Summary of Features
- Scale -1st magnitude
- Scenery - good-very good at spring, excellent downriver
- How Pristine? - land around spring a former and long-time attraction area that included exotic animals and plants in and around spring and run; DEET detected in springflow
- Swimming - manmade swim park adjacent to spring
- Crowds - light
- Access - Excellent
- Facilities - Very good
- Safety - Good
- Scuba - no
- Cost - $8 per vehicle, $5 for car with single person
Address: 5656 E. Silver Springs Blvd., Silver Springs, FL 34488. The park is located east of the city of Ocala. Travel east from Ocala on State Road 40 to the intersection with State Road 35. According to the Florida Park service, "There are three entrances to Silver Springs State Park. The main entrance is located on State Road 40 at 5656 East Silver Springs Boulevard, Silver Springs, FL 34488. The camping and Museum entrance is located on State Road 35 at 1425 NE 58th Avenue, Ocala FL 34470. The equestrian entrance is located approximately 1.3 miles east of the Main Entrance on State Road 40."
Map of Silver Springs Area
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:
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.
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 theme park staff purported to be 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.
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.
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
- Until 2013 Silver Springs boasted a 350-acre commercial attraction, with glass-bottom boats, zoos, and an adjacent waterslide park with a separate cost. The spring admission fee includes boat rides over the springhead and upper portion of the run, access to manmade trails, bird shows, picnic areas, jeep rides, a children's play area, shopping, gardens, a petting zoo, and other native and exotic animals at the site. Visitors could also see concerts, car shows, art festivals, and other events at the site.
- On October 1, 2013, the Florida Park Service acquired management of the headsprings area. At that time, the name of the entire park was changed to Silver Springs State Park from Silver River State Park, adding 231 acres and multiple new recreational opportunities including the iconic glass-bottom boats (source: www.floridastateparks.org/park-history/Silver-Springs
- According to the Florida Park Service, visitors can view see the headspring from a viewing deck, walk along the river on paved trails, see the ornamental gardens, and walk along other paved trails. Food is available from a restaurant with a view of the spring. Glass bottom boat rides and canoe and kayak rentals are offered through a concessionaire. There is a $4.00 per boat launch fee if you bring your own canoe or kayak at the headspring launch. There is no land access from the water along the river and in the headspring area except at the canoe and kayak launch ramp. The park also offers, camping, cabins, horseback riding, trails, a museum, an environmental education center, and a pioneer village. .
- The main spring has a retaining wall around it, as well as a sidewalk and large docking facility for glass-bottom and riverboat tours. There are paved trails and formal gardens in the area around the spring and run. Several of the springs are visited by the blass-bottom boats, which offer excellent views.
- There is evidence of habitation by Timucuan Indians at Silver Springs from the early 1500s. Hernando DeSoto visited the site in 1539, and a supposedly ancient Spanish canoe lies on the bottom of the spring.
- Silver Springs is a registered national landmark; Silver River is designated as an Outstanding Florida Waterway and as a "River of Special Concern." Local fundraising and state action saved the river run from development; it is now protected and boats must run at idle to protect the shoreline from the damaging effects of wakes created by propellers.
- Silver Springs is Florida's most famous spring and perhaps the original tourist attraction in the state. Beginning in 1860, visitors traveled by steamboat up the St. Johns, Ocklawaha, and Silver Rivers to the spring. The first glass-bottom boat was a rowboat with a pane of glass inserted into the bottom.
- In pools and backwaters along the river, large concentrations of water-bugs cover the surface. When approached, they scatter in all directions, make a fairly loud hissing noise.
- Many birds (herons, hawks, vultures, ibises, limkin, kingfishers, pileated woodpeckers, anhingas, cormorants, coots, egrets) and turtles may be observed along the river. The turtles allow very close approach.
- The authors observed water lettuce and what looked like hydrilla or elodea in the river in small amounts. Wild macaque monkeys from India roamed the area around the spring. (The authors saw a family of monkeys nearly 4 miles downriver on date of visit in December 2001). The monkeys are descendents of a colony that escaped from a 1930s boat operator at the spring. There have been many discussions over the years about removing, culling, or sterilizing the monkeys. They still remain--an estimated 175 in 2018. A January 23, 2018 story in the Washington Post noted that the monkeys carry the herpes B virus, which is potentially fatal to humans and transmitted via bodily fluids or a bite: www.washingtonpost.com/national/energy-environment/florida-wants-to-remove-virus-excreting-wild-monkeys/2018/01/10/302548d2-f628-11e7-9af7-a50bc3300042_story.html?utm_term=.6820723187ba
- Harriett Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin and one of the earlier senior retirees to Florida, visited Silver Springs in 1873 and declared: "There is nothing on earth comparable to it."
