*Disclaimer: Please note that some of the links below are affiliate links. If you click one of our affiliate links, we may receive a cute lii' commission at no extra cost to you. Read more here. * With just one day off during a recent work trip to Tampa, we loaded up the car with my sister, her wife, and headed north two hours to Silver Springs State Park for an afternoon of kayaking. The spring is known for its crystal-clear waters and famous glass-bottom boats, and we’d heard the legend that the park was crawling with monkeys left over from the filming of a Tarzan movie in the 1930s.
While in Tampa, we saw a lot of old friends and did a few fun activities, but Silver Springs was far and away the highlight of the trip.
Getting to the Water
As we pulled into the park, I’ll admit I was a little worried about the crowd. The spring break crowd filled the parking lot to the brim, and the line at the kayak rental hut stretched out to the pavement.
I’m a planner to my core, and I started kicking myself for not calling ahead on this spur-of-the-moment jaunt. Thankfully, the line moved quickly, and all the staff were super friendly. Within 20 minutes or so, we shoved off from the loading ramp and set adrift on the cool water.
We opted for a two-hour rental, which took us on a 1.8-mile loop through the Fort King Waterway and the Silver River. The waterway curves through a forest under a tree-shaded canopy. This section of the trail is closed to motorized watercraft.
That water, which Silver Springs is so famous for, is impossibly clear. Even at places 30 feet deep, you can see clear to the vegetation at the bottom, turtles swimming, thick blue fish darting in and out of the foliage. To boot, it’s remarkably clean of trash.
Monkeys! Gators! Oh my!
We certainly didn’t have to look hard for the wildlife! We hadn’t rounded the first bend before encountering four or five monkeys. The Tarzan part of the legend isn’t true — a man named Colonel S. Tooey introduced the rhesus macaques to spice up his “Jungle Cruise” tour boat business in Silver Springs. He originally released six monkeys on a small island in Silver River, assuming (incorrectly) that monkeys can’t swim.
Today, the monkeys number several hundred, and they were not camera shy! You start to wonder, “Who’s watching who?” They hung out for a while before slinking back into the trees.
We passed a few gators lurking in the marshy edges of the waterway, as well as tons of turtles perched on logs and rocks. Ruins of Tooey’s abandoned jungle park loomed through the trees, including a re-creation of Fort King, a wooden fort built during the Seminole wars in the 1800s.
On the river
About halfway through the trail, we exited the waterway and entered the Silver River, which is much wider and sunnier. In this stretch, we saw tons of cool birds, like wood ducks and herons and anhingas. The anhingas stuck out most of all. They have this bizarre, deepthroated call. We lingered for a bit under a nest of them, watching one of them hunt for fish in the lilies.
If you’ve got a bird watcher in your crew (or an alligator freak, like my husband), Silver Springs is sure to thrill. One fellow kayaker said he’d seen a manatee, but we weren’t quite that lucky.
The Silver Spring staff told us that once we entered the Silver River, we must give the glass-bottom boats the right of way. The glass-bottom boats are iconic. The first of their kind, glass-bottom boat tours started in 1878.
Luckily, the river proved plenty large enough for everyone to maneuver and have their space. I wish we had more time to take the longer 6-mile trail downstream, rather than turning up stream back toward our starting point.
We are kayak novices, but the water is so calm, you could practically float this trail. We overheard other kayakers say it was their first time, or they had no idea what they were doing, and everyone made it just fine.
As we neared our original put-in ramp, we realized we had about 20 minutes left on our rental, so we did a short loop through the waterway again.
When we finished, we were all stoked about the experience. Silver Springs State Park has tons of hiking and other activities for folks of all types and tastes. Our only regret was not getting there sooner! An all-day rental would have allowed us time to do the full seven-mile kayak trail.
It’s safe to say we’ll definitely go back.
Silver Springs History
Silver Springs served as a distribution center in the 1820’s, as plantations took up along the river growing vegetables, fruit, and tobacco. Since the end of the Civil War, it’s been a popular tourist attraction.
Tons of movies and series have been filmed there, including several Tarzan movies, over 100 episodes of “Sea Hunt,” and The Creature from the Black Lagoon, to name a few.
In the days of racial segregation, Silver Springs State Park was white only, and sat adjacent to Paradise Park, which was created for people of color. Both were managed by the same company. The Civil Rights Act desegregated Florida in 1964, and Paradise Park closed in 1969.
If you’re interested in learning more, these articles about the park’s history are super interesting.
Who is This Trip for?
The kayak curious. This trail is so gentle that you can practically float it. The channels are wide enough that you don’t need any sharp maneuvering. Perfect for beginners.
Anyone who likes nature. There are tons of other things to do at Silver Springs State Park besides kayak, so if you’re not into being on the water, it’s still totally worth the trip.
Before You Go
You can rent kayaks for 1, 2, or 4 hours, or for all day. Kayak rentals close at 5, so 4 is the latest you can get there and do a 1-hour rental; 2 is the latest you can get there and do a 2-hour rental. Life vests are included in the rental.
You can bring your own paddleboard or kayak for a small fee (like $4).
You aren’t allowed to swim in the water.
To see the monkeys, go earlier in the day when temps are cooler. They are more likely to be active at that time.
Don’t harass the wildlife, especially the monkeys, who carry a potentially deadly virus.
You are allowed to bring snacks/drinks in a small cooler, but take your trash out with you when you leave.
Other ways to experience Silver Springs:
Try a guided tour in clear kayaks with Ecoventure Tours, where you'll learn more about the ecosystem, local wildlife, and history of Silver Springs.
Monkeys at Silver Springs State Park