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
Full bathroom facilities are available in the campgrounds, including hot showers.
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
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:
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 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.
The Florida Trail Runs Through the Juniper Springs Recreation Area
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.