The Silver River
Florida's Beautiful Silver River
General Description: About a 5-to-6-hour, 10-mile paddle--5 miles up and 5 miles down the Silver River, Florida's prize spring run.
N 29.214170 deg, W 81.991996 deg
Ray Wayside Park on the south side of State Road 40, just west of the Delks Bluff Bridge over the Ocklawaha River. Head east on 40 out of Ocala or west on 40 out of Ormond Beach.
Finishing point: Same place.
Maps: DeLorme's Florida Atlas and Gazetteer, page 72
The Silver river has been called "Florida's primo spring run." An average of 550 million gallons each day boil from beneath the earth at Silver Springs, the site of the largest limestone artesian spring in the world. From there, the clear spring water flows a little over 5 miles in an easterly direction until it converges with the dark, tannin-stained water of the Ocklawaha River.
Your trip begins at the boat basin of Ray Wayside Park, located on the south side of State Road 40, about 4 miles east of Silver Springs. Heading east, if you cross the Delks Bluff Bridge over the Ocklawaha, you've gone too far. Parking, restrooms, picnic pavilions, and a boat ramp are available. A two-dollar fee is payable in cash upon entering.
As you leave the boat basin, proceed north along a narrow, straight channel for about a quarter of a mile, then turn right to head upstream. From there, it's about a 3-to-4-hour paddle to Silver Springs against a gentle 2-3 miles-per-hour hour current. The relaxing return trip downstream takes about 2 hours.
Alternate launch site.
An alternate launch site (canoes and kayaks only, no motorboats here) is at Silver River State Park, much farther upstream. Camping is available at the state park, but it's best to make reservations ahead of time. Find the entrance to Silver River State Park about one and one-quarter miles south of State Road 40 at Silver Springs, along County Road 35, locally known as Baseline Road.
Water clarityIf you're a diver (or at least an avid snorkeler), you're probably going to want to get underneath the clear, inviting waters for a closer look at what lies below. Be aware, however, that many large alligators make their home in this river. Although not normally aggressive to humans, you can be sure of one thing when it comes to alligators—they are unpredictable. Perhaps for this reason, swimming is not permitted in the Silver River.
Beautiful and protected banks.
The natural scenery along the river's wild and jungly banks complements the beauty of the river itself. You'll never have to worry about a real-estate development ruining these shores. The river flows right through the 5,000 acre Silver River State Park, so both the waterway and its surroundings are entirely protected.
Tall hardwoods and a generous number of Sabal palms are found along the banks, while yellow pond lilies, pickerel weed, and other greenery here and there line the water's edge. Alligators can often be seen soaking up the sun's warm rays, and big water birds pose—patiently it seems—for fumbling photographers.
Nearer to the springs, wild rhesus monkeys scamper among the trees doing monkey things—chattering, grooming, and chasing one another. Their antics can be entertaining, but unfortunately some people resort to feeding the monkeys, an action which is not only illegal, but also potentially dangerous. These are wild animals, the descendants of a troop released in the 1930s to lend an exotic air to jungle cruises along the river. Like many wild animals, they can bite. To prevent any feeding-frenzied monkeys from dropping into your boat, it's best to just observe them from a safe distance.
At Silver Springs
As you enter the river's headwaters at Silver Springs, you float over a large, blue-green translucent spring pool some 400 feet across and 40 feet deep. The top-to-bottom visibility stirred in me the same deep excitement that once drove me to SCUBA diving.
For good reason, this stunning pool became in the early-to-mid-twentieth century a popular Hollywood filming location. In my mind's eye, I can still see Tarzan of the silver screen, played by Johnny Weissmuller, swimming along the grassy bottom, knife firmly clenched in his teeth. Any minute now, you know he'll have to fight off an African crocodile twice his size, provided, of course, he doesn't meet up with The Creature from the Black Lagoon, a 1954 classic sci-fi flick—also filmed at Silver Springs—about a half-fish, half-human gill man who terrorizes a team of researchers along the Amazon. And how could I not recall the image of Lloyd Bridges of Seahunt, aqua-lung and all, heroically racing through the breathtakingly beautiful depths to save—just in the nick of time—some ravishing beauty from a dreadful fate. Finally, as I look ashore, I can picture the old Ross Allen Reptile Institute and Ross himself, explaining to an enthralled crowd all about alligators, water moccasins, and other animals exotic to most of the visitors.
Silver Springs is not only entrenched in Florida's lore, it's also rooted in the memories of many of us who came of age on this peninsula before Mickey Mouse set up shop near Kissimmee.
Although the State of Florida now owns Silver Springs, it's leased out as a commercial theme park, and landing is prohibited.
Before you leave to head back downstream, check beneath the surface for turtles, large gar, bass, and other fish that habitually lurk below. A voyage up and down the Silver River makes for an enjoyable and memorable day trip. It's one of the best day-long wild adventures Florida has to offer.