Today we explored another one of the springs in Central Florida. We decided to go to Salt Springs Recreation Area, located in the Ocala National Forest. From where I live it is around 1 hour and 15 minutes away. It's located in area where there are numerous springs, some of which we have been to, and others we will intend on exploring.
Salt Springs is not a state park, so the fee to get in is more (but worth it to us). We paid $24 to enter the recreation area. They offer hiking, camping (camper trailer and tent), and the beautiful springs. There is a small store that offers a variety of snacks, spring gear (tubes, water shoes, etc.), and drinks. The grounds at this place are immaculate. Everything was so clean and beautiful! They have many picnic tables to use, grills, and clean restrooms with changing rooms. Boats in the river can also pull up and use the spring area.
We started out taking one of the of the trail hikes. It was a short one, which is the only reason we did it being that it's not hiking season. The trail we took was a 40 minute loop, and it was nice. We saw a lot, including a snake, birds, huge crickets, and many butterflies. I saw more butterflies at this park than I've seen anywhere in one place (outside of a butterfly observatory). Down near the springs they also have sort of a butterfly garden planted where there are many different kinds of butterflies flying around. I was lucky enough see several zebra longwing butterfly among the different kinds (they are the striped Florida state butterfly).
You can either use the many picnic tables around the area, or set up your own chairs where you want to. Being that it was a Friday it was wonderful in that it was not busy at all. There were maybe 20 other people in the springs today. And its a large swimming area, so we had plenty of room for exploring.
Salt Springs turned out to be my favorite spring all summer, and possibly my favorite spring all together at this point. It's big, crystal clear, shallow, and there is so much to see. The only deep area is right where you step off the steps to get in on the one side. But you can go around to the other side and walk down into the water like it's a beach. Nearly all the water is shallow enough that everyone can stand up when they want to, yet we can snorkel all over and have a great time. I've never seen so many fish while snorkeling in one of the springs. This place had so many schools of fish! It was awesome to see so many different kinds of fish, all sizes and various colors, swimming right under us as we snorkeled.
There are also several places where the 52 million gallons of water per day bubbles up from the caves below, giving you several big places and a few smaller places to snorkel over and check out. You can snorkel over the springs, the rocks, and see a lot all along the way.
We packed a lunch and sat up in the peaceful shaded area at a picnic table to enjoy it, before heading back in for more snorkeling. We all loved Salt Springs and look forward to going back. If you have kids this is an awesome spring to go to in Central Florida, because it's not deep and they can explore a lot while snorkeling. I must have seen well over 100 fish while snorkeling, many of which I snorkeled right over the top of. The grounds here are also filled with gorgeous trees. There are some live oak trees that are so awesome, including one that is over 200 years old and I couldn't help but to stop and admire for a while.
Two thumbs up for Salt Springs. It's an awesome gift of nature that families will love exploring!
Note: if you are going to take Bear Swamp Trail, park in the RV camp area. There is a parking lot there. Next to it to the left you will see an old beige building. The trail picks up right next to that building. If you take the trail when it's not hiking season, such as during the summer, expect mosquitoes. So be sure to use some insect repellent.
UPDATE: 6/14/2016. I was recently camping there and they no longer want people using the shallow beach-like entrance side to enter the spring. It's causing erosion and they were closing it off and keeping people away from that area. That means kids will have to enter the spring in deep water and swim over to the shallow side.
Here are pictures and a video of Salt Springs Recreation Area: