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What to See and Do at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala

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Silver Springs State Park in Ocala. On the right you can see the glass-bottom boats.

Silver Springs State Park is home to famous glass-bottom boats that allow you to see manatee, fish, and springs underwater. It’s the place where movies like “Creature from the Black Lagoon” and the TV show “Sea Hunt” were filmed. And there are 200 rhesus monkeys that reside there! For all those reasons and more, Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, Florida, has lured in visitors since the 1800s.

If you talk to people who visited Florida in the 1960s or 70s, there’s a chance they’ll tell you they went on a glass-bottom boat tour back in the day. That’s because the park and its famous boats were introduced as far back as the 1870s; the park was a “must stop and see” destination for those traveling by steamboat.

Views like this have kept visitors coming to Silver Springs State Park for a long time. Check out the clear water.

The boat tours are just one reason visitors have returned to Silver Springs State Park over time. It’s also because the park is located centrally in the state in Ocala. Nearby Highway 27 (a 1,400-mile highway that Florida Culture once wrote chronicled for Visit Florida–find our articles here, here, and here), also called the Orange Blossom Trail, brought out-of-state tourists and visitors to Silver Springs as early as the 1920s. After World War II, Silver Springs State Park, along with Bok Tower Gardens in Lake Wales and the former Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven (now the site of Legoland Florida theme park), were among Florida’s most popular roadside attractions, according to information on display at Silver Springs State Park.

The pristine springs also made Silver Springs State Park a hit with filmmakers. Episodes of “Tarzan” from the 1930s, “The Yearling,” “Smokey and the Bandit Part 3,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” some episodes of “Sea Hunt,” and even “Rebel Without a Cause” with James Dean were filmed at the park. A total of 20 movies have been filmed at Silver Springs State Park.

However, as the interstate and Disneyworld changed Florida and took visitors’ attention elsewhere, Silver Springs State Park fell on some hard times. Environmental runoff also affected the beautiful waters at the park. The Florida Park Service took control of the property and nearby Silver River State Park in 2013, to help preserve the park for future use.

An entrance to Silver Springs State Park in Ocala.

Things to See and Do Today at Silver Springs State Park

So, fast forward to modern times–what can you see and do today at Silver Springs State Park? Pay the park admission (the fee can range from $2 to $8 depending on what entrance you use) and get ready to explore. You’ll feel as if you’ve stepped back into a simpler time. Here’s our list based on a recent visit.

A manatee seen underwater during a glass-bottom boat tour at Silver Springs State Park.
  1. Go on a glass-bottom boat tour. Of course, this is a highlight of visiting the park. The captain will also orient you to the park’s history, some of which we’ve outlined above. On the boat tour, you’ll sit with fellow passengers in a rectangle so you can peer down into the glass bottom of the boat, where the clear water reveals fish, marine life, springs, and the occasional manatee. The park is home to dozens of underwater springs, and the Ocala Limestone that is part of the Mammoth Spring Cavern (seen underwater) is said to be 35 million years old. Your captain also will likely point out alligators that are near the shoreline–or perhaps underwater. There are half-hour glass-bottom boat tours ($12 each) that run constantly, and then there are 1 1/2 hour boat tours ($25 each) to give you a more in-depth look and feel of life at the park.
  2. Search for monkeys….but good luck finding them. There are about 200 rhesus monkeys living at Silver Springs State Park, some of which now also live outside the park environs. The monkeys were brought there in the 1930s to be part of a river-cruise attraction. Our captain said that if you spot them, 90% of the time, you’ll find them at the Ross Allen Island, which is one loop of trails in the park. We saw no signs whatsoever of the monkeys during our walk on the Ross Allen Island trail, but we’ve seen the occasional photo of them on Instagram. One warning: Experts warn that the monkey population there could double by 2022, and that some of the monkeys carry the herpes B virus. Keep your distance!
  3. Paddle away. Silver Springs State Park attracts a whole slew of kayakers and canoe lovers. You can bring your own kayak, canoe, or SUP or rent one onsite. The views from both a kayak and land are stunning, and if you’re from up North, you may kind of feel like you’re in a park back at home….until you spot a palm tree or a gator, of course. We visited in early January and were treated to fall-like scenes and changing leaves that we do not see regularly down in Southwest Florida.
  4. Take a hike. The park has several trails, whether you want to merely stroll along the water or do some serious walking. You never know who you’ll meet along the trails–we spoke with a lady who was walking her beautiful white wolf hybrid dog. Bring water, sunscreen, insect repellant, good shoes, and a map for any hiking. Bicycling and horseback riding are also available.
  5. Spend time at the tourist center. Although the Victor Lundy Tourist Center and Silver River Museum were closed during our visit, we could see that they provide a ton of info to visitors, both about the park’s history, wildlife (including some live animals on display, like snakes), and filmmaking background. A stop at the gift shop never hurt anyone either.
Kayakers taking in the view at Silver Springs State Park.

Wrap up your visit to Silver Springs State Park by grabbing a bite to eat in Ocala. There are many old-fashioned diners where you can continue your Old Florida, old-fashioned kind of day. Or, on the complete other end of the continuum, there’s an Earth Origins Market about 10 minutes from the park that has healthier fare.

Silver Springs State Park also has camping spots open for RVs, tents, and cabins. From what we can see online, those camping spots stay pretty darn busy.

A replica of the “Creature From the Black Lagoon,” filmed at Silver Springs State Park. Spoooooky.

Written by floridaculture

January 15, 2021 at 8:30 pm

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  1. […] but there’s no tubing. You can, however, kayak and paddleboard. Read our Silver Springs story here. Rainbow Springs in Dunnellon offers a wide range of things to do but you can’t go tubing […]

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