Springs Fever: A Field & Recreation Guide to 500 Florida Springs.
2nd Edition by Joe Follman and Richard Buchanan

Silver Springs

Marion County

Summary of Features

  • Scale -1st magnitude 
  • Scenery - good-very good at spring, excellent downriver 
  • How Pristine? - land around spring developed into major attraction area, exotic animals and plants in and around spring and run, DEET detected in springflow
  • Swimming - manmade swim park adjacent to spring
  • Crowds - Can be heavy, but are variable 
  • Access - Excellent from attraction; also available from boat ramp 6 miles downstream 
  • Facilities - Outstanding 
  • Safety - Excellent 
  • Scuba - no 
  • Cost - Approx. $30 for adults, plus $5 for parking 

Quick Directions

From Interstate 75, take exit 70 and drive east on State Road 40 about 10 miles through Ocala to the well-signposted spring attraction entrance on the right.

For maps, latitude/longitude data, driving directions, satellite imagery, and topographic representations as well as weather conditions at this spring, go to Greg Johnson's informative "Florida Springs Database" web site at the following address:  http://www.ThisWaytothe.Net/springs/floridasprings.htm#Florida

Map of Silver Springs Area

Spring Description

The spring forms a large semicircular basin 250 feet across.  Water flows from a limestone cavity on the NE side of the basin. This massive cavern entrance is about 35 feet deep, 125 feet across, 6 feet high, and has a strong flow.  The cavern opening extend down another 30 feet or more before becoming too narrow for passage.  Water in the spring is clear and varies from blue to greenish depending on conditions.  There are few fish in the basin, which is mostly covered in green algae.  There are 2-3 large statues on the bottom near the cavern entrance that were placed in the spring as part of a movie filmed there.  The spring creates the Silver River, which flows about 6 miles to the Oklawaha River.  In general, the river narrows as it travels east, but varies from 75' to 200' in width.  The bottom undulates, with depths varying from 6-30 feet and with frequent large and deep pools that may have some spring flow at the bottom.

Photos of Silver River below

Silver Springs is often called the largest freshwater spring in Florida if not in the U.S., with an average flow of 820 cfs or about 530 MGD. However, as noted in both the 1947 and 1977 editions of Springs of Florida, only about half of this total is from the main spring vent at the headwaters of Silver River. The rest of the flow is from other springs as far as 3,500 feet below the headspring (Rosenau et al., 1977, pp. 276-79). Therefore, the total flow from the main spring at Silver Springs is probably more like 400-500 cfs. (Even at this amount, the main spring at Silver may still have the largest discharge of any single clear-water spring flow-point in Florida.)  The various vents have water with different temperatures, which means the waters come from different depths or directions and are, in essence, different springs.

There are at least 9 other spring flows in side pools along the first 1/2 mile of Silver River.  A secondary spring run (called the Ft. King Waterway on the Silver Springs attraction guide)  forks off at the SW corner of the main basin and parallels the main run for about 3/4 mile before rejoining the main run.  It is said that there are dozens of smaller flowpoint in the spring run/Silver River.

See the map for general locations of the springs, which are described as follows according to their proximity to the main spring:

Tributary 1

There are one or two limestone openings in the western end of this large basin, which is irregularly shaped and nearly as large as the main spring basin.  The western flows are from beneath small limestone ledges at an estimated depth of 25 feet.  The water is clear, and large gar cruise over the spring area.

The largest spring in this basin is near the center, south of the small island.  It is a limestone opening at a depth of about 30 feet.  According to tour guides, the opening extends downward another 50 feet before becoming too narrow for human passage.  Water flows strongly from the bottom, blowing sand, shells, and fish near the vent.  Large gar cruise near the spring.

In the back (south) end of the basin, two more vents are at a depth of about 28 feet.  The flow from each of these springs creates a cleared, bright, blue streak (a few feet wide and up to 10 feet long) on the bottom, making the springs easy to spot

Another, smaller spring is located in the eastern end of the basin, just east of the small island and near the river.  Water flows from a limestone ledge at an estimate depth of 20 feet.

