Ocala National Forest – Salt Springs Recreation Area

Salt Springs Recreation Area – what a hidden gem! And hidden it is – you won’t get good cell phone service in this remote section of Florida. The Ocala National Forest is 673 square miles and lies East of Ocala – we’re talking central Florida here. And it’s no secret that I do not like central Florida. The National Forest is obviously the exception to this, and I am so thankful that the beautiful natural springs in the area have been preserved. The National Forest Service runs some pretty nice campgrounds, but most of them are primitive (no hookups and a lot of tent-only). Salt Springs Recreation Area had full hookups (yay) but we could only stay for a couple of days – the lack of cell reception meant that we couldn’t work from there, so we could only stay the weekend.

Trudy pulling into Salt Springs Recreation Area
Trudy pulling into Salt Springs Recreation Area

The Salt Springs Recreation area is centered around – you guessed it – Salt Springs! These natural springs are a constant 72 degrees – exactly like Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River. These specific springs have a higher salt content than most others in the area, hence the name. The Springs have a concrete wall built around them in a horseshoe shape, and concrete stairs where you can get down into the water. Pictures are worth 1,000 words- I’ll let them do the talking.

Salt Springs in Ocala National Forest Walkway
Salt Springs – there is a walkway so you can walk all around them

 

Crystal Clear Water at Salt Springs
The water is crystal clear

Even though it wasn’t that warm out, we were both determined to go for a swim in the springs. They have a little store on premise that sells snorkel gear. We bought a mask and snorkel and were glad we did – there’s a lot of life down there! We saw crabs, fish, and of course, the springs themselves. It’s pretty cool to see water just rushing out of rocks.

Calla watching her dad snorkel
Calla watching her dad snorkel
Me – just thrilled to be swimming in November!

 

A boomerang I took of Tim diving in. I’ve yet to find a good way to embed a boomerang into a blog post…

We really enjoyed our time swimming and even put Calla in the water too. The air was a bit chilly though so we didn’t stay in too long. I can only imagine how refreshing those springs would feel on a 90 degree super humid Florida day! They are truly an oasis.

We decided to use our kayak during our weekend at Salt Springs and we were rewarded with an amazing experience! I had already seen manatees while kayaking in Crystal River, but this experience was even better due to the sheer number of manatees and the number of times we both saw them. Our kayak is a 1 person kayak, since one of us has to be watching Calla at all times. Toddlers and kayaks do not mix, so until she is older, kayaking will have to be a solo experience. I’d estimate that I saw at least 20 manatees, and so did Tim. So cool! They come right up to your kayak. Of course I used my “manatee manners” – you let them approach you (don’t chase them), and don’t touch!

My view at one point. They swim right under you which is slightly unnerving – they are so big!
So close to my paddle!
Mom & kid manatee

Swimming in the springs and the close encounters with manatees were by far the highlights of the weekend. The campground at the Salt Springs Recreation area is very nice, well kept – but the sites are spaced very close together. From the campground, it is about a 1 mile walk to the recreation area, where the springs are.

Trudy at the campground

There is not much else to do in the area, so in a way, it was good that we were only able to stay there for a weekend. I think I would have gotten bored! It’s basically just the springs. They don’t even have hiking trails there.

The closest grocery store (just a Wal-Mart) was 30 minutes away. Writing this post brought back a memory for me. I had to do laundry really badly, we were out of clothes, and there were no laundry facilities at the campground. So I had to drive 30 minutes to a laundromat in the middle of nowhere central Florida, where I did 3 week’s worth of laundry for 3 people. That alone is not a fun task, but it was definitely made worse by the shady nature of the area around the laundromat and my fellow customers. And I lost (?) a pair of my favorite workout capris at this laundromat, I have no idea how that happened. Oh, and it was like $80 to do all that laundry because the dryers ate quarters without actually drying. I’ve been to quite a few laundromats since but none have been as bad as that one! Anyway – enough about the crappy laundromat!

Ocala National Forest – Salt Springs Recreation area – was breathtaking. After visiting multiple springs during our time in Florida, we would say that they are not to be missed, and their beauty certainly rivals that of the coast. Just don’t expect a lot of things to do in the area beyond the springs.

The whole no cell service thing put us in a bind, because we had to find a location to work from during the week, but we had no reservations in between Salt Springs and our next stop, which was already booked. We had to find somewhere in between…and in between was..you guessed it, more central Florida. Blah! So after doing some research we booked some days at Ocala North RV Park in Reddick, FL. We enjoyed nothing about this RV park. It somehow had good reviews, but it certainly didn’t deserve them.

As Tim said, “We are NOT writing a post about that place.” So I’ll leave the brief highlights:

  • Creepy neighbors 10 feet away spray painting and chain-smoking cigarettes
  • Majority of sites were permanent, which in this case, means broken down trailers with deflated tires and window AC units
  • Expensive…$40 a night
  • Poorly maintained
  • Any stores/things to do were 30 minutes away in Gainesville or Ocala
  • Extremely loud highway noise from the interstate
I took this at Ocala North to show how close we were to our neighbor

So one day, you’re kayaking with manatees swimming all around you, and the next, you’re paying $10 a night more (Salt Springs was $30) to basically be in a trailer park. You win some, you lose some.

Date Visited: Mid-November 2017

Leave a Reply