Chilling out in the Ocala National Forest’s Juniper Springs Recreation Area
Now is the perfect time to head out into the wild. It’s chilly, so the mossies have vanished, and the crisp air has sent the snakes into a sluggish semi-slumber (you may see them sunbathing though!). Let’s face it, Florida summers are outright brutal, but ooh these winters are made for tromping through the woods! As the boys were off on man-adventures, I grabbed the girls and headed off on our own wilderness trek- through the Ocala National Forest and Juniper Springs.
These beautiful natural springs (yes, more than one!), nestled in the shade of lumbering oaks, have been drawing visitors since the 1930’s. I remember wandering the paths with my family when I was little, and later returning to tackle the seven mile intermediate level canoe trail down Juniper Run– shallow, tight twists and turns, fallen logs, alligators and incredible open marshes.
The original nature trail from the newly renovated old watermill has since been elevated- a boardwalk trail, but it still meanders along the shallowest parts of the Juniper Run canoe trail, before curving away to follow a smaller creek and eventually a view of the boils in a pond area. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to swim in the boils, but as we saw a gator sunning himself there, patiently awaiting his next meal, perhaps that wasn’t such a bad thing.
The swimming hole by the old mill is still open to swimmers, for those brave enough to face the 72F icy waters that flow straight from the earth. The two springs in the swimming hole are the source of Juniper Run. I only just found out there were two, not one, because I became one of those brave (or foolhardy) souls to jump into the shockingly cold water – with a snorkel, though it definitely felt colder than 72F! Sorry, I don’t have a Go-Pro camera, so you’ll have to take my word that it was AWESOME! One of the springs was a small cave like opening and the other was a hole straight down. Incredible & freezing cold! Luckily I brought more than a few towels to warm up with afterwards! But I now know why the Juniper Springs Recreation area is considered one of the jewels of the Ocala National Forest.
Things to Know Before You Go:
- Juniper Springs Recreation Area costs $5.30 per person (canoe/kayak trips are extras)
- The Ocala National Forest is offering a Jewels of the Forest Recreation Pass. $60 with entrance to Juniper Springs, Salt Springs, Alexander Springs, Silver Glen Springs, Clearwater Lake and Wildcat Lake. It is NOT a family pass, this is the per person price, but if you live near there and use the various recreation areas alot, it could be a good deal.
- They have a campsite! You can reserve a campsite through Recreation.Gov
- They have canoe/kayak rentals for the 7 mile canoe trail down Juniper Run (or you can bring your own)- and very strict rules! No disposables on the waterway, no getting out of you boat, etc. It’s first come, first serve for the rentals. This is an intermediate-level trail.
- They have a concession shop selling sundries, soda, chips, etc., Bring your own lunch- and don’t leave food unattended. They have bears- but of course, we did NOT see one- read about that here.
- For trail fans, the Florida Trail runs through Juniper Springs Recreation Area. (Near the entrance gate).
Interested in exploring Florida’s incredible Springs? Check out this website: FloridaSprings.org They even have a handy map of all the public springs in Florida ( apparently there is 1,000+ known springs in this southern state). Now that’s a whole lot of adventure!
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