Silver Springs State Park: Must-Know Tips for Your Next Visit

Oh my! Glass-bottom boats, manatees, and pristine spring waters are just a sample of what Silver Springs State Park offers visitors of all ages. 

There are 175 state parks in Florida. And while you might not be able to visit all of them, I suggest adding Silver Springs State Park to your list. It is perfectly manicured and absolutely beautiful. It’s unlike any of the other parks I have been to. There are many paved paths and places to stop and enjoy gardens and wildlife. All ages and abilities can enjoy the park. And, if you want to extend your stay, there are a few options. 

I have been visiting Silver Springs since I was a kid! I went on field trips and with my parents. Now that I have a family of my own, I had to share this place with them, too. Oh, and I’ve paddled here with my hubby and Ella Ran, co-owner of Outsiders USA. Being local and having a Florida State Parks Annual Pass has made visiting our various state parks a breeze. 

Keep reading to learn about this wonderful state park and all it has to offer. 

The sign at the entrance of Silver Springs State Park in Silver Springs, Florida.
What a lovely entrance.

Table of Contents

The view from inside the glass bottom boat looking out through rectangular and round windows out onto the water at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.
View of Silver River from our glass-bottom boat.

Quick Intro to Silver Springs State Park

Silver Springs State Park is famous for its iconic glass-bottom boats. The park became a tourist attraction in the 1870s, and glass-bottom boats were invented here during this time. 

From the 1930s to the 1980s, it was a hot spot for filming movies and TV shows. It’s a paddler’s paradise with more than 30 springs to explore. The St. Johns River Water Management District site has fascinating information for those interested in the science behind these natural wonders. 

Silver Springs Location

Silver Springs is just outside of the Ocala National Forest. It’s a 90-minute drive from Orlando and Daytona Beach, so it’s doable for a day trip. 

The main entrance is at 5656 E. Silver Springs Blvd, Silver Springs, FL 34488, but there are multiple entrances. Check the park website to make sure you are going to the correct address for the activities you would like to do.  

A snake bird drying itself on a log after fishing at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.
A snake bird drying itself after fishing in the Silver River at Silver Springs State Park.

Wildlife at Silver Springs

Wildlife abounds here, from manatees and alligators to turtles and water birds. As for land wildlife, you might spot armadillos, turkeys, and gopher tortoises.

Manatees

You will see the most manatees during the winter months when they seek out warm water, but there will also be some throughout the year. Manatees are curious and gentle mammals. If you encounter one, please keep your distance. We want them to stay wild, and if they get used to humans, it could become dangerous for them in the future. 

If you are interested in swimming near manatees, check out my guide!

Alligators

Alligators are both a pro and a con—they are exciting to see but also a bit nerve-wracking when you stumble upon them. 

Never feed or harass gators. If you want to be extra cautious, avoid paddling or other water activities during mating season between April and July.

There were some hanging out on logs when we went paddling, but you know what? I never saw them! My fellow paddlers did. So, I guess I only see what I want to see. 

Monkeys

You read that right; there are monkeys! Rhesus macaques were introduced in the 1930s to increase tourism to the area. Although there are a lot of them in the park, I have never seen one! If you do, just keep a safe distance, as they are known to fling poo. 

Are the Silver Springs Glass-Bottom Boats Worth it?

Several green and silver glass bottom boats at the dock at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.
Three of the many glass-bottom boats at Silver Springs.

Absolutely!

Dating back to the 1870s, the glass-bottom boat tour is a must, fully accessible, entertaining and informative. 

There are two tour options: 30-minute and 90-minute. The cost of the glass-bottom boats is in addition to the park entry fee. 

Because I was going with my family and mother-in-law, we took the 30-minute tour. Everyone loved it. It’s a great way to see the springs. It’s like snorkeling, but with zero effort. Everything was so clear! We got to see many, many fish, but also turtles, even a tiny baby one that made the kids and me squeal with delight. The captain was very knowledgeable, entertaining, and gracious in answering all of my questions. It is a great way to also view artifacts and props from Hollywood productions.

