For a taste of Old Florida that is beautiful, historical, and enjoyable, plan a trip to Silver Springs State Park at 1425 NE 58th Avenue in Ocala. The park has served as a natural landmark since the 1870s and is often called Florida’s first tourist attraction. Silver Springs boasts one of the few uninhabited spring runs in Florida. It first came to attention in the 1820s, and people came in increasing numbers once Phillip Morrell fitted a pane of glass to the bottom of his rowboat in 1870. Ever since Glass Bottom Boats have been attracting visitors from all over the world. The experience is mesmerizing, as one floats over the clear waters spotting underwater wildlife.
While the Glass Bottom Boats are the most famous aspect of the park, visitors also rave about the many gardens: Camellia Garden, Fire and Water Garden, Courtyard Garden, Crossroads Garden, and the Wildflower Garden.
Gardens & Wildlife
The park offers a chance to see a wide variety of wildlife, including, Florida white-tailed deer, Sherman’s fox squirrel, raccoons, song birds, owls, otter, eastern gopher tortoises, tri-colored heron, anhinga, cormorant, alligators, turtles. Egret, ibis, ducks, armadillo, and manatee in the winter season when the stable temperatures of the spring and run give them relief from the colder waters along the coast. In addition to the Glass Bottom Boats, you can take to the water in a kayak or canoe.
Mention Silver Springs State Park and someone will say, “That’s where the rhesus monkeys are!” It is true. Ever since 1938, a colony of rhesus macaques has flourished around the spring. Colonel Tooey released the monkeys as a feature of his Jungle Cruise ride. As fascinating as that may be, the monkeys are dangerous because of their bad temperament. Warning signs are there as a reminder to keep your distance.
While at the park, you will enjoy seeing the Cracker Village, which transports you back to the 1890’s period pioneer settlement. See the cabin and outbuildings, barn, smokehouse, and outhouse, as well as the schoolhouse, church, and blacksmith shop. As you tour, there may be blacksmiths and others bringing the pioneer activities to life.
Silver River Museum & More
The Silver River Museum and Environmental Center is open Saturday and Sunday, and some holidays, but closed on weekdays because classes are held there during the week. There is the main museum and a history wing. The main museum has natural history exhibits. The history wing offer insights about Marion County and Florida, from the time that written records were kept.
At the Main Entrance, you can view the headspring from a deck, then follow the walkway along the river, visit the ornamental gardens. There is a restaurant that offers a view of the spring. There is a gift shop and an ice cream parlor. The cost of admission to Silver Springs is $2.00. The glass bottom boat tours cost extra. Adults (13+) are $11, Seniors 55+ are $10, Children 6-12 are $10, and Children 5 & under are free.
Well-behaved pets are welcome at Silver Springs State Park, the campground, picnic area and on hiking trails. Leashes are required at all times. Dogs are not permitted on the Glass Bottom Boats or in any buildings, including cabins, the museum, education center, restrooms and the restaurant. Service animals are welcome in all areas.
While at Silver Spring State Park, consider a visit to the nearby Ocala National Forest, as well.