(photos below--south side of run/river just below the main spring pool)

Tributary 2 - note submerged alligator beginning with 6th photo

2nd Tributary Spring Basin (south side of run just after the 1st tributary basin)--There is one large limestone opening in this basin, which is about half the size of the 1st tributary basin and more rounded.  In the center of the basin, at a depth of about 28 feet, water flows at several points from beneath a limestone ledge.  The ledge is somewhat irregular but extends perhaps 25 feet.  The strongest flow is from the center of the ledge, where sand and shells are tossed several feet underwater by the force of the flow from an opening perhaps 3 feet in diameter.  Large gar, other fish, and a large alligator were observed around the spring.  Water in the spring is very clear and is blue.

Tributary 3

3rd Tributary Spring Basin (north side of run immediately after the 2nd tributary basin)--The spring forms a semicircle perhaps 65 feet across at the edge of Silver River.  Water appears to flow from small openings in the bottom, but the flow point was difficult to determine.  There was a slick on the surface.  The water is about 14 feet deep and is clear and blue.  A large cypress tree has fallen across the spring and rests on the bottom.  Next to the cypress tree (on the west side) is the shell of what park staff call a Spanish boat circa 1540.  The boat is made of cypress, is about 12 by 4 feet, and is in good condition.  It was discovered in the 1920s.  A sidewalk goes near the spring, which is adjacent to an outdoor theatre used for bird shows and a zoo area.  Large trees ring the edge of the basin.

Tributary 4

4th Tributary Spring Basin (north side of run immediately after the 3rd tributary basin)--This spring forms a circular basin perhaps 75 feet across on the edge of Silver River.  The pool extends back (to the NE) an unknown distance to perhaps another spring or a backwater area.  The spring is limestone opening near the middle of the pool at a depth of about 15 feet.  Water is clear and blue.  The upstream edge of the pool is used as a docking facility for Silver Springs "Jungle Cruise" boat rides.

Tributary 5

5th Tributary Spring Basin (south side of run perhaps 200 yards downriver--the 2nd and larger of the two basins on the south side below the above basins)--There is a small spring in this basin, which is semicircular and perhaps 100 feet in diameter.  The spring is in the northern end of the pool, not far from the river, and is a small limestone opening.

6th Possible Tributary Spring Basin (north side of run)--As opposed to sites 1-5, there is what appears to be a creek, inlet, or possible backwater instead of a spring basin.  The mouth of the creek is perhaps 30 feet across and the water was about 3 feet deep on date of visit in December 2001.  There were obstructions and overhanging limbs inhibiting passage, and there was no evidence of flow in to the river.  A fallen tree blocked passage, and the authors were unable to determine if the body of water is formed by a spring.  The water was only fairly clear--not as clear as the Silver River.  There were an abundance of juvenile spotted gar in the creek--the authors saw more than 50 of sizes between 1-2 feet.

Silver Springs wildlife

Other features at Silver Springs

Cypress trees, palms, and hardwoods line the run.  Below the attraction area, the foliage along the run is rich and dense subtropical growth. A Guide to Florida State Parks (1999, p. 28) states there are "dozens" of springs in and along the river in Silver River State Park, which is just below the main spring and attraction area.

According to Edward German, of the USGS, the quality of the water flowing from Silver Springs did not change during the 20th century, except for a gradual increase in nitrate levels which are now quite high and appear to be having an effect on some of the aquatic populations in the springs and river. The level of nitrates in water at Silver Spring doubled from the 1970s to the 1990s, from 0.5 mg per liter to 1 mg per liter (Phelps, in "Abstracts of . . ." p. 3, 2000).  There are very few fish in the spring or run, whereas there have been large populations historically.  The Silver Springs catch basin/watershed is 1,200 square miles


Local Springiana

Personal Impressions

The State of Florida’s decision to grant a concession to run Silver Springs as a commercial attraction has been a concern to environmentalists.  The State receives some funds on the contract, and the site has been a tourist attraction since the 1860s.  It is now encroached upon by suburbs, but is a major contibutor to the Ocala economy. The springs and river are a wonderful and curious place.  The river has been used and misused for generations, but remains beautiful and mostly natural except for the main spring area.  Ironically, the traffic-filled headwaters have the most fauna, with alligators, large birds, and gar being very common.  (Perhaps they are fed.)  Almost no fish were observed below the first half-mile of the river, an area that looks very pristine.

The exotic animals and plants at the park should be removed, as they do not belong in Florida and disrupt native flora and fauna.  RB dissents however, and wants the monkeys to stay!

Nearby Springs

Other Nearby Natural Features

Contact Information

Silver Springs
5656 Silver Springs Boulevard
Ocala, FL 34488