The jewel of Silver Springs State Park is a group of springs feeding the Silver River at the edge of the Ocala National Forest. The Springs bubble up from the Florida aquifer to form the largest artesian spring in the world.
Though now a state park, Silver Springs is Florida’s oldest tourist attraction, renowned for the Glass Bottom Boat tours begun in 1871. Tourists have flocked to see the naturally crystal-clear waters for centuries.
Our guide pointed out the ruins of a sunken rowboat partly preserved at the bottom of one of the springs. We could see it quite clearly. State archaeologists believe it was part of the Hernando de Soto expedition in 1539.
Scientific studies of the Springs’ artifacts and wildlife weren’t conducted until 1993. That year the state bought the underlying land, but private operators continued to conduct the concessions.
The state also established a 59 site campground next to the main springs area that is quite popular. We originally planned to stay there, but they were full. So we went to the nearby Salt Springs Recreation Area instead.
The boat rides have continued to operate, and open an unique window to the area’s aquatic life. We saw alligators and turtles, catfish and mullet, and birds such as cormorants, great blue herons, great egrets, ibis, and limpkin.
Silver Springs has been the site of many Hollywood films, including a number of Tarzan films as well as the Sea Hunt television series. Perhaps the oddest site we saw was a group of three large stone statues of Greek gods at the bottom of the main spring. They were used in a James Bond movie.
In 2013, the State of Florida took over full management of the entire springs area. They combined it with the existing Silver River State Park and campground to create the new Silver Springs State Park.
So even though Silver Springs is a now state park, it still has a strong tourist attraction feel to it that can be a bit jarring. But the natural beauty is undeniable. In 1971 it was designated as a National Natural Landmark.