Passing time in Marion County, Florida at Beautiful Freshwater Springs
|Juniper Springs Recreation Area|
The springs are beautiful though and they are definitely worth dipping your feet in to take off the insane heat that we deal with during Florida's summer (which is practically most of the year, to be honest).
I went to a few different springs in the area: Silver Springs State Park, De Leon Springs State Park and Juniper Springs Recreation Area in the Ocala National Forest. Here's some info you may find useful if you are traveling to the area to check out the springs.
Silver Springs State Park
The housesit I'm doing is just west of the entrance to Silver Springs State Park so we visited there first. At this location you can kayak or (maybe?) canoe but you can't swim. There are also wild monkeys in this area that had an interesting interaction with some visiting humans and so many of the paths around the state park were shut down to protect the humans.
You may be wondering what the hell wild monkeys are doing in Florida but it's basically the same reason most non-native wildlife is here ... humans suck and aren't very responsible. They filmed a movie here, brought in monkeys and they ended up staying (the monkeys, not humans). And, Florida's climate accommodates a lot of forgotten animals so they continued to populate. Based on the signs at the park, I'm assuming they are going to hunt down the population a bit because, again, humans suck.
Back to the state park though ....
One of the other ways to enjoy this park is on their glass-bottom boat. Do it. It's pretty, it's not too expensive, it's fun for kids and the water is lovely from the surface and also through the glass-bottom perspective. Plus, the tour guide fills you in on a ton of information about the area and springs. The guide could not have been any less enthusiastic (his voice is a substitute for a tranquilizer dart). However, I found the info interesting even though his oratorical skills were lacking.
Best seat on the boat? The back of it where you get on and off the boat. Absolutely the best view. So board the boat last, if possible so you get this seat.
The water in this park is beautifully clear and is filled with fish and turtles. Birds are everywhere. It's a really lovely place. Plus, another great thing for families is that there is a restaurant and ice cream shop there as well as a gift store. I didn't eat the food or sample the ice cream but sometimes a meal makes little ones a little happier. Just saying ...
Juniper Springs Recreation Area
This place is a short drive down state road 40. It's maybe a 20 or 30 minute drive down the road. There isn't traffic so the trip is an easy drive. There is an entry fee. I don't remember the fee but it's a random amount that is a few dollars and like 3 cents. Why they don't just make it a round number is beyond me.
The park is set up well for camping but is also good for just going to swim for the day in the swimming hole. There is ample shade around the spring and the place isn't very crowded. I like places that aren't crowded!! Personally, I don't know why someone would camp (on the ground) in an area with alligators though ...
There is a small convenience store that sells essentials but if you want good food, go somewhere else. However, it's nice they have options for snacks and other things that help make camping life easier.
And, it's important to note ... this is Florida. There ARE alligators. Seriously, there are. Alligators in the area move about the area so don't just look in the water. Look around the water, off of walking paths, etc. Just be aware.
And, there are also a lot of signs about bears. So, you have both alligators and bears to deal with. Oh, and wild monkeys. An interesting combination!
And now for the last but oddly most popular spring ...
De Leon Springs State Park
This one I learned about from one of those "10 best things to do in your state" posts that showed up on Facebook one day. I saw it was about an hour east of me in Ocala so I planned a day trip there with the girls. This was a terrible idea.
Again, the drive down state road 40 was easy. No traffic. Not many lights. You just hit the road. But when you get there, you'll see the entrance is blocked and you turn down the next street then do a U-turn and wait in a line that doesn't move just to get in the park. Seriously, you wait in line like you are at freakin Disney. I waited about 40 minutes. By the time I finally got to the gate, I was a bit grumpy because I had no idea about this stupid wait.
I got in the park for free (state park pass YAY!) and headed first to the restaurant. I was told by an employee passing on a golf cart that the wait is usually about 2 hours for the restaurant. I was thinking that the food must be amazing for a wait like that. There wasn't a wait (awesome!!) so we went right in.
I sat down with my daughters and saw there are cook surfaces (like a griddle embedded in the table). I ordered French toast and also a hot dog and fries. I just needed the kids to eat something so I aimed for two things that they may eat. The waitress brought out two slices of bread and the French toast batter. WTF.
I make all of my own meals at home. I cook every meal for me and my girls. At a restaurant, I don't want to pay them to have me cook my own food. If I'm paying for food and it's not at a Korean bbq place, I expect someone to cook my food for me. Seriously. PLUS, I don't want that hot surface near my little ones. AND it was hot as hell in that restaurant with just fans blowing around the hot air. OMG. Freaking awful. Why would a freaking hot ass state not have A/C to help mitigate the insane heat from each table's cook surface?
My 4 year old was melting. She was so frustrated with the heat. I don't find places like this charming. I sent back the French toast (well, the bread and the batter) because the extra heat in our face at the table and the hot surface was just uncomfortable and a hazard. They made the hotdog and fries in the kitchen so I had that. The hot dog was average. The fries were below average. The kids were too hot and uncomfortable to eat. Overall, it was a complete waste of time.
After, we went to the bathroom to clean up. Yet another line to wait in. And the bathroom was dirty and small. Not accommodating to families with young kids at all.
We paid $18 for the shitty hotdog and two drinks and two "fresh made" slices of bread that tasted like cheap bread from a generic store (again, my goal was to get the kids to eat SOMETHING before we left because the drive was long) it didn't work out though. We left the garbage restaurant that's famous for some stupid reason to check out the swimming hole here. It was crowded and chaotic. Not my scene. Maybe if you have teens, it's a good place but for families with little kids, a chaotic swimming place isn't ideal.
I took some photos and left. I had no interest staying. In some of the gazebos and areas around the springs were HUGE gatherings of families. I'm sure this place is fun for them to bbq and swim. But seriously, there are other springs in the area. Less populated, less chaotic, more serene.
We headed back to the parking lot. And, as we were walking, I noticed a guy maybe 250 meters away. He had a big ol tattoo on his chest. I was hoping it was one of those Gaelic designs. Nope, as he got closer and walked past us, I saw it was a big ass swastika. This guy was walking confidently and comfortably in a park that's populated with latinos and blacks with his swastika on blast. I just can't even understand this mentality.
As a white person, I may not be his primary target for hate but it doesn't make me feel safe around him or others like him. That symbol of hate and violence and oppression ... it chills me to the core.
So in summary, the trip here was awful and I was glad to leave. I don't know why this park was so popular but I can tell you -- go to another spring somewhere else and not here. It's not worth it and the restaurant sucks.
So here's a place that I saw the other day on one of those "10 cool things to do in your state" lists. De Leon Springs State Park and the restaurant there were on the list. It was about a 50 minute drive away from my house sit so I thought I'd take the girls on an adventure. NOT worth it. Literally there was a 40+ minute wait at the gate just to get in. The park is small and unimpressive for its popularity. And the restaurant? Well I rarely eat out with the girls but when I do, I don't want to fucking cook the food myself. There was a hibachi style grill surface at the table. It was hot inside and the grills at each table was no help and I don't want to deal with hot surfaces so close to the kids. No, I don't want to cook my own French toast or pancakes. Hell no. I cook all of my own meals at home so no, I don't want to pay a restaurant to not cook for me. Again, not worth it. I'm back "home" now and think I'll put on Netflix and chill. Definitely not a successful outing but at least we tried it and know that we will never return again. #overrated #touristtrap