Salt Springs is one of the many gems of the Ocala National Forest. And yes, it does get its name from its slightly salty water due to the limestone the water passes through having high concentrations of magnesium, potassium, and sodium. This spring is unique not only because of its salinity, but the many shafts of bubbling water to explore and the creatures that have made it their home.
Know Before You Go
For a day pass into Salt Springs, it is $12.00 plus tax. Just like the other springs in Ocala National Forest, the Florida State Park pass doesn’t work for admittance. While you can use the sticker from the Florida Spring Passport booklet to check off this spring, you can also get a fun stamp from the park. Just ask one of the employees at the check-in point where you pay admission. There are two parking lots, the north and the south lot. Both are similar distances from the spring. The north lot is closer to the shop the south is closer to the restrooms. There are tons of picnic tables and grills under giant oaks decorated with Spanish moss. Down at the bottom of the hill is the giant swim area and spring heads of Salt Springs. There are two entrances into the water, one closer to the shoal area, where the water bubbles up, and one by the rope edge of the swimming area.
There is no access to the river for day pass visitors. There is a sandy ramp entrance to the river available for campers only. If you want to paddle the river, you can park and drop-in at Salt Springs Marina, which is very close to the park. Parking at the marina costs $20.00 for the day. There is a Salt Springs Observation Trail, a quaint 1.9-mile loop that you can hike, but it is not located in the park. The dirt road turn-in is just down a little bit on highway 19.
Salt Springs Recreation Area
They do allow floaties in the swimming area at the Salt Springs Recreation Area. If you do not have one, you can purchase one or rent one from the shop. They also have an air compressor available so you can inflate your floaty at no cost, right outside the shop. During the busy summertime months, they will have employees walking around to help inflate floaties.
You will definitely want to bring your mask and snorkel. There are four cavernous spring heads among the shoals that you can attempt to dive and explore if the pressure of the water shooting out doesn’t propel you back up to the surface. The spring pumps out an estimated 52 million gallons of water a day from its underground aquifers. The rocks can be slippery, so having water shoes or dive booties can be helpful. You can also see the permanent resident, the blue crab, tucked away under some rocks. They enjoy the slight saltiness of this spring's water. You will also see fish like striped bass swimming around. Not all of the area below is rocky, just over by the wall. The closer you get to the river, the sandier the bottom gets. This spring also doesn’t get very deep, except in some of the spring crevices. Most of the spring is about standing height of 5-6 feet in depth, even shallower by the rocks. The swimming area is about 110 feet in diameter.
If you see metal cages around, those are not for the crabs but for the regrowth of seagrass. Like many of the other springs that connect with the St. John River, manatees in the wintertime will migrate from the cooler ocean temperatures to the consistent and warm spring waters.
Again, if you want to explore more of Salt Spring Run, which flows into Lake George, the marina has boat, kayak, and paddleboard rentals available. Rentals go quickly, so it is advised that you call ahead and make a reservation. You can call (352) 685-2255 to make your watercraft reservation. The paddle from the marina to Lake George is 4.2 miles one way.
The Salt Springs Recreation Area does have a campground. They have 50 primitive/tent sites and 100 RV/hookup sites. Nearby are a grocery store, gas station, restaurants, laundromat, and bait and tackle shops. Campground reservations can be made by calling 1-877-444-6777 or online at Recreation.gov.
Animals to see:
Black Bears | Squirrels | Manatees (Winter Season) | Striped Bass | Blue Crabs | Turtles | Hawks | Vultures
What to bring:
Sunscreen | Bug Spray | Bathing suit | Towel | Snacks/Beverages (No Alcohol Allowed in the park) | Grilling Equipment | Gopro/Waterproof Camera | Water Shoes/Dive Booties | Mask & Snorkel | Kayak/Paddleboard/Canoe | Floatie | Air Pump
Whoever said salty was a negative thing, never swam in this spring's beautiful mineral waters.