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As a destination with more than 600 lakes, rivers and springs, it is no wonder that Ocala/Marion County is the perfect place to enjoy a day on the water!
The area is ideal for boaters, kayakers, canoers and tubers alike to drift along the glassy, cool waters in picturesque surroundings. With so many options to be found, we took the time to highlight some of the best spots in the destination to kick back and float.
Anchored by the stunning natural landmark of Rainbow Springs State Park, the Rainbow River in Dunnellon is a family-friendly river shimmering with silver and turquoise hues, surrounded by towering palm trees, ferns, gardens and waterfalls. The river maintains a cool 72-degree temperature year-round, perfect for a refresh from those balmy Florida days. It’s the perfect place to enjoy swimming, snorkeling, tubing, canoeing, kayaking, and paddle boarding.
Rainbow Springs State Park is open 8 a.m. to sunset, and has a variety of amenities including parking, restroom, showers, picnic pavilions, concession and restaurants, a playground and more. There are options to rent non-motorized boats and tubes, but guests are permitted to bring their own and utilize the public boat launch. There is a $5 entrance fee per vehicle for up to 8 passengers, and a $2 fee to enter the headsprings for guests ages 6 and above.
KP Hole Park is also on the spring-fed Rainbow River, and is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in summer and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. in winter. The crystal-clear waters are the perfect place for snorkeling, tubing, canoeing, diving and boating. KP Hole also has an entrance fee of $5 per user and hand-launch vessels, $10 per tuber, $20 per motorized vessel and $25 per person for a tubing package that includes entry fee, tube rental and return shuttle service.
Silver River is fed directly by Silver Springs, which is the largest natural artesian spring in the world, producing 550 million gallons of water per day. Located in Silver Springs State Park, the river itself allows kayakers, canoers and paddle boarders to experience a natural forest surrounded by some of the state’s best managed sandhills. Here, the clear waters and lush subtropical vegetation make this one of the most scenic rivers in Florida. Wildlife abounds at the river with turtles, otters, ospreys, anhingas and more all seen along the banks. What’s more, a group of Rhesus Macaque monkeys were released here in the 1930’s and can still be found along the river today. Silver Springs State Park is the best access point for the Silver River, as it is home to a variety of amenities for boaters including canoe and kayak launches, paddling, rentals, shower stations, restrooms and more.
The park is open form 8 a.m. to sundown 365 days a year, and a $2 per person fee is required for entrance. A fee of $4 is imposed for launching personal canoes or kayaks.
Juniper Run is ideal for more experienced paddlers seeking a true aquatic adventure. This natural flowing spring is one of the top canoe runs in America, set under a dense canopy of old-growth forest. At about 7 miles long, the run provides an exciting and challenging day on the water. The first 1.5 miles are beautiful – swift, narrow and winding, with crystal clear, shallow waters. The middle section alternates between wider, deeper water and narrower runs, including a short rapid. At the bottom, it expands into impressive wetlands before arriving at Juniper Wayside. The entire trip can take anywhere from 4-5 hours. A variety of wildlife can be spotted along the banks including deer, otters, raccoons, alligators, birds, and black bears. Our tip: arrive early as the run can get very crowded, especially on the weekends. The Juniper Springs Recreation Area boasts picnic tables, toilets, drinking water and parking.
The canoe launch at Juniper Springs Recreation Area opens at 8 a.m. The latest you can arrive to launch a rented canoe and be picked up by the shuttle at the other end is 11:45 a.m. With your own canoe and self-shuttle, last launch is 4 to 5 hours before sunset. Canoe rentals are available at the concession stand until 11:30 a.m. In addition, no plastic bags or disposable containers are allowed including items such as chip bags and candy wrappers. Fees for the run are $42.00 per canoe or $47.00 per tandem kayak, which includes shuttle transportation. If you bring your own canoe or kayak, a $12 reverse re-haul fee is imposed and reservations are a must!
The Silver Glen Springs recreation area features a beautiful freshwater spring run and an important archaeological site, letting you experience the wild natural landscape with a taste of significant Florida history. Perched on the border of the Ocala National Forest’s Big Scrub, the sparkling clear waters remain a refreshing 72°F year-round. You can enjoy kayaking and canoeing as well as swimming and snorkeling in the tranquil spring, and the surrounding recreation area offers amenities such as drinking water, portable toilets, picnic tables and parking. During the summer months, Silver Glen Springs receives a high volume of visitors and life jackets or flotation devices are highly recommended for less experienced swimmers. Boats are not allowed in the swimming and snorkeling area.
The recreation area is open from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. with some seasonal variation. Entry costs $5.50 per person and on-site canoe rentals are available, but if you bring your own canoe or kayak, you can use the park launch at no additional charge.
Salt Springs is another popular spring located in the lush, semi-tropical landscape of the Ocala National Forest. This recreational jewel is named after the naturally occurring minerals that rise to the surface from deep natural fissures in the earth, providing a slight salinity not found in other nearby springs. Boats and canoes can be rented at the Salt Springs Marina, or guests with their own canoes and boats can launch using the Marina’s ramp or the gravel ramp located at the back of the recreation area’s campground. The regulations of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission apply to freshwater boating and fishing along the Salt Springs Run. In addition to boating and fishing, be sure to take a dip in the glittering blue-green waters of the Salt Springs basin within clearly marked areas.
The recreation area is open from 8 a.m. - 8 p.m. with some seasonal variation. The Salt Springs recreation area's day use fee is just $6 per person and includes use of the park amenities, including bathrooms and picnic tables. Parking at the Salt Springs Marina costs $6. Powerboats are not permitted in the spring area, and boaters and anglers are not permitted to enter the swimming area.
There is no shortage of spots to enjoy a day on the water in Ocala/Marion County! From lakes to springs to rivers, the destination offers up plenty of options to cool down in real Florida. Remember, with most places having no lifeguards on duty, swimmers should be comfortable in the water or use flotation devices. So grab your tube, kayak or canoe and plan a perfect day on the water!