When is Silver Springs Open?

You can visit Silver Springs anytime between 8 am to sundown, 365 days a year. The entry fee is around $8 per vehicle. Additional information on all entrance fees and other paid activities can be found here

You should always check the website or call (352-236-7148) before going to make sure everything you want to explore is open, especially if you are traveling a bit to get there. 

The park is also a venue and hosts weddings and other events. When we visited, there was a wedding, and we could not explore the area where they were doing the ceremony. 

Do you Need Reservations for Silver Springs State Park?

At this time, reservations are necessary for camping, cabins, and glass-bottom boats only. These are popular activities at the park and often book quickly.

Is Silver Springs State Park Accessible?

Silver Springs has accessible areas and amenities:

  • overnight accommodations
    • cabin No. 6
    • campground campsites 20 and 53
  • museum and education center
  • glass-bottom boat tour
  • paved sidewalks along the Silver River

In addition to the above areas and amenities, the park has four first-come, first-served wheelchairs available. If you have specific needs or questions, make sure to call the ranger station at ​​352-236-7148.

Jessica Meinhofer, owner of Walk and Paddle, posing with a photo stand of a captain and snake bird at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.
Look for photo stands around the park and take a photo.

Are Dogs Allowed at Silver Springs?

Yes, well-behaved dogs are allowed at campgrounds, picnic areas, and hiking trails. Service animals are exempt.

Leave your dog at home if you are planning to*:

  • paddle
  • ride in the glass-bottom boats
  • stay in a cabin
  • enter buildings
  • visit the education center and museum
  • eat at a restaurant
  • use the restrooms 

*Service dogs are exempt, and of course, if you have someone with you who can wait with your dog, this will not apply.

Can I Swim or Fish at Silver Springs?

Swimming is prohibited, so cooling off isn’t an option. If you decide to paddle, you can always splash yourself a bit. I always do that when out on the water on a hot day. 

Fishing is also prohibited. 

According to the Silver Springs State Park map, “There is NO fishing and NO swimming on the entirety of the Silver River to aid in preservation for future generations.”

Two turtles sun themselves on a log that has fallen into the water at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.
We saw so many turtles sunning themselves.

What’s the Camping Like at Silver Springs State Park?

Silver Spring has 59 campsites across two campgrounds, with some sites able to accommodate RVs up to 50 feet. All campsites have water, electricity, a fire ring, a barbecue grill, and a picnic table. There is no sewer connection, but there is an onsite dump station. Reservations can be made here

Primitive Group Camping

Along with the two campgrounds, there is also primitive group camping at Silver Springs. The group camping area has picnic tables, a group fire ring, a launch for paddle craft, and port-o-lets. There is no potable water, so plan accordingly. For reservations, call the ranger station: 352-236-7148, ext. 4

The covered and paved walkway leading to the welcome center, gift shop, cafe, and other shops at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.
We enjoyed this area to browse, stroll, and relax.

During your visit, I recommend stopping by the visitor center and the other shops and galleries. You can learn about nature and the local habitat and see some fun displays about the TV and movie history at the park.

The art gallery has wonderful pieces to view, and of course, the gift shop is always a fun stop. The good news is that it’s easy to skip the gift shop if you are on a budget. We browsed the gift shop and found quite a few fun souvenirs to buy. 

All Ages and Accessible Leisurely Strolls

Various gardens, such as the Camellia Garden and Osceola Garden, are great for a nice walk. There are plenty of places to stop and take photos or just enjoy the scenery. If you need a moment to catch your breath or study the gardens, there are benches scattered along the paved paths

When we visited with my mother-in-law, we walked some of these lovely paths and took advantage of the various benches. It’s where we found the Silver Springs Wings! Just know that the paths aren’t always shady, and some are completely exposed to the sun for extended periods. 

