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Difficulty: Moderate Scenery: Excellent
Location: Ocala,
Marion County
Distance: 10 miles roundtrip from Ray Wayside Park to Silver Springs
Atlas: Page 72 C-2
Last Update: May 2007 Canoe OK: Yes


A paddle trip on the Silver River near Ocala features some of Florida's most beautiful scenery and diverse wildlife. This short river with translucent blue springs has been described as magnificent and magical, but in 1873 Harriett Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom's Cabin said it best with "There is nothing on earth comparable to it."

Silver River;White Ibis.
Immature White Ibis.
The headwaters start at Silver Springs, the world's largest natural artesian spring which produces nearly 550 million gallons of water each day. Because of the substantial flow, the paddle upstream can be strenuous but well worth the effort. Seven miles downriver, the crystal clear Silver meets the tea-colored Oklawaha River.

Spending the day on Silver River will reveal why the Silver Springs attraction bills itself as "Nature's Theme Park". Beside the subtropical landscape, the river is famous for its abundant wildlife. Anhingas, ducks, egrets, herons, ibis', hawks, limpkins and kingfishers are some of the many birds that inhabit the area.

The fish species is well represented by bluegill, sunfish, bass and prehistoric-looking Longnose Gar. If you have never seen one, gars are cylindrical fish up to four feet in length with long snouts and very sharp teeth. Reptiles are a-plenty too. Turtles and alligators can easily be spotted sunning themselves while lizards and snakes present more of a challenge.

One animal that you wouldn't expect to find in Central Florida is the Rhesus monkey. Several troops of these monkeys live wild along the length of the river. Legend has it the monkeys are descendants of escapees from Tarzan films shot at Silver Springs; however the Silver Springs theme park website lists the source as a concessionaire who operated the Jungle Cruise boat ride during the 1930s. The monkeys were placed on an island in the river and they simply swam off and disappeared into the neighboring forest.

For the past 30 years there has been discussion about removing the monkeys since they are not native to Florida, but due to their popularity the US Forest Service and various Fish & Wildlife agencies have been held at bay. No matter how cute they appear, the monkeys are dangerous. They will aggressively go after someone feeding them and feeding is prohibited by law. One bite from these not-so-friendly little creatures will leave you with a painful trip to an Ocala emergency room.


At the junction of I-75 and SR 40 (exit 352, old #69) in Ocala, turn east (right) on SR 40 and go 9 miles to the Silver Springs attraction. Continue past the theme park on SR 40 for 3 miles to Ray Wayside Park. The park is 1/4 mile west of Delks Bluff Bridge. A canoe launch is located at the far end of the park just past the boat ramps.

Note: The Florida State Park Service is planning a canoe shuttle from the museum at Silver River State Park to the river. Currently it's a little over 1 / 2 mile portage. If you want to launch from the state park, be sure to BYOKCC (Bring Your Own Kayak / Canoe Cart).

Important Items

Boat, Paddle, PFD
Ray Wayside Park Entrance Fee, $3


Spring Fed
Freshwater River
Current 3 MPH
Ocala National Forest
Cypress, Palm and Oak Trees
Subtropical Foliage
Diverse Wildlife
Wild Rhesus Monkeys
Silver Springs Nature Park
Registered National Landmark

Silver River;Silver Springs;Artesian Spring.
Paddling on the Silver River.

Tour: Ray Wayside Park to Silver Springs (10 miles)

Marion County's Ray Wayside Park features covered picnic tables, two boat ramps and a canoe launch area for canoes and kayaks. Start at the launch and paddle 200 yards south along the canal to the Silver River. One-half mile downstream from this point is the confluence of the Silver and Oklawaha rivers. Turn upstream (right) for the five mile trip to the Silver Springs theme park. Be sure to remember what the canal looks like as you don't want to miss it on the way back.

As you enter the main river, colors explode with bright blue water, dark green foliage and a white sandy river bottom with frequent patches of eel grass and pond lilies. The river is 30 to 200 feet wide and can reach depths of 30 feet. The water is so clear that at times it feels like your boat is flying over canyon lands far below.

Below are a few hints that will make your trip on the river more enjoyable: Due to the substantial current, hug the inside edge of turns to save energy. Reverse this to speed quickly back downstream. You should be able to avoid most motorboats as there is a no-wake law in effect for the entire run, but don't count on it. Many of the gas guzzlers just don't get it so be careful going around the blind corners. Note that fishing is not allowed, so leave the pole and tackle box at home. Finally, be sure to bring lots of film (old school), memory cards (new school) and extra batteries (both schools!) for your camera.

Silver River;Alligator. Landing is prohibited along the entire length of the Silver River so plan on staying in your boat for a few hours. The only exception for this is stopping at the canoe / kayak launch at the Silver River State Park. About three miles from the put-in, you'll see a small roped off beach on the south side of the river and an aluminum canoe launch. Here you can find a few benches and a trail leading 3/4 mile back to the park's museum, and "cracker village". If you are not camping at the state park, there is a fee for landing here.

Signs mark the entrance of the Silver Springs attraction. Once past the signs, be sure to lookout for large glass bottom boats loaded with photo snapping passengers. While the boats appear big and slow, they are sneaky due to electric motors and captains that seem to take delight in running over (or at least pretending to run over) kayakers and canoeists.

The head springs of the river are surrounded by park buildings, boat docks and a circular rock wall. The main spring (at the Glass Bottom Boat Ride docks) is about 200 feet across and 30 or 40 feet deep. A large cavern can easily be seen in the northeast side of the basin. The entrance to the cavern is guarded by statues placed underwater and used as movie props. There are at least nine springs in the headwaters area. In many of these water flows with such great force from the spring vents that sand, shells and other matter are tossed several feet underwater. Alligators, gar, wading birds, boats and tourists are prevalent in the area.

While landing is not allowed, you can take advantage of your "free admission" to the park by listening in as boat captains describe the various natural wonders and history of Silver Springs. When its time to return home, simply turn your boat downriver for a quick one to two hour paddle back to Ray Wayside Park.

Special Interest: Silver Springs Nature Park

Since the late 1870s when local residents of Silver Springs sold rides in glass bottom row boats, people have flocked to the headwaters of the Silver River to get a glimpse of this wonderful place. As time moved on, the boats got bigger and the area more developed. From the 1930s to the '60s numerous movies and TV shows were filmed at the springs. Some of the better known ones are "Tarzan" with Johnny Weismuller, "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" and more than 100 episodes of "Sea Hunt" with Lloyd Bridges.

The current theme park, Silver Springs, is approximately 350 acres in size and its property line surrounds the headwaters of the Silver River. The park has a number of nature-based attractions including the Lost River Voyage and Glass Bottom Boat ride that provides visitors the opportunity to spy deep into the head springs and see the river in its natural state. The Jungle Cruise, Jeep Safari and summer concerts are other favorite activities. Check with silversprings.com for park operating hours and admission price.

Silver River;Turtles;Moorhen.
Turtles and a Moorhen.
Silver River;Monkeys
Wild Rhesus monkeys.

GPS Location Aid


Ray Wayside Park
Boat Ramp
Silver River
No Exit
Silver River State Park
Silver Springs Marker
No Exit
Silver Springs Nature Park
No Exit