- The six original Tarzan films, including "Tarzan," and "Tarzan and His Mate," were filmed at Silver Springs, as were scenes from the original "Creature from the Black Lagoon." Underwater scenes for the television show, "Sea Hunt" were filmed in the basin and side pools.
- The fleet of glass-bottom boats at Silver Springs was the world's largest.
- In December 1856, the scientist and writer Daniel Garrison Brinton visited Silver Springs and made careful notes of his findings. Published in his 1859 book, Notes on the Floridian Peninsula, its Literary History, Insian [sic] Tribes and Antiquities, his information still illuminates today:
- Alexander Springs
- Fern Hammock Springs
- Juniper Springs
- Sweetwater Spring
- Silver Glen Springs
- Salt Springs
- DeLeon Spring
- Orange Spring
- Lake Woodruff Wildlife Refuge
- Welaka State Forest
- Tiger Bay State Forest
- Withlacoochie State Forest
- Ocala National Forest
. . . far more strangely beautiful than the scenery around [on the spring run] is that beneath--the subaqueous landscape. At times the bottom is clothed in dark-green sedge waving its long tresses to and fro in the current, now we pass over a sunken log draperied in delicate aquatic moss thick as ivy, again the scene changes and a bottom of greyish sand throws in bright relief concentric arcs of brilliantly white fragments of shells deposited on the lower side of ripple marks in a circular basin. Far below us, though apparently close at hand, enormous trout dash upon their prey or patiently lie in wait undisturbed by the splash of the poles and the shouts of the negroes, huge cat-fish rest sluggishly on the mud, and here and there, every protuberance and bony ridge distinctly visible, the dark form of an alligator is distended on the bottom or slowly paddles up the stream. Thus for ten miles of an almost straight course, east and west, is the voyager continually surprised with fresh beauties and unimagined novelties.
The width of the stream varies from sixty to one hundred and twenty-five feet, its average greatest depth about twenty, the current always quite rapid. For about one mile below its head, forests of cypress, maple, ash, gum, and palmetto adorn the banks with a pleasing variety of foliage. The basin itself is somewhat elliptical in form, the exit being at the middle of one side; its transverse diameter measures about one hundred and fifty yards (N.S., S.W.) its conjugage one hundred yards. Easterly it is bordered by a cypress swamp, while the opposite bank is hidden by a dense, wet hammock. A few yards from the brink opposite the exit runs a limestone ridge of moderate elevation covered with pine and jack-oak.
The princial entrance of the water is at the northeastern extremity. Here a subaqueous limestone bluff presents three craggy ledges, between the undermost of which and the base is an orafice, about fifteen feet in length by five in height, whence the water gushes with great violence. Another and smaller entrance is at the opposite extremity. The maximum depth was at the time of my visit forty-one feet. The water is tasteless, presents no signs of mineral matter in solution, and so perfectly diaphanous that the smallest shell is entirely visible on the bottom of the deepest portion. Slowly drifting in a canoe over the precipice I could not restrain an involuntary start of terror, so difficult was it, from the transparency of the supporting medium for the mind to appreciate the existence. When the sumbeams fall full upon the water, by a familiar optical delusion, it seems to a spectator on the bank that the bottom and sides of the basin are elevated, and over the whole, over the frowning crags, the snow-white shells, the long sedge, and the moving aquatic tribes, the decomposed light flings its rainbow hues, and all things float in a sea of colors, magnificent and impressive beyond description. What wonder that the untaught children of nature spread the fame of this marvellous fountain to far distant climes, and under the stereoscopic power of time and distance came to regard it as the life-giving stream, whose magic waters washed away the calamities of age and the pains of disease, round whose fortunate shore youths and maidens ever sported, eternally young and eternally joyous! (pp. 185-186)
Brinton goes on to note that he measured the temperature of the water as precisely 73.2 degrees and that its output was over 300,000,000 gallons per day. He used the following method to measure the spring's flow:
The method I used was the convenient and sufficiently accurate one of the log and line, the former of three inches radius, and latter one hundred and two feet in length. In estimating the size of the bed I chose a point about a quarter of a mile from the basin. The results were calculated according the formulae of Buat. After making all possible allowance for friction, for imperfection of instruments, and inaccuracy of observation, the average daily quantity of water thrown out by this single spring reaches the enormous amount of more than three hundred million gallons! Numbers such as this are beyond the grasp of the human intellect. (p. 187)
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. Almost no fish were observed below the first half-mile of the river, an area that looks very pristine.