Two teens stroll along a paved path that meanders through tall cypresses and palm trees in one of the gardens at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.
The kids on one of the many garden paths at Silver Springs State Park.

Hiking at Silver Springs

There are quite a few hiking opportunities at Silver Springs State Park. Before heading out, check the website for trail conditions and closures. As of March 5, 2024, the Creek Trail is partially closed.

I have yet to hike at Silver Springs, but the variety of trails there sounds exciting, and I want to check them out.

Trails:

Trail NameLengthMarkers
Creek Trail0.75-mile loopno blaze
Spring Connector Trail2.3 miles one-wayblue blaze
Sandhill Trail1.7-mile loopyellow blaze
Sinkhole Trail2.2-mile loopred blaze
Old Field Loop0.8 milesgreen blaze
Swamp trail1.9-mile looporange blaze
River Trail1.3 milesdark blue blaze

Trail routes, trailheads, etc., are available on the Silver Springs State Park website. 

Horseback Riding at Silver Springs

The state park includes equestrian trails, which have a different entrance off State Road 40. The trails are mixed-use and run north of Silver River. Trail maps are available at the trailhead. The trails can be muddy and wet except during drought. And watch out for biting insects when it’s warm.

Wanna Ride but Don’t Have a Horse?

Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides has horses for visitors ages six and older at the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway. You can make reservations online or by calling 352-266-9326.

Paddling at Silver Springs

One of the shady paddle trails off of the Silver River at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.
One of the paddle routes we took at Silver Springs.

There are a few paddle options at Silver Springs. The shortest paddle is a 1.1-mile loop through the Fort King waterway to the Silver River (the route we took). There’s a 5-mile one-way or 10-mile round trip for more adventure, but these longer routes along the Silver River can be challenging for beginners. 

Note that the Fort King Paddle Trail is partially closed as of March 2024, so check for updates before heading out.

The launch point inside the park is convenient but can get crowded on peak days. Only non-motorized vessels are allowed, and there are fees: $8 per vehicle and $4 for vessel launch. You can rent boards, canoes, and kayaks by the hour or day, and guided paddles are available.

Silver Springs is an excellent paddling spot for its scenic beauty, beginner-friendly routes, and abundant wildlife, including manatees, turtles, and even monkeys. However, be cautious of glass-bottom boats, motorized vehicles, and alligators, especially on the Silver River. 

Check out my blog post for more details about paddling at Silver Springs!

One of the more than 30 turquoise spring heads at Silver Springs State Park in Florida.
A day paddling here is so very satisfying.

What is the Silver River Museum & Education Center?

At the museum and education center, visitors can see natural and cultural history, objects from the 16th century, Seminole Indian artifacts, and a fossil collection. 

It is open on weekends from August to May from 10 am to 4 pm and at other times for events. In addition to the Silver Springs State Park admission, visitors ages 6+ must pay $2 per person to enter the museum and education center. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see this area during our visit, but this just means we need to go back soon!

Although it is part of Silver Springs, it has a separate entrance: 1445 Northeast 58th Avenue, Ocala, FL 34470.

The Silver River Museum & Environmental Education Center also has outdoor buildings and exhibits, including:

  • Traditional wood-fired pottery kiln
  • Classroom buildings
  • Replica pioneer Cracker settlement
  • Felburn Research Library
Jessica Meinhofer, Walk and Paddle owner, jumping and posing with the Silver Springs Wings in Florida.
Having fun at the Silver Springs State Park Wings!

Is There Somewhere to Eat and Drink at Silver Springs?

Yes! If you start getting hungry and didn’t pack a picnic, check out the Spring Side Café

We were impressed by the offerings—it wasn’t just burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and hot dogs. However, the pricing reflects the higher quality and expanded menu. 

The cafe has temperature-controlled indoor seating. If the day is beautiful, you can also sit outside. Oh, and they have a bar, so adults can get some of their favorite beverages. 

Learn More

You can learn more about Silver Springs and other fantastic locations by visiting the following:

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