Exploring Salt Springs Run
I had swum in Salt Springs years ago, but never actually ventured past the roped off swimming area. It was the place I best remember a little alligator swim across, among the summer swimmers and go relatively unnoticed as if it were a daily occurrence. Perhaps it was. The kids were little, but water and kids and a sweltering summer day, we ventured into the shallows, despite the fact, this mom keeping a wary eye out for other reptiles (there were none). If I recall correctly, the best shallows were all the way to the left in the swimming area. Rows of boats were anchored on the other side of the rope, with families splashing in the water and picnicking on their decks. A perfect summer’s day. It would be many years later that we would return to find out what mysteries awaited beyond the ropes.
Florida’s Salt Springs Run begins at the spring head and popular swimming hole in the Salt Springs Recreation Area of the Ocala National Forest and travels almost 5 miles to Lake George. This is one of Florida’s paddling trails. Salt Springs is not regurgitated seawater, but a slew of natural minerals like magnesium, potassium, and sodium that give the 2nd magnitude spring its salinity.
Surprisingly vast, the first few miles of the run wind through wetland marshes, and it reminded me of Crystal River- heading out to Shell Island. It is so wide! No shade or protection from the elements. There are a couple of no-wake zones, but in between, hang onto your socks, as you can get jostled by speeding watercraft. Though most boaters are respectful, it is not guaranteed. Not for nervous paddlers.
The beginning of the river is more of a lake before it narrows only slightly to travel through the marshland, but the run is extremely wide- like a series of lakes, and can be daunting if you are battling wind. There is no dry land out here, but towards the last mile- maybe a mile and a half for those willing to go the distance, the run narrows, heading through shady hammocks. Palms, oaks and the occasional sandy strip of land to pull your boat onto and stretch your legs. We took a break at one such spot and learned that once you stepped into the woods, it was one giant open sewer. Bits of used toilet paper and human feces everywhere. Yuck!
At the mouth of Salt Springs Run, there is a little island- white sand and palm trees, where a couple of boats with families had pulled onto, their kids splashing in the shallows. It was so open that I am assuming no one used that stretch of paradise for their latrine.
We tried Bass fishing in Lake George but had more luck catching Blue Gill on the upper part of Salt Run, under the shade of the trees. There is no fishing allowed in the actual spring, and in fact, it is roped off. A lot of people anchor on the outside of the rope and swim to the springs.
Salt Springs Run Access:
There is a kayak/canoe/SUP launch site in the Salt Springs Recreation Area. Fees for the Recreation Are are $6 per person plus tax. There is the swimming hole- with steps down to the water, toilet/shower facilities, and camping (additional fees).
Or you can put in at Salt Run Marina. There’s a marina sign a short distance from the recreation area entrance, on the left. Follow the long dirt track (you will honestly think you took the wrong road), but eventually it opens up to the public boat ramp and marina. Ironically, you’ll find yourself right by the head springs, just on the other side of the rope! It costs $6 per vehicle for parking. No fee for launch. They rent canoes/kayaks/skiffs and pontoon boats too.
Salt Springs is a popular destination and a busy run. Go early or on weekdays to avoid the crowds. And please don’t add to the sad open toilet site! Use the bathroom before you leave, carry a little hand shovel and dig your toilet (and bury it afterward!), or make like a dog owner and bag it back out.
Salt Springs Recreation Area is located at Fort McCoy, FL 32134 (1-352-685-2048)
Salt Springs Run Marina is at 25711 NE 134th Place, Salt Springs, Florida 32134 (1-352-685-2255)