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Don’t-Miss Activities for Natural Springs Lovers
For natural parks and springs that feel far from the hustle and bustle but are centrally located and easy to visit, the top eco-tourism destinations of Ocala/Marion County in Florida should not be missed. Home of the famous Ocala National Forest and other popular parks, this area invites visitors to explore more than 600 lakes, rivers, and springs, including those in Rainbow Springs, Silver Springs, Juniper Springs, Silver Glen Springs, Paradise Springs, and Alexander Springs. Each one features special activities that are ideal for nature lovers of all ages.
Throughout the summer, eco-tourists come early in the morning for a two-hour float along the Rainbow River. Even though tubing is not allowed at the headsprings of the state park, the crystal waters are so popular that the park often reaches maximum capacity by mid-morning on weekends and holidays. Tubes — and shuttles back — can be rented from the Marion County Park’s Department, called The K.P. Hole. Rainbow Springs itself is the fourth largest in the state and is popular for snorkeling, swimming, and picnicking too.
Featuring cavern walls covered with prehistoric fossils, Paradise Springs is an amazing scuba dive spot. In clear waters that hover around 72 degrees, divers can discover an underground stream as well as fossilized sand dollars, sea biscuits, and other marine life remains. The cavern is interesting for both newly certified open divers and experienced cave divers alike.
Want to explore underwater without getting wet? Take a tour of Silver Springs on the park’s famous glass-bottom boat. The clear spring water allows for a majestic view of marine life in this national natural landmark. With one restaurant in the park and plenty of lodging nearby, Silver Springs is also a popular wedding destination.
Named one of the top 25 canoe runs in America by ReserveAmerica, Juniper Run is just one of the highlights of Jupiter Springs. Rent a canoe from the recreation area after a jump in the springs or camping in the private, lush grounds, which feature trails constructed in the mid-1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The historic Juniper Springs Millhouse is also noteworthy, with its functional and charming wooden waterwheel.
For thousands of years, Native Americans created piles of oyster shells at the site of Silver Glen Springs. Today, visitors can be amateur archaeologists and look for stone tools or historic shells near the natural spring, which is also a popular swimming area. Be sure to take photos of the trees that once grew over shell deposits but today seem to start growing in mid-air.
Of the 27 “first magnitude” springs in Florida, Alexander Springs is perhaps the easiest for swimming. The clear, natural spring pool is wide and slopes gently into the 72-degree waters from a picnic area. As little fish swim between your legs, look up to enjoy a tropical canopy of maples, sweet gum, and cabbage palms.