There are 27 state parks in Florida that feature and preserve many of its 1,000 amazing natural springs. Silver Springs State Park is one of the 27. Located in the center of the state near Ocala, Silver Springs is a natural marvel you’ll want to experience if you visit or live in Florida. We can take advantage of one of the state's best campgrounds located adjacent to the springs for those of us that love to camp. Here is our Silver Springs camping review.
Activities at the Campground and State Park
Kayaking the Silver River is the #1 thing to do here. No doubt. But we also enjoyed the approximately 18 miles of well-marked hiking trails inside the campground. Two of which, the River Trail and the Swamp Trail, lead to the river's south bank. The River Trail has a kayak launch at the river. It’s a bit tougher to get your kayak there but you can avoid the $4 launch fee charged at the park.
We biked the trails instead of hiking them. I don’t recall any other state park that we’ve been to that allowed bikes on the hiking trails. Perhaps it’s because the trails are wider than at most parks. We were obviously able to cover more ground and see more that way. Please note that although we don’t have mountain bikes, we do have wide tires. Road bikes will not take the bumps or ride through some of the sandier areas.
Silver Springs State Park campground borders the state park containing the springs and the Spring River. To get to the springs you can hike or bike the 2.3-mile Spring Trail from the campground. You can also bike along the main road (SR 35) outside the entrance to the campgrounds to SR 40 to the entrance. Those are great options if you are renting kayaks at the park. However, if you bring your own, there is a well-organized drop-off point near the kayak launch in the park with parking very close by.
Discovery Kayak Tours
We rented kayaks from Discovery Kayak Tours although we chose to paddle on our own. Ryan Toler, who owns the company, met us in the parking lot and got us set up. It was an easy process, and we were on the river quickly and with no hassle. He met us 5 miles down the river at Ray Wayside County Park and brought us back.
You can rent kayaks from the park but for only 2 hours at a time while rentals from Discovery are 4 hours. There is also no shuttle back, so you’ll have to paddle back upstream to get back to the launch area.
The Silver River and Silver Springs
We typically start out by sharing campground information which we do below. But the Silver River is such an amazing experience we are starting our Silver Springs camping review with the river. We launched from the park at the concession area down a lazy part of the river. The beauty was prevalent immediately. Surrounded on both banks by lush Florida vegetation and paddling in crystal clear water we were getting acclimated.
Alligators are Abundant
Some paddlers were coming back to the launch just a few minutes into it and told us that there was a gator on the bank to the right up a little way. 3 out of the 4 of us had never kayaked a river with gators in the water. We had kayaked Weeki Wachee and experienced small gators on the bank. Even so, our anxiety picked up a bit. We knew we’d encounter gators, but this was a bit earlier than we anticipated.
By the time we got to where the gator was, it decided to go for a swim and was heading right for us. This initial part of the river is narrow at about 20 feet or so wide. Fortunately, the 6-foot gator swam near the left bank and we easily were able to slowly paddle past it. This broke us in because we saw 10 gators in the river and on the banks that day. After a while, we came to realize that they are just as frightened of us. If you keep your distance, they just keep their eye on you. If you get too close for their comfort, they only move to show you that they’re wary of you. Soon we were paddling by gators and enjoying them while still being cautious versus being anxious.
One more note about the alligators. People that had done this before were comfortable enough to bring their children, babies, and pets on kayaks with them. Now that we have had this experience, we would not be at all reluctant to do it again. Don’t let fear or lack of understanding about gators deter you from this experience.
A Nice Panoramic View of Silver River
Beyond the Gators
It’s impossible to share the amount and variety of wildlife to be seen on the Silver River. When you paddle over one of the dozens of springs the depth increases dramatically. You can see large Gar in the spring heads as you paddle by. Mullet are everywhere and are jumping all over the river. Several species of birds that we’ve never seen before are nesting on both sides of the river. And you’ll be amazed at the number of turtles swimming and resting on logs and the bank of the river. We also saw a lone deer cross the campground road as we were riding our bikes to the kayak launch.
This is the only campground we’ve experienced in Florida where you can potentially see gator, monkeys, manatees, deer, and bear all in one place.
