After our time in St. Augustine, we had to head west. My friends and I were meeting up for a girl’s weekend in Crystal River FL, which is on the gulf side of the state. We gradually started making our way to Crystal River, and decided to stop at Silver Springs since it was on the way, had some open sites, and would be a good in-between stop. Let me preface this by saying that this was over a month ago, and since staying at Silver Springs, we’ve stayed a few other places in central FL as well. My conclusion on central FL is that it’s pretty quirky. Silver Springs was no exception to this, but it was quirky in all the right ways. What an experience!
Silver Springs State Park Campground
This is the nicest state park campground we have seen in 3 months of traveling. You can tell that the volunteers and the rangers really care about the park, because it was extremely well kept and the rangers were on constant patrol. We read online that the campground entrance is separate from the actual park entrance, so if you are headed to this park, make sure you look for the campground-specific entrance, which is about 1.5 miles from the park entrance. The sites were huge, private, and level. Ours had a large area surrounding the picnic and fire table that was a great play area for Calla. We were right next to the bath house, which normally we wouldn’t prefer, but turned out to be a perk because I had to do laundry, and the washer/dryer was only $1 here. We also didn’t have a sewer hookup at Silver Springs, so we used the bath house for showers. Super large, clean, and they even had heat lamps in the shower area! That’s the first and last we’ve seen of the heat lamps.
There was also a large playground, multiple picnic pavilions, and tons of trails at Silver Springs State Park. This was all in addition to the springs themselves. I love state parks that have multiple things to do. It really helps to keep us busy for multiple days! I enjoyed a run around the “Sinkhole Trail” but it was so remote that I got a little freaked out being in the middle of nowhere with nothing around but giant banana spiders. I felt like I was just waiting to see a snake or a bear (there were multiple signs warning about both). The run was a loop, so I finished it, but I think I may have set some personal records for my pace due to the circumstances!
There are also some really, really nice looking cabins for rent at Silver Springs State Park. They were far nicer than any other state park cabins we have seen. In fact, they were in line with renting a house on Hilton Head Island or something. Beautiful large screened in porches with tons of rocking chairs, surrounded by Spanish moss covered oaks. If you are looking for a family getaway, these cabins would be an awesome place to stay.
From the campground, you can take a really long (3+ miles) sandy trail to the springs, you can ride your bikes along the road, or you can drive your car. We asked the ranger about it, and he suggested that we ride our bikes over on the sidewalk since no one uses it. The road to get to the springs is a highway, so we were happy with the sidewalk solution.
The springs…ah…where to begin? The setup is sort of strange. It looks like an old amusement park….well, because it is! Silver Springs was originally privately owned and is considered the first tourist attraction in Florida. All these years later, it has since been purchased by the state park system, but the original amusement park look still remains in a lot of ways. There is a ticket booth, fountains, and a lot of covered “shops” (most of which are empty, although one of them is a little nature center). It’s definitely a different vibe from most state parks.
Another strange thing: the entrance to the park is right next to the entrance to an abandoned water park. From what I could find online, this park was operational until Summer 2016, then it closed. It was so covered with vines and other foliage that I assumed it closed years ago! I guess that just goes to show what a jungle Florida truly is. As soon as the maintenance is stopped, it all comes right back. I find abandoned things like this fascinating (part of the reason I like the Vice show Abandoned so much) so the creepy water park next door caught my attention on multiple occasions.
The park is centered around the freshwater springs in the area. And they are so, so beautiful. Pictures really can’t do them justice. Picture a body of crystal clear water, so clear that you can see the fish, rocks, and plants 50 feet deep on the bottom. These springs put out millions of gallons of fresh water per day. You weren’t allowed to swim at Silver Springs (we’ve since been to some springs that you can swim/snorkel in, which is a really cool experience) but they do offer glass bottom boat rides. I think it is $14 dollars per person, so it’s not included, and the captain wasn’t too proud to beg for tips. We took advantage of the boat, and it must have been the time of year – it was us and another couple on the boat. Semi-private tour! It’s about 30 minutes long and the guide takes you to various springs in the area and provides some interesting facts. Silver Springs has been a filming location in many movies, and there are some props still stuck on the bottom of the springs. We weren’t sure if we’d find the boat ride to be worth it (we read mixed reviews) but we were happy we did it. We learned a lot and got to see a lot more of the springs than we could from the shore.
Within 30 seconds of being at the park, you are made very aware of the fact that the park is inhabited by monkeys. Apparently they were brought to the Silver Springs area back when it was privately owned to make it more of a ‘destination’ and to attract tourists. They are NOT native to Florida. What they didn’t think about, though, was the fact that they’d reproduce and eventually expand beyond Silver Springs. Now they are a nuisance both in the park and to homeowners in the area. When googling about the monkeys, I found that they had attacked a family last summer in a pavilion in the park. I noticed that this pavilion is now fenced off!
We really wanted to see the monkeys, and one of the days we were there, we saw LOTS! And it was kind of unnerving, especially after reading the signs, hearing the attack stories, and the fact that we had a tiny human with us! So Calla and I watched the monkeys from a distance while Tim went up close and personal for his encounters. The monkeys did leave us alone (no attacks!) but they get very close to you and definitely do not seem afraid of humans.
So between the monkeys and the weird abandoned amusement park/water park vibes at a state park, maybe now you can understand why I call this place quirky. What I hope I also conveyed was just how much of a cool experience Silver Springs State Park is. The campground is truly top notch, with lots to do nearby. We went down to the springs, either by bike or car, every single day we stayed there. We loved the glass bottom boat ride and seeing the monkeys, even if it was a bit unsettling. If you’re ever passing through central FL, we give an A+ rating to Silver Springs State Park.
If you’re interested in learning more about this odd gem of a place, some YouTubers that we really like came here earlier this year and made a video about it. Check it out!