Juniper Springs Recreation Area
All photos by Kelsey Walters
It’s a new year, and that’s supposed to mean new you, right? Whatever you’re trying to renew this year, this decade in fact – even if it’s just your sense of adventure, Florida has plenty to offer.
Now proud owners of a rambunctious toddler very fond of her newfound skills of running, jumping and climbing, my family is all about getting outside this season, especially with the comfortable weather. We partly do so to stay more active as a family, and also in the hopes of burning off all that extra toddler energy while praying for nap time.
Juniper Springs was a perfect place for us to go for a sunny afternoon together. With a relatively short drive to the Silver Springs area, about an hour and a half north of Orlando, we packed a lunch and hit the road.
Avery is always thrilled to be in new environments and eager to explore. Scott and I decided to give her an impromptu scavenger hunt to pique her interest in heading out onto the nature trail for her first “hike.”
“Let’s see if we can find some butterflies…I bet we can spot a squirrel…I wonder if you can find any purple flowers…” and so on, which worked a little too well. What is a pretty quick half-mile walk from the Juniper Springs recreation area to nearby Fern Hammock Springs and back took us nearly three hours as Avery stopped to inspect every bush and plant for purple flowers, collect leaves and twigs as souvenirs and aggressively call out for “bufferfwies” in the hopes they would flock to her Disney princess-style. We didn’t experience a swarm of butterflies, but we did find that squirrel.
Scott and I didn’t mind – an afternoon full of exploring was exactly what we were looking for. Although they are very close together, Juniper and Fern Hammock Springs are very different. Both are located in the Ocala National Forest, and are managed by the National Parks Service. Juniper Springs is a smaller swimming hole, and even in the heat of the summer doesn’t tend to be as packed as other popular springs, making for a quaint and quiet spot. The park offers a general store with snacks (yay, ice cream!) and other amenities, as well as camping.
This recreation area also features an interesting millhouse. While on the exterior it appears to be part of Florida’s pioneer past, it has a much different story to tell. The Juniper Springs recreation area was actually part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps – an effort to provide much needed jobs for young men and create trails, roads, bridges and recreation areas across the nation, helping to revitalize the country. The millhouse was built to regulate the water outflow from the swimming area to keep it static and in turn, the water wheel provided free electricity for the area’s buildings and campgrounds.
Fern Hammock Springs is not open for swimming but the beautiful views are worth the walk through the woods to get there. Here you can look down from the bridge overhead into the spring boil bubbling up and take in the crystal-clear water. A few years ago, Scott and I visited in the summer and found an alligator lazily swimming around the spring.
Juniper Springs is also the headwaters of Juniper Creek, giving access to a seven-mile canoe run. This run can take four to five hours, depending on your skill level, and requires you to maneuver through tights spaces, sometimes paddling under or stepping over tree branches in the process. It is not for a novice kayaker or an ideal first run. Several (much younger) years ago, Scott and I did this run with a group of friends. While we tipped the canoe over…several times, we only lost one beverage in the process! We also spotted yet another alligator during this trip (it is Florida after all).
After our stroll through the woods, we dipped our toes in the chilly water of the spring and let the tiny fish surround our feet, much to Avery’s ticklish delight. On warmer days, the spring is an ideal place to float and relax. On cooler ones, it’s the perfect spot to sit back, read a book and take in some fresh air.
Whether you’re up for a quick hike, a camping trip or a challenging kayak run, Juniper Springs has a lot to offer for your family or some time to yourself.
Day Use Fee: $5.50/person
Canoe/Kayak rental available