Our Silver Springs camping review would not be complete without mentioning the snakes. If you hike, bike or kayak here chances are that you’ll encounter some. We did. We zoomed past a water moccasin during a bike ride, which was strangely far away from the river on the side of the trail. It looked in distress and may have been dying. We stopped for what appeared to be a garter snake blocking the trail during another ride along the trail. I’m not a snake expert but I looked it up and believe that I’m correct. It slithered into the brush after a short while.
The most anxious snake encounter was on the narrow canal heading to Ray Wayside at the end of our paddle on Silver River. This waterway to and from a boat ramp and the kayak launch downriver is fairly narrow (about 10 feet) with thick lily pads on either side. 2 of us were in front with my wife Shirley and another person behind her. A water snake came out of the lily pads and was on a collision course with her kayak. She and the snake both stopped seemingly equally as afraid of each other. Finally, the snake went on its way into the pads on the other side. Shirley’s heart was pumping a bit faster for a while.
We Did Not See Monkeys
Our only disappointment is that we didn’t see the famed Rhesus Macaques monkeys. However, in fairness with this Silver Springs camping review, some people did report seeing them. In talking to locals, it seems that it’s hit and miss. We met one couple at the kayak launch on the south side of the river during a bike ride that shared that they had been surrounded by the monkeys right at this launch during a prior visit. I guess it’s a great reason to go back.
We Did See Manatees
We did not see Manatees while on the river. However, the next day as we rode to the end of the Swamp Trail and stopped at the river, we saw 3 of them floating down Silver River. It was a spectacular site but perhaps not quite as much as if we were paddling by them. Either way, it’s amazing to think that these huge creatures travel as someone shared 140 miles to get there. And, then they turn around and head back. They must love the abundance of grass growing in this pristine waterway.
Manatee Enjoying the Pristine Silver River
Silver Springs Camping
Quite simply this is the best campground we’ve ever been to. Let me explain why. If you’ve been to a Florida State Park campground it is set up in much the same way. However, the campsite loops and campsites are way better.
There are 4 loops in 2 separate areas. Each loop has from 11 to 15 campsites totaling 53 in all. There are also 9 very nice, large cabins for rent in a separate area. They could have easily fit 50% more campsites in these 4 loops. But because they did not, there are approximately 30 to 40 yards between each campsite. In this area between the sites, there are trees and vegetation so you can see your neighbor but have lots of privacy as well. We were able to play music at night without coming close to disturbing our neighbors.
All sites are level! And these sites are covered with pea gravel that kept our site and camper clean and mud-free. This was especially helpful during the rain that came on day 3. Most of the sites have extra long driveways. Compared to other campgrounds, they all do. And each site has a nice area to set up a bug tent or just sit around the included fire ring. The bathrooms are all new. The sites have new electric boxes and not one, but two hose spigots. It was the very best campsite we’ve not only camped at but that we’ve seen at any campground so far.
Get more campground details from the Florida State Parks website
To book a campsite at Silver Springs visit Reserve America
The Best Campsites at Silver Springs
As we always do, we rode each loop and checked out campsites for our and your next visit. Guess what? We had the best campsite (#24). We feel site #24 is best because it had a long driveway, it had a good distance from our neighbors, but it also had an amazing canopy of trees above us. From dawn to dusk we had shade. And you know that if you’ve camped when it’s hot, shade from the Florida sun is a good thing.
The fact is that there are no bad campsites at Silver Springs State Park Campground. But if you want a campsite with the most shade see if #24, #25, or #26 are available.
Cell Phone Service
We have T-Mobile and our coverage was excellent even while paddling the Silver River.
Bugs and Critters
Some mosquitoes, love bugs, and other assorted pests weren’t a big issue. We use REPEL which is an all-natural, DEET-free, bug spray that we highly recommend. Buy REPEL on Amazon.
There were no possum or raccoon sitings around our campsite but of course, you still want to secure your trash at night. There were tons of squirrels around the site, but they didn’t venture onto the pea gravel at all. Perhaps the gravel hurts their little paws.
You can tell that we loved our time here. But to complete our Silver Springs camping review we'll point out 2 small flaws. At the concession stand and kayak launch in the park, the porta-potty's were full and my wife wouldn't go in them. We did see the sanitation truck come to the park the next day.
And, because the campsites are so spread out, you have to make more of an effort to get to know other campers.
In conclusion with our Silver Springs camping review, you will not be disappointed. The monkeys may not come out for you but you'll see lots of wildlife and you'll have a great time in the campgrounds. We will be going back to Silver Springs!