good
- Scuba - not in spring area
- Cost - $6 per person
The entrance to the spring is well-signposted and is just north of the intersection of State Roads 314 and 19 in the town of Salt Springs on the east side of SR 19. Phone number: (352) 685-2048. Google maps link: www.google.com/maps/place/Salt+Springs+Recreation+Areaemail@example.com,-81.7342367,15z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x0:0xcd70539b64b8cbbe!8m2!3d29.3547125!4d-81.7342367
The spring area is bracketed on three sides by a concrete wall that frames the pool into an open-ended rectangle that is about 90 by 120 feet. The general depth is 2-5 feet, but up to 20 feet deep at the several spring vents/pits that are scattered in the pool, mostly at the upper (west) end. The openings are in limestone boulders and are vertical shafts and passageways leading to smaller tunnels. The authors saw four-five vents on visits in 1995-1998, each creating a prominent boil on the surface. According to the recreation area brochure, there are actually 9 vertical shaft vents. The combined flow from these vents is around 52,000,000 gallons per day ("Salt Springs Recreation Area, 1999).
Water in the pool is very clear, blue, and is salty, the result of the water rising to the surface through ancient salt deposits. In places in the pool, there is a halocline visual distortion effect of salt and fresh water mixing. Fish, including striped bass, mullet, and small fry are abundant. In addition, blue crab and needlefish may be seen. The crabs are most commonly observed in the deeper portions of the spring openings. The marine life was established at the site millennia ago when this portion of Florida was part of a shallow sea. When the land rose upward, the marine creatures remained at the site because of the salty flow from the spring. The bottom has exposed limestone, small rocks, and sand as well as aquatic vegetation. There is exotic hydrilla in the pool. The pool was original circular, as described by William Bartram after visiting the spring in 1773 (see below).
Crowds can stir up the water, reducing visibility. The spring run is lined with tall reeds and flows about four miles to Lake George, part of the chain of lakes on the St. Johns River.
- The spring is a major recreation area (www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/ocala/recarea/?recid=32362) in the Ocala National Forest and offers camping (106 RV sites and 54 tent sites), swimming, canoeing, fishing, rest rooms, concessions, a boat ramp, marina, boat rentals, visitor center, picnic facilities, and showers. The facilities underwent a renovation/expansion in the late 1990s to accommodate larger crowds, including RVs.
- Swimming is fine in the spring, but snorkeling and skin-diving are outstanding. One can stand on the exposed limestone directly over the spring vents/pits and dive right into them. Swimming through the water plants after fish is also a fun activity.
- Fishing is not allowed in the spring, but is allowed in the spring run. Boats and canoes can be rented at nearby Salt Springs Marina.
- The flow from a couple of the vents is very strong, and the skin-diver must take care to not be "blown" by the flow into nearby boulders with sharp points and edges. JF was cut on the leg under such circumstances.
- On JF’s last visit to the spring, he observed a retiree systematically removing hydrilla from the spring as a volunteer service.
- About a mile south of the spring along SR 19 is the Salt Springs Trail, a 1.5-mile loop that passes through scrub and forest to a viewing point along the spring run (but not to the spring).
- An additional 4-mile trail connects the Salt Springs Recreation Area with the Florida National Scenic Trail.
- While a number of coastal springs have marine life such as crabs, striped mullet, and needle fish, Salt Springs is almost 100 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, and the crabs are permanent residents. The crabs first took up housekeeping in the spring when in past millenia this section of Florida was part of the ocean. When the land rose, the crabs remained.
- William Bartram, the 18th century writer and naturalist, visited Salt Springs in 1773 and recounted his impressions in his famous Travels, published in 1791. His extraordinary description of this site is, in the authors' opinion, the best account ever of a Florida spring:
. . . in front, just under my feet, was the enchanting and amazing crystal fountain, which incessantly threw up, from dark, rocky caverns below, tons of water every minute, forming a basin, capacious enough for large shallops to ride in, and a creek of four or five feet of water, and near twenty yards, over, which meanders six miles into the great Lake George, where they seem to remain pure and unmixed. About twenty yards from the upper edge of the basin, is a continual and amazing ebullition, where the waters are thrown up in such abundance and amazing force, as to jet and swell up two or three feet above the common surface: white sand and small particles of shells are thrown up with the waters, near to the top, when they diverge from the center, subside with the expanding flood, and gently sink again, forming a large rim or funnel round about the aperture or mouth of the fountain, which is a vast perforation through a bed of rocks, the ragged points of which are projected out on every side. . . But there are yet remaining scenes inexpressibly admirable and pleasing.
Behold, for instance, a vast circular expanse before you, the waters of which are so extremely clear as to be absolutely diaphanous or transparent as the ether; the margin of the basin ornamented with a great variety of fruitful and floriferous trees, shrubs, and plants, the pendant orange dancing on the surface of the pellucid waters, the balmy air vibrating with the melody of the merry birds, tenants of the encircling aromatic grove.
At the same instant innumerable fish are seen, some clothed in the most brilliant colors . . . all in intercourse performing their evolutions: there are no signs of enmity, no attempt to devour each other; the different bands seem peaceably and complaisantly to move a little aside, as it were to make room for the others to pass by.
But behold yet something far more admirable, see whole armies descending into an abyss, into the mouth of the bubbling fountain: they disappear! Are they gone for ever? I raise my eyes with terror and astonishment; I look down again to the fountain with anxiety, when behold them as it were emerging from the blue ether of another world, apparently at a vast distance; at their first appearance, no bigger than flies or minnows; now gradually enlarging, their brilliant colors begin to paint the fluid.
. . This amazing and delightful scene, though real, appears at first but as a piece of excellent painting; there seems no medium; you imagine the picture to be within a few inches of your eyes, and that you may without the least difficulty touch any one of the fish, or put your finger upon the crocodile’s eye, when it really is twenty or thirty feet under water (p. 149-50).
Salt is a spectacular spring and a must-see for any spring-lover. The retaining wall, built in 1946 and modified in the late 1990s, unnaturally frames but somehow does not significantly mar the natural beauty of the site. Its salty water, marine wildlife, good recreational facilities, and perches over the vents make it one of the best, most interesting and most appealing springs in Florida. Salt is also blessed by lovely spring neighbors (Silver Glen, Alexander, Silver, Sweetwater, Juniper, etc.). It is best to visit anytime but on a summer weekend, when crowds will be very large.
The amazing fountain Bartram observed (what must have been an especially pronounced boil), no longer occurs at Salt Spring. Several of the current flows have strong boils, but nothing like what Bartram described.
- Alexander Springs
- Fern Hammock Springs
- Juniper Springs
- Sweetwater Spring
- Silver Glen Springs
- Silver Springs
- DeLeon Spring
- Orange Spring
Other Nearby Natural Features
- Lake Woodruff Wildlife Refuge
- Welaka State Forest
- Tiger Bay State Forest
- Withlacoochie State Forest