The Silver River is a 5.5 mile spring-fed river located about 6 miles East of Ocala in Marion County, Fl. Silver Springs, a state park, is the main 1st magnitude spring and source of flow to the Silver River, discharging over 500 million gallons of water a day! The main spring is roughly 130 feet across and about 35′ deep at the entrance. In addition to the main spring there are several other springs in this basin, located along the river, that all add to the flow. The water is clear for a good portion of the river and numerous fish and turtles can be seen while paddling. The springs receive groundwater from a spring shed of roughly 1,360 square miles. Over the years the flow rate has been decreasing and the spring is now considered one of the most endangered large springs in Florida. Land on both sides of the river is managed by Silver Springs State Park. The park consists of over 5000 acres. The Silver River is designated as an outstanding Florida Waterway
The Silver river is rich with wildlife, to include numerous varieties of Turtles, Ospreys, Anhingas, Cormorants and Alligators among others. The Rhesus monkeys are predominant along the shoreline. You can see photos of all these below.
Launch points: There is a launch inside the state park with a park entrance fee as well as a launch fee totaling $6.00. There is also a launch near the end of the river at Ray’s Wayside Park with a $5.00 entrance fee, though you do have to paddle upstream to reach the main spring source.
Width and Depth: Once past the main Spring the river has a varied width from 75′ to 200′ with little overhead canopy the first mile except along the shorelines. As the river continues and becomes less wide the canopy is more prevalent. The river is anywhere from 6′ – 30′ deep with deeper pools where springs vent into the river.
Rest Areas: There is a main rest area with bathrooms located approximately 2.3 miles downstream in the bend of the river and very visible. If you miss this it is still possible to get on shore in several other locations in an emergency however landing in the park is prohibited outside of the above mentioned rest area.
Fort King Waterway…
From the moment of launch inside the park I’m already in for a treat! The water is clear, fish are visible underneath the kayak, the air is cool and the journey begins. At the start there is a decision to be made. About 500′ ahead, just before a beautiful wooden bridge, there is the option to continue straight ahead to reach the main head spring area. This is the park’s main attraction and the ‘marina’ where the glass-bottomed boats begin their tours. Having paddled on the river often I usually alternate between going ahead to the main spring or taking a right and paddling the Fort King Waterway.
The Fort King Waterway flows parallel to the Silver River and enters the river 3/4 mile downstream. The waterway provides a nice canopy overhead with numerous trees arching the waterway and is a pleasant paddle. Numerous fish and turtles can be seen in the clear waters. This waterway was once part of the Jungle Cruise attraction at Silver Springs, with remnants of a replica of Fort King and a village. One half mile into this waterway tucked in a bend is a sunken boat and fallen palm tree. It is almost always inhabited by turtles and gators. Also, on any given day, the Rhesus monkeys can be seen on a stretch of this waterway as it nears the main river. As the waterway enters the main Silver River the flow increases somewhat and a nice leisurely paddle is in store for the next several miles.
I shot a pilot video on Fort King Waterway to test my new GoPro underwater extension bar. It came out a bit jerky in spots but shows a lot of potential.
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The Silver River…
Paddling the Silver river is always a treat. For me it’s a classic example of a ‘jungle-like’ Florida river. The river width, anywhere from 75′ to 200′ is small enough to keep me interacted with both shorelines, which are lined with an assortment of tall trees, medium height shrubs and water vegetation.
Above and below the surface, the Silver River offers a variety of paddling pleasures. As the gentle 3 mph current guides me downstream the abundant wildlife becomes quickly apparent. Cormorants and Anhingas are constant paddle companions, flying over the surface or diving deep below. Along the shoreline there are numerous Egrets, Herons, Ibis and wood Ducks to be observed. Turtles and alligators are in no short supply on the Silver River and this paddle is no different. While usually quite visible, a keen eye will locate many gators with only the eyes and a small portion of there backs visible through the duck weed.
Of course what’s a paddle on the Silver River without seeing the Rhesus monkeys! There have only been a few paddles where the monkeys were not viewed, however on this trip they were numerous. Playing in trees and roaming the shoreline, the monkeys can show up just about anywhere along the river. They are quite curious as am I and I make sure to stay just out of reach but within good photography range.
Below the surface, the eel grass waves with the current as my kayak drifts over patches of vegetation and open sandy areas with lime rock. The fish are abundant underneath and the water is rich blue reflecting off the bottom. There are limited places to exit your boat along the river. A little under halfway down the river, at coordinates 29° 12′ 13.49″ N and 82° 1′ 45.35″W is a rest area with bathrooms.
I like the fact that the river is idle speed only and wave to an occasional pontoon boat as they slowly cruise upstream toward the spring. This is a pleasant paddle and always a relaxing paddle. As the river begins to narrow 5.5 miles downstream, I make a left into the canal to Ray’s Wayside Park, load the kayak into my truck end another chapter of Florida Paddle Notes
Trees: Trees along the river create a jungle-like atmoshphere – Bald Cypress – Taxodium distichum, Cabbage Palm – Sabal Palmetto, Swamp Bay – Persea palustris, Loblolly Bay – Gordonia lasianthus, Dahoon Holly – Ilex cassine, American Sweetgum – Liquidambar styraciflua, Red Maple – Acer rubrum, Carolina Ash – Fraxinus caroliniana.
Shrubs, Grasses, Aquatic and Flowering Plants: The under growth was rich with Sawgrass – Cladium jamaicense, Needlerush – Juncus roemarianus, Lizard’s Tail – Saururus cernuus, False Indigo Bush – Amorpha fruticosa, Broadleaf Arrowroot – Sagittaria latifolia, Bartram’s Airplant – Tillandsia bartramii , Pickerelweed – Pontedaria cordata , Spotted Water Hemlock – Cicuta maculata, Elderberry – Sambucus canadensis, Wild taro – Colocasia esculenta, Elliott’s Aster – Symphyotrichum elliottii, Blue Flag Iris– Iris viginica, Cardinal Flower – Lobelia cardinalis , Swamp Rose – Rosa Palustris, Duckweed – Lemna valdiviana, American Eelgrass – Vallisneria americana, Hydrilla – Hydrilla verticillata, Maiden Cane – Panicum hemitomon, Spadderdock – Nuphar advena, Water Hyacinth – Eichhornia crassipes, Marsh Pennywort – Hydrocotyle umbellata and Water Lettuce – Pistia stratiotes.
Trees, Shrubs, Grasses, Aquatic and Flowering Plants – Gallery:
The Silver River is abundant with wildlife. On a good day you’ll get to see an assortment of river birds, plenty of turtles and alligators, manatees, wild hogs, a wide assortment of fish as well as the Rhesus monkeys…
Silver River Wildlife Gallery: