Upon exiting the car, the smell of summer filled the air. At only 10:00 in the morning, the grills were lit with hamburgers and hot dogs cooking. Numerous grills and picnic tables scattered throughout the park provide ample space for those looking to spend a full day enjoying Alexander Springs Recreation Area, part of the Ocala National Forest.
After staking out a table, we gathered masks and snorkels and waded into the refreshing water. Although there were dozens of swimmers, we had the water over the spring to ourselves. Occasionally, someone would drift into the area of the head spring, but for the most part, the other swimmers were content floating on tubes or noodles.
Swimming, snorkeling and paddling in Florida’s springs were a highlight in 2014.
The park has canoes and kayaks available for rent, but unlike the lines of people waiting to launch at Weeki Wachee, the boat ramp was deserted. Our plans for the day did not include padding down Alexander Run, but it would have been a great day to have the run to ourselves and perhaps even throw in a line for a little fishing.
Alexander Springs is the only place in the Ocala National Forest where scuba diving is permitted; and as we left the spring, a group of about a half dozen divers hauled their tanks to the water ready to explore.
After snorkeling in the refreshing cool spring head, we walked the short distance following the Timucaun Trail along the perimeter of the spring. The easy one mile walk was close enough to the swimming area to hear the splashing and laughter of swimmers throughout the hike. Our only encounters with wildlife were a couple of skinks, one even posed so it could be photographed, and a critter of unknown origin that splashed away in the water as we approached. John says a small gator, but I believe it may have been an otter.
Alexander Springs, a perfect place to spend a summer day, and the 13th spring we’ve visited in 2014.
I’m not sure if it’s the admission fee or signs warning about the dangers of alligators and bears that cause the biggest surprise upon entering Juniper Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest. It’s not that a $10.60 day use fee for two is excessive, but since state and county parks usually charge $5.00 per vehicle, I had to dig in my purse for some extra money, only to be greeted by a Caution and a Warning sign.
We unloaded the bikes and rode through the park checking out the campground. Over 70 large sites for RVs and tents sit in the shaded loop. Although very few sites were occupied, the ranger told us they were near capacity last weekend. Maybe the rain discouraged campers this weekend or perhaps they don’t roll in until later in the afternoon.
Only a few swimmers braved the cool waters of the spring probably due to the dark clouds that hung in the sky to the west. Before changing into swimsuits we checked out the canoe rentals, and although we arrived well before the 11:30 final departure time, the predicted rain and thunderstorms made a trip down Juniper Run something that would have to wait for another day.
One of the “to do’s” on our 14 in 14 list is to visit at least 14 of Florida’s springs this year. Our trip to Juniper Springs brings the number to eight. We were determined to swim in the spring today, but as we prepared to enter the water, the ranger cleared the spring due to an approaching storm.
- Rainbow Springs – cold rain
- Fanning, Hart, and Otter Springs – temperature in the 40s
- Blue Springs – no swimming due to the manatees
- Silver Springs – no swimming permitted
- Juniper Springs – thunderstorm
We’re not quitters! We not only will visit at least 14 springs, we will swim, canoe, or kayak and enjoy the water. Maybe Ichetucknee will be the first.