Brought to you by the same fine folks that inspect your favorite steaks and food, the USDA has their own theme park! Ok so it’s not really a theme park, but it is brought to you by the United States Department of Agriculture. Juniper Springs is right in the middle of the Ocala National Forrest. We were literally driving around in a new direction and looking for something to do when we ran across this awesome location. Prepared with a picnic lunch, and our camera, we left the car for an adventure!
With our bellies rumbling, we just followed the brown signs and found Juniper Springs. When we pulled in, we were a bit surprised at the $5 per person admission charge, but figured we would give it a try. We’re used to paying by the car load at many of our other local parks, but since our little guy was free it wasn’t too bad. If you swing by during the week, you could also do a free and quick drive through to see if you would like to stay for the day, but trust me you’ll want to stick around. If you’re literally just looking for a picnic bench to eat your lunch, you may want to find another location as $5 per person would be a bit steep just for lunch.
After parking the car and unloading our little guy, we headed unto the sprigs area. We were pleased to fund quite a few picnic tables around the concession area and quickly sat down for lunch. In an effort to entertain our little one we generally jam out to some tunes while eating, but we were in the middle of no where! No cell signal at all which is odd of our carrier. If you are planning on listening to some jams, but sure to download the music or bring a radio and streaming data options won’t be available. While dining on a fairly standard picnic lunch, we checked out the map and discovered why there was a $5 admission. Juniper springs is much more than just a picnic spot!
After scarfing down some sandwiches, we decided to explore with the help of the map. Just a stone’s throw away from the concession area, we found the springs. On our way we noticed a cooler check, as alcoholic beverages are not allowed at Juniper Springs. What we discovered was cool crystal clear water that was just calling our names. Unfortunately we didn’t bring our swimsuits, but it looked very inviting! Surrounding the springs were rings that reminded me of an amphitheatre where families could relax and hang out around the cool bubbling waters. There was a great platform towards the deeper end that kids and adults alike could just jump right in.
Continuing on our adventure through the Juniper Springs recreation area, we stopped by to see the wheel house. This large paddle wheel powered naturally by the bubbling waters of Juniper Springs at one time served as a source of electricity for not only the park but for local residents. In the wheel house, there were quite a few display boards detailing the history of Juniper Springs and the Civilian Conservation Corps which built the recreation area. Other than the informational pieces, the inside of the wheel house was empty. It would be great if the USDA would partner with either the power company to reintroduce an exhibit on hydroelectric generation which could also help provide power to the local Ocala National Forrest areas as well. Who knows maybe they have something in the works.
I mentioned the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps), previously but their historic participation in the construction of Juniper Springs is really interesting! The CCC was one of FDR’s New Deal programs designed to pull the country out of the Great Depression. This goal of the CCC was to provide unskilled labor jobs to eligible males between the ages of 18-25. They earned $30 a week with $25 automatically being sent home to their families. The CCC constructed parks, government facilities and much more over the years and was instrumental in the development of the Florida Parks Service. Life in the CCC was pretty good with all expense being covered by the government including housing, food and medical care. The work camps were actually maintained by the US Army reserve officers and were a public relations bonanza! Just to hop on my political soap box here, but this is exactly the type of program that the government needs today!
After our visit to the wheel house, we were off on an exciting boardwalk adventure. Stretching across the recreation area of Juniper Springs, a boardwalk sprawled to another spring that was just for viewing. The boardwalk is handicap accessible but fairly narrow. We had a stroller with us and on occasion we had to just “pull” over to let people pass us by. Round trip it was maybe a little over a mile. It was nice to be able to trek through the wilderness without actually being on a trail. The wooden boardwalk is raised up a few feet from the ground but does not feature any hand rails this may be a hazard to very small children. Once we go to the end, it was interesting to see an undisturbed spring that wasn’t meant to host swimmers.
Walking through the boardwalk trail, we were able to check out a small portion of the 7 mile spring run. Juniper Springs is very popular with locals and visitors alike for canoeing, and kayaking. It takes a few hours to do the run, but when you get to the end there is a shuttle service that can bring you right back to the park entrance. I would love to do this run with little guy one day! A few things of note if you want to go down this natural attraction, is that canoes and kayaks are available for rental at Juniper Springs, and they do not allow disposable food containers through the spring run. This means you must bring your own bottled water and resealable lunches.
On our way out of the park, we checked out the camp ground area of the Juniper Springs complex which seemed reasonably priced for an evening. It appears they do allow RVs and campers in some of the areas, but there are no electrical, water, or sewer hookups offered on site. There is however a dumping station available. In addition to restrooms and showers, the comfort stations located throughout the camp ground also offer dish washing facilities. I can’t wait until my little guy is ready to go camping!
After seeing all that Juniper Springs has to offer, I was curious why this location isn’t maintained by the National Parks Service. I’m sure it has something to do with being in the middle of a National Forest, but I think there is allot of overlapping of service between the USDA and the NPS. Looking back, $5 per person to visit Juniper Springs really isn’t a bad price for a fun filled day. To get your money’s worth, be sure to bring your swimming trunks along and settle in for the day. It’s a great way to sit back, relax, and enjoy the beauty that Natural Florida has to offer. Remember, the people who offer you a Grade A steak can also serve up some fun!
Juniper Springs Details:
26701 East Highway 40
Silver Springs, Fl 34488
Phone Number: (352) 625-3147
Hours of Operation: I Believe Sunrise to Sunset
$5 per Person General Admission
$33 Canoe Rentals – There is also a $2 reservation Fee and a $20 Deposit Requirement
Bringing your own canoe or Kayak? There is a $6 launch/haul back charge per vessel.
Camping – $21 Per Night
Annual passes (Good For Purchase Date Through End of Year) – $60 Per Person, but are good for other Ocala National Forest Attractions. Dyett Factor: 12