The Fairytale Traveler
Alexander Springs has always been tops on my list of things to do in the Ocala National Forest. It's one among many of Florida's crystalline springs, where locals and visitors gather to enjoy its many offerings of eco-adventure.
Today, camping, swimming, snorkeling, hiking and canoeing are popular recreational activities. But what many may not know is that the spring is steeped in Native American heritage. Winding through the depths of the forest lies the footprint of one of Florida's earliest tribes, the Timucua Indians.
Some key points about the Timucua and the Calusa, another native tribe:
- Both cultures settled near rivers on or near the coast.
- Both ate shellfish (and used the shells as tools) and fished for food.
- Both had similar ceremonial rituals.
- Both used dugout canoes.
- They were mound builders. While some were for burials, others were for refuse (midden mound).
- The Timucua hunted and gathered in the forests and swamps. They also planted maize, squash, and beans in their villages.
- Even today, Native American tribes are very respectful of plants and trees. If they are to take a plant or tree away from the land, according to Indigenous People, they must ask for permission and forgiveness with respect.
To learn more about the Timucua and other early residents, try the state’s publication, Native American Heritage Trail.
Things to do in the Ocala National Forest
The list of activities is extensive: biking, swimming, camping, snorkeling, fishing, hiking, horse riding, nature viewing, picnicking, scenic drives, kayaking and canoeing. For more, visit the park’s list of recreation activities.
The Many Springs of Ocala National Forest
For a complete list check out this great site on Florida's Springs. We explored three of our favorites:
Alexander Springs Recreation Area
Alexander Springs is a stunning example of a beautiful Florida spring. It's a great place to swim, too. You'll often see professional photographers with heavy-duty underwater equipment filming beneath the surface. Snorkeling and lounging is quite common as well.
When you're ready to explore, take a hike on the 1.1 mile loop Timucuan Trail, which highlights the vegetation used by the tribe. It's an absolutely pristine piece of Florida's natural attractions with its towering palms and lush foliage.
When you're done swimming and hiking, why not rent a kayak or a canoe and take a journey down Alexander Run? Here, you'll get up close to the wildest side of Florida, while submersing yourself in the very same environment the native residents did many hundreds of years ago. From alligators to great herons and more turtles than you can count, a trip along any Florida water way is always one to remember.
A place like this is too good to leave in one day, and with so many other springs in the vicinity, I recommend you set up camp. You can access all the fee information for camping, renting and park entry right here.
Juniper Springs and Silver Glen Springs
Juniper Springs is an awesome spot for doing a cannonball! There's a really fun platform made just for jumping from, about seven feet high. If you're unsure about the temperature, my advice is to jump right on in.
Silver Glen Springs is like a tropical dream. Its width allows a lot of sunlight, making the water a crystal-clear turquoise. There's plenty of area to set up for the day, so bring the cooler and the hot dogs.
You can rent kayaks and canoes at both of these springs for a beautiful day exploring the same waterways Native Americans did so many years ago.
There’s a whole other side of Florida so many visitors and even residents have yet to explore. Rich in Native American heritage and eco-adventure, the Ocala National Forest is truly a great place to spend time with the family, and better yet, it's very cost effective. With camping at both Alexander Springs and Juniper Springs and a wide range of outdoor recreation, all you need is the family. So pack up!
Tips For Visiting Ocala National Forest
- All the springs in the forest are as sacred to the modern tribes as they were to their ancestors. Use the utmost respect when visiting.
- Shelling, digging and removal of artifacts of any kind is strictly prohibited. This is a protected area.
- There is no “off “season, but January-May tends to be the busiest time in the forest.
- Large events in Central Florida, such as the Daytona 500 and Mount Dora Arts Festival bring an influx of guests to the campground.
- Diving into caves is highly discouraged; cave diving is extremely dangerous, even for professionals.
- Sunblock, bug spray and beach-like gear are recommended when going to the springs for swimming.
- If you're hiking, comfortable shoes and seasonal appropriate clothing are fine.
- The Ocala National Forest is home to predatory animals such as wild bear, coyotes, bobcats, alligators and vultures. Be mindful and never leave food out when camping.
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