SILVER SPRINGS, FL — In a state full of great kayaking destinations, the Silver River consistently ranks near the top. This scenic 8-mile river flows between Silver Springs and the Ocklawaha River on the western edge of the Ocala National Forest. It combines some of Florida’s finest natural beauty along with a trip back into some of the region’s colorful history.
In fact, the Silver River has been a tourist destination since the Civil War era when steamboats ferried tourists from Jacksonville up the St. John’s River to the Ocklawaha and finally to Silver Springs. Along the way visitors got a glimpse of alligators and otters in water as clear as gin and teeming with largemouth bass and alligator, the banks patrolled by great blue herons, limpkins and snakebirds. Later on the attraction brought visitors from around the nation to Florida’s first major tourist attraction, which also served as the film set for plenty of movies including Tarzan and a couple of James Bond underwater scenes.
The river today looks much like it did a hundred years ago except that now you’re likely to catch a glimpse of rhesus monkeys (escapees from the nature park) and some exotic sucker fish. The monkeys are delightful to watch, but don’t approach too closely because they can be aggressive panhandlers!
There are two ways to kayak the Silver River. The full trip begins at Ray Wayside Park on Highway 40, just east of Ocala and winds its way against the current for eight miles. The spring produces about 550 million gallons of water daily, making the upstream paddle a bit of a chore. But the scenery is worth the effort, and with water that’s 72 degrees year around it’s pleasant even on the hottest days. The return trip flies by.
The second and shorter option is to put in at Silver River State Park, where a 3/4 mile trail leads to a hand launch area. You have to portage your kayak a good distance, but it also cuts the length of the kayak trip by about half. Either trip is best on weekdays to avoid boat traffic.
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At present there’s no option to put in or take out at the main spring, though that may change as the aging Silver Springs attraction transitions to a state park. The main springs are a wonder to behold, deep and dark and full of mystery. For now you’ll share the springs with glass bottom boats, though they may be retired in the future.
UPDATE: Now that it’s a State Park, kayaking is offered from the main spring. Rentals are available for $15 per hour and doubles for $20. Self-launch is $4. For more information, contact Discovery Kayak Tours at 352-789-4959.