SILVER GLEN SPRINGS STATE PARK, FL — If you can manage to get the place to yourself — and it is possible, but not on busy weekends or holidays — there are few better places to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of Ocala National Forest than Silver Glen Springs.
From the comfortable lawn surrounding the spring, under a gentle shade of Spanish moss, you can watch the spring boil up silently from the Florida Aquifer. Seventy-two million gallons a day erupt from the spring and spread out into a transparent underwater meadow teeming with fish. The limestone pool, about 200 feet across, is the color of pale emeralds, accented by abstract swaths of water grass.
A little blue heron may patrol the hyacinth looking for a quick meal, while great blues stand sentry farther off in the shadows. Cormorants and anhingas stretch their wings on the buoys, soaking up the afternoon sun.
“People tend to think there isn’t much to see in the winter time,” said Jerry Clutts, back when he was Lake George District Ranger. “But there are quite a few fish seeking warm water, stripped bass even some saltwater species that come up from the St John’s–some rays and some groupers.” Bald eagles, as well as many other birds, are also seen at the park.
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The site is surrounded by an Indian shell mound and has been a popular swimming hole for at least 7,000 years. A small collection of artifacts from the site is on display at the Ocala Public Library. “The whole area around the spring apparently at one time was a shell mound,” Clutts said. “But a lot of it was been excavated years ago. [The shells were] taken and used for road surfacing. A lot of the area has been disturbed.”
In recent years a hiking trail has been added that takes you along a three-mile round trip to a bluff along Lake George. The trail begins near where a historic Timucuan village once existed and follows the spring run to one of Florida’s largest lakes. Watch for alligators along the way.
If quiet solitude isn’t your aim, you’ll have plenty of company on weekends and holidays. Boating traffic along the half-mile spring run might be the Ocala National Forest’s equivalent of Daytona Break during spring break. If you like a crowd, you’ll be in luck. If not, you’ll want to wait for the mid-week or off season to enjoy the tranquility of this scenic gem.
Silver Glen Springs Info
Silver Glen Springs is located near Lake George on Highway 19, six miles north of SR 40 in Ocala National Forest. Activities include boating, fishing, picnicking, swimming and snorkeling. Camping is not permitted. (But read here for a list of Ocala National Forest Campgrounds.) The park is open daily 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. with canoe rentals available on site from $16 to $38 (full day). Free kayak launching. Day use fee is $5.50 per person. Snorkeling, but not SCUBA, is permitted.
A single annual pass ($60 per person) gets you into several Ocala National Forest recreation areas, including Juniper Springs, Salt Springs, Clearwater Lake, Wildcat Lake, Alexander Springs and Silver Glen Springs. For information, call 352-236-0288