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Juniper Springs

Juniper Springs
The Springs Pool

The Juniper Springs Recreation Area is located within the Ocala National Forest on Highway 40, about 28 miles east of Ocala.


They say the Ocala National Forest has four crown jewels, and Juniper Springs is one of them. Together with its "sister spring," Fern Hammock, these springs result in a daily water flow of about 13 million gallons.

After a few days of mid-February cold and rain here in north-central Florida, today finally brought a welcome change in weather. The sunshine and spring-like temperatures beckoned me outdoors, so I decided to head to Juniper Springs.

I've been coming here off and on my entire life, and I'll keep returning. It's a great spot to spend a day swimming, walking the nature trails, photographing, picnicing, whatever you like.

Snorkeling in the Spring Pool

On this day, I spent some time snorkeling in the spring pool. (I can't stay out of the water. Maybe I'm part otter, I don't know.) Although there were very few fish to see, the visibility was for all practical purposes, unlimited. Here's a 23-second video to show you what I mean:

As with all Florida springs, the water temperature remains year round at about 68 to 72 degrees. In February, for example, while the temperature of other central Florida waters might be closer to 58 or 60 degrees, springs temperatures remain about 10 degrees warmer, making them suitable for year-round swimming.

Camping at Juniper Springs

Wanna stay a while? Camping is available here too. There are three camping loops, one--the Fern Hammock loop--is reserved just for tent campers. Whether you're in an RV or a tent, there are no electricty or water hookups. Spigots are located around the camping area, however, for filling your water containers. Generators are allowed up until 10 p.m.

Tent Camping Site at Juniper Springs
Tent Camping Site at Juniper Springs

Full bathroom facilities are available in the campgrounds, including hot showers.

Juniper Springs
Hot Showers! -- Yes! Especially after a winter's dip in the springs.

Fern Hammock Springs

The Fern Hammock loop is named for Fern Hammock springs, which are within a couple of hundred yards or so of the Fern Hammock camping loop. To me, this spring is more beautiful than the main spring pool, because it's in a more natural setting.

Fern Hammock Springs
Fern Hammock Springs

At Fern Hammock springs you'll see several sand boils. These are areas where water is forced up through the porous limestone bedrock to the surface. These are in fact springs, not the "quicksand" of B-grade Hollywood movies. The water's flow as it escapes the aquifer churns the surface sand, giving it a "boiling cauldron" appearance. This video clip shows a sand boil at Fern Hammock springs:

Nature Trails

Many miles of foot trails surround Juniper Springs. Some go into the Juniper Prairie Wilderness Area and some remain in the camping area. One trail is actually a boardwalk which follows Juniper Creek about a mile or so from the Juniper Springs pool to Fern Hammock Springs.

Juniper Springs Boardwalk
Juniper Springs boardwalk along Juniper Creek

Wanna do a really long hike? The 1,400-mile Florida Trail runs through the Juniper Springs Recreation area. You'll see the trail signs near the entrance.

Florida Trail at Juniper Springs
The Florida Trail Runs Through the Juniper Springs Recreation Area

Wildlife

One of my favorite things about the wilds is the wildlife. Deer, turkey, quail, bears, panthers, otters, snakes, whatever--you name it, and I enjoy seeing it.

In the springs area this day by the canoe landing trail, I happened up on a flock of wild turkeys. Wild turkeys, as you may know, are normaly extremely skittish, and won't usually stick around to be photographed. So, I considered it icing on today's cake to be able to see this many turkeys up close here in Juniper Springs. Fortunately, I had my video camera with me, and was able to capture these critters on the digital equivalent of "film."

Floating Juniper Creek

If canoeing or kayaking is your thing, try the seven-mile trip down Juniper Creek . The feds run run a shuttle service that will retreive you at the trip's end pick up point on Highway 19. Bring your own canoe or kayak, or rent a canoe in the park. Since the trip takes around three to five hours, you must be on the water by noon. The last pick-up is at 4:30 pm.

It's a trip through a remote wilderness area, so come prepared with a few emergency supplies you might need:

  • Water--yes, definitely take water, or some way to disinfect wilderness water.

  • something to start an emergency fire with. It can get downright cold in winter time in this part of Florida. If for some unexpected reason you had to spend the night out in the wilds--hey, it happens--you'll want to ward off hypothermia.

  • A poncho or other emergency shelter would also be a good idea.

  • Some protective clothing in winter. Even though the afternoon might be warm, it can get pretty cold at night. If you happen to be stranded in the wilds, you'll want to stay warm and dry

  • A compass and GPS might help you find your way out if you had to resort to walking out.

  • Your cell phone may or may not get coverage. Bring it, just in case, pack it so it stays dry.

Caution Sign at Juniper Creek

You'll probably survive most wilderness emergencies--Juniper Creek flows through some very wild areas--as long as you can keep from getting too cold or too hot, and you can stay hydrated.

Chances are, things will go smoothly and you'll have an enjoyable seven-mile float. But on the off-chance of some problem...you'll want to be prepared.

For an in-depth guide to preparing for wilderness emergencies in Florida, see my 232-page book on the subject, Surviving the Wilds of Florida.

Oh, and one other thing...as the U.S. Forest Service says "This is not a trip for beginners." But it is a good trip.





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