This one is for the “in your life” category. It’s one of our all-time favorite adventures, deserving a solid “10” on the Authentic Florida scale. The beauty and pristine Florida surroundings of Juniper Springs will delight your senses and become an adventure you’ll never forget. Located in the Ocala National Forest, Juniper Springs is 90 minutes north of Orlando, 22 miles due east of Silver Springs on State Road 40.
One of the highlights of the Juniper Springs is the Juniper Creek Run, a one-way, seven-mile canoe/kayak trip of four/five-hours, down Juniper Creek, through the park’s Prairie Wilderness Area. Juniper Spring is the site of the main swimming hole, which empties into the Creek, eventually flowing to the Wayside Park (Highway 19 bridge) and beyond. This trip is recommended for intermediate paddlers. Unless you are an experienced paddler, consider going with someone who is.
Rental canoes can be reserved at the main concession area along with your seat for the return (Wayside Park) bus ride. At the main launching point, paddlers load up the canoes on wheeled carts to haul to the waters edge (approx. 1/8th mile). Private kayaks and canoes are permitted and the bus will return all paddlers. Reservations are required. Cars can also be left at the Wayside Park if you prefer to haul your own equipment. Start early if you can and beat the crowds, depending on the time of year.
The pristine Juniper Creek Run is a beauty and feast for the eyes. A lush, tropical forest, palms, cypress and southern hardwoods surround visitors at every turn. You’ll easily have a sense of what the early native Timucuans must have experienced in this ideal Florida setting. We saw plenty of red bellied turtles, a few gators (they stay clear), wood ducks, great herons, monarch butterflies and a plethora of wildflowers.
This shady paddling trip begins with a fast moving, 2 ½-mile narrow, curvy and shallow creek which eventually widens and slows. The clear water and sandy bottom is characteristic of the upper Juniper Run. Expect to paddle around foliage and over or under fallen trees. You’ll be doing the Authentic Florida “limbo” passing under trees with barely inches to spare, but there’s always room. There’s a short, minor rapid ¾ the way down the creek, but its not too difficult to manage. Just go with the flow. You’ll hear it before you reach it.
We had put in a full day when we finished the Juniper Creek Run but were ready to go again the next day. I promise, this is an adventure you’ll share with your grandchildren and anyone who will listen for years to come.
For those who don’t want to try the Juniper Creek Run, a trailhead sits adjacent to the Juniper Springs. A boardwalk along the Juniper Run to the Fern Hammock Spring is well worth the trek. Once at the spring, watch the water bubbling up through the small natural vents. While you can’t swim or canoe there, it’s considered one of the most stunning, pristine springs in all of Florida.
Follow the park recommendations. Bring a dry bag, plenty of water, lunch/food, water shoes, towel, mosquito repellent and sunscreen. Bring your camera, too.
If You Go
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