(Review added 08/28/13, last update 02/17)
Update 12/16: There is now a company offering both rentals and shuttles for the Silver River. Silver River Shuttle Service/Discovery Kayak Tours will pick up you and your kayak (or just you if you don’t trust others to shuttle your kayak) at Ray Wayside and return you to your vehicles at Silver Springs State Park. Check out their website HERE. They also rent kayaks and lead guided tours on the Silver. We haven’t used them yet, but it’s great that there is now a shuttle service available since the rental concessionaire in the State Park does not offer this option.
The Silver River is one of Florida’s designated Outstanding Florida Waters. With the establishment of Silver Springs State Park and the state’s purchase of the Silver Springs Nature Theme Park, the river is almost entirely surrounded by public land from the Silver Springs down to the junction with the Ocklawaha River. There is a State Park dock about 1/2 way (which makes for a nice break or lunch spot), a couple of private inholdings just downstream from the head spring, and the park development around the head spring. Other than these spots the river is undeveloped and all you will see are trees, wildflowers, birds, turtles, gators, occasionally monkeys, once in a while manatee, and other slow-moving boaters. Power boats are allowed on the river but it’s a designated no wake zone from top to bottom and we have found that the vast majority of motor boaters on the Silver are very considerate.
Silver Springs is a first magnitude spring, pushing over 500 million gallons of water into the river every day. The springs were declared a National Natural Landmark in 1971. Because almost the entire river basin is protected, the water quality is good but has declined significantly over the past 10 years. The springs are in trouble due to pollution from agriculture and residential development and nitrates have coated the spring with algae.
The rapid increase in population over the past 20 years and large-scale agri-business pulling millions of gallons out of the aquifer means much less water is coming out of the springs than 10 years ago. The takeover of the theme park by the state and planned restoration of the land is a step in the right direction, but whether the Florida Department of Environmental Protection will have the funding and be allowed to impose the regulations on the surrounding area that will return the spring to its glory days will depend on political will at the state level.
While much of the theme park has been shut down, the glass-bottom river cruises continue and they are well worth the time and money. The park also hosts regular ranger-led talks and special events. Unless it has rained recently the water will be clear for over a mile down from the springs. Then the water becomes tannin-stained from the surrounding trees, so how far you can see down into the water depends upon depth and whether the bottom in that particular location is sandy or covered with vegetation.
The Silver abounds with wildlife. If you don’t see an alligator, then you are not looking in the right place at the right time. If you are lucky you might spot a manatee or river otter. Birds are everywhere and it’s an excellent place for bird watchers and photographers. Bald eagles, osprey, anhinga, cormorants, wood ducks, teals, herons, egrets, wood storks, limpkin, ibis, hawks, vultures, kites, and woodpeckers can be seen or heard on almost every trip. Florida Cooters and Red-bellied Cooters (turtles) can be seen in the river or along the banks. Bass, sunfish, mullet, carp, and gar can be seen in the river as well as smaller pan fish, but no fishing is allowed within the state park which now encompasses almost all of the river.
Oh yes, the monkeys. Many people still believe the monkeys were brought in for the filming of a Tarzan movie at Silver Springs. (Altogether 6 Tarzan movies featuring Johnny Weissmuller were filmed at Silver Springs in the 1930s and 40s.) . But this is NOT true. Colonel Tooey, the local tour boat operator, brought in 6 Asian Rhesus macaques in 1938 and released them on an island to provide some extra exotic excitement for his guests. Within days he learned that monkeys are good swimmers, because they quickly dispersed into the surrounding woods. According to a biologist we spoke with on the river recently, there are currently 3 troops of monkeys firmly established along the river. (We’ve also seen two troops on the nearby Ocklawaha River, one south and one north of the Silver River confluence.)
While fascinating to watch, please do not attempt to feed the monkeys. It’s not good for them and could be dangerous for you. Monkeys WILL bite. Also, it can set off fights among the monkeys, who eat depending on their status within the troop. If a lower level monkey eats before the alpha monkeys, they can be attacked. So watch from a few dozen feet away and don’t try to stare down the alpha males and females who will interpret this as a sign of aggression.
The current runs about 3 mph so the 5.2-mile upstream trip from Ray Wayside usually takes us 3 to 3.5 hours while the down-stream trip from the springs back to Rays takes about half that time. But we encourage you to take your time, taking lots of pics and enjoying the scenery. Ray Wayside is a county park just off State Rd 40 which provides access to both the Silver and Ocklawaha Rivers. Ray’s has 2 huge concrete boat ramps and a separate sandy launch for paddle craft as well as a nice picnic area and restrooms. There is a $5 (as of 2016) per vehicle parking fee.
At the top, Silver Springs State Park has a nice hand launch ramp just off the head spring area. Use the park entrance on State Rd 40 and they will direct you to the launch area. State Park entrance fees apply plus there is also a $4 per boat launch fee. These fees plus the $5 parking fee at Ray Wayside make it fairly expensive for a one-way trip, but if you only have a 1/2 day to paddle the river it is worth it.
Several “shipwrecks” dot the river. And there is another one someplace near #1 that we have never been able to find. We have indicated the general locations – it’s up to you to explore and find them if you have a nice sunny day with clear water and no wind.
(Remember, “river left” is the left side of the river headed downstream.
0.0 Silver Springs pool
0.1 Abyss/Reception Hall spring and Jacob’s Well Spring, river right
0.2 Shipwreck #5 (dugout canoe) and Blue Grotto on river right
0.3 Shipwrecks #3 & 4 in cove, river left. One is a rowboat thought to date from the
Spanish period (under the sunken tree) but the origin of the other one is unknown.
0.6 Shipwreck #2 just downstream from island. A metal-hulled boat deliberately
sunk for the Jerry Lewis movie “Don’t Give Up the Ship”.
1.2 Private dock, river right
1.4 Silver River State Park nature trail boardwalk, river right
2.0 Silver River State Park dock, river right
3.0 Cove on river left, one of the few dry landing spots.
4.4 Shipwreck #1, river left, remains of a river boat from the 1800s
4.9 Leave Silver River and enter canal on river left
5.2 Ray Wayside County Park boat launch
You can also click HERE to see a video we filmed on the Silver of a big gator who got way too close for our comfort level.
Click HERE to download Silver River Fact Sheet with mileage chart and directions to launch sites.
Click HERE to download Silver River gpx file for your GPS unit.
Double-click to zoom in or use mouse scroll to zoom in and out. Drag to change location. Click on icons or river route for more info.