A huge black winged bird swooped across our path and landed neatly on the picnic table in front of us. The ebony reptilian rolls around the bird’s neck jiggled as the creature leaned forward and peered into the blue and white striped canvas sack standing on the table top. I watched with a mixture of horror and fascination as the animal I recognized to be a vulture, stuck his glossy beak into the bag and pulled out a piece of bread.
The Local Swimming Hole
Located in the Ocala National Forest, Alexander Springs is a favorite swimming hole and outdoor recreation area for families. Parents with little children appreciate the lake-like environment, sandy bottom, and shallow depths. The older and adventurous get a kick out of swimming the path around the water lilies and snorkeling the wide and deep springs farther from shore.
A 1st magnitude spring, Alexander Springs pumps out 70 million gallons of water a day. The bottom of the Alexander Springs basin slopes gently down the farther you get from shore, before dropping to depths of 1o-feet around the spring pool. Arm yourself and the kids with snorkels and masks if you plan to check out the springs, but leave those flippers behind, as they will stir up the sandy bottom and make underwater visibility difficult. The glittering turquoise waters around the springs remain a constant 72°F year-round, which may seem warm to some, but can actually get chilly after a while. Luckily, there are plenty of places around the shoreline to sit and warm up in the Florida sun. There’s even a sandy area for kids to dig in the dirt.
Hiking the Timucuan Trail
A boardwalk path beside the swimming hole takes you deep into the swamp. The sounds of kids enjoying the swimming hole soon fade into the distance. The wooden path, named after the Timucuan Indians who resided in the area, follows along the swampy area around the springs. River overlooks give you the opportunity to view Alexander Run. A dirt nature trail connected to the boardwalk leads around the Timucuan Indian shell mounds (middens) in the area to complete a 1.1-mile loop trail. You can choose to do the dirt portion of the loop or return via the boardwalk. Raccoons, snakes, deer, blue herons and even the occasional gator are often spotted from this nature trail.
Paddling Alexander Run
Alexander Run begins from the Alexander Springs Recreation Area launch located past the swimming area ropes. It winds through swampland for 14-miles where it dumps into the St. John’s River. The nearest take-out point can be found 5-miles away at the County Road 445 Bridge. You can bring your own kayak/canoe/paddle board or rent a kayak or canoe at the recreation area to explore the river and side creeks, but be warned, there is NO shuttle back to the park.
Vultures & Alexander Springs
Vultures are best known for picking at carcasses of dead animals on the roadsides. They can sniff out a decaying corpse from an incredible distance, and usually circle around until they find it, before diving in for supper. Our family trip to Alexander Springs was the first time I’ve seen vultures go for a potato chip and ham sandwich. Usually the raccoons tend to be the sneaky thieves, helping themselves to the contents of picnic baskets. That said, there were quite a few vultures hanging out at the picnic area during our visit.
Help to discourage not only these vultures but all the wild animals by:
- Keeping your food stored and sealed
- Not bringing your lunch out of your vehicle until you are ready to eat
- Disposing of all leftovers in the available bear-safe garbage cans
- Putting your remaining items back into your vehicle
Remember- that bird beak was ripping through the innards of some road kill- you don’t want it rummaging through your bag! Ugh.
Needless to say, at my son’s urging, I waved my arm in a wild hailing-a-taxi-in-New-York manner. The vulture paused and looked at me with his black beady eyes- probably thinking I was some crazy lady. Then he gulped down his prize and flew to a branch in the tree overhead, waiting for some unwitting picnicker to drop a hot dog, no doubt.
All that said, these vultures at Alexander Springs certainly have personality!
Things to Know Before You Go:
- Alexander Springs is located at 49525 County Road 445, Altoona, FL 32702
- If you choose to take the short cut from Highway 40, be warned there is nothing on the road and the sides of the tarmac are crumbling- so drive safely.
- Their contact number is: 352-669-3522
- Alexander Springs is open from 8 am until sunset. Year round.
- Fees: $5.50 per person
- There are concessions on site for light snack foods, drinks, suntan lotion, etc.
- There are also changing rooms, showers, and restroom facilities.
- Camping is available but must be booked through the Recreation.gov website.
More Stories in this Area:
- Paddling Juniper Run in the Ocala National Forest
- Adventures on Salt Springs Run
- The Wild Life: Kayaking on Florida’s Silver River
- Exploring Silver Springs State Park
- 10 Things You Need to Know About Florida Alligators