I went camping with friends on Labor Day weekend at Juniper Springs. Between the 5 of us were 3 kayaks (10', 12', & 13') and a canoe (15').
The campground is nice: well shaded and well maintained, although some of the campsites are a little close to one another. The campground seemed to be only about half full, but the springs themselves were closed for renovations. I expect normally it would be much busier. Rangers and park staff were all very friendly.
The outfitter only rents canoes. They are big sturdy 15 and 17 footers, but canoes are ill-suited for Juniper Run.
On weekends expect a line at the canoe outfitters: everyone renting a canoe or even those with their own boat just being brought back by the outfitter must sign paperwork and leave a deposit in addition to payment, which makes for a slow process.
To get from the parking lot to the put-in location just downstream of the Springs is a long walk down a low boardwalk built over the old paved path. Fortunately, the park provides wheeled carts to help transport your boat, whether it be your own kayak or a rented canoe.
Juniper Run is a beautiful paddle through varied scenery. Much of the trip is spent under a tree canopy with the jungle pressing in on both sides. But other areas are open and grassy and a few are steep. The first several miles of the river are very clear (and a pleasantly chill 72 degrees) thanks to the spring water, as are some of the shallower areas farther downstream. There is at least one small spring that has recently opened up about 5 miles from the start.
For all the scenic beauty and despite the steady current to push you along, this is not an easy trip. There are lots and lots of low-hanging branches and fallen trees that require a great deal of ducking and maneuvering. Our canoe was thankfully paddled by our most experienced member (a former girl scout) and our least experienced kayaker had the smallest kayak. We never had to get out of our boats to climb over any trees, but this is likely not always the case. There were also several large spider webs spanning the river (fortunately above head height) and containing enormous banana spiders. The water is mostly shallow enough to stand up in, but swimming is neither allowed nor advisable. Taking pictures can be tricky as the current likes to push you into things while you try to take a shot.
Wildlife count: 0 gators, 0 river otters, over a dozen turtles (some quite large), a few birds, and lots of spiders.
The outfitters say the entire 7 mile trip takes 3-5 hours, but I would say 4-6. This is absolutely a one way trip and once you are on it there is no turning back. There is an cleared area on the right bank about halfway but this is just an open hillside and doesn't connect to anything; you have to make it all the way to the takeout point at the SR 19 bridge whether you like it or not.
If you are an inexperienced paddler that has trouble maneuvering in tight areas this is not the trip for you! We saw plenty of novices in canoes that were WAY in over their heads.
Canoe Outfitter, Campground
$4/day entrance fee or $20/night campsite rental fee
$6/boat for the outfitter to return you from the takeout
$6/person for the outfitter to return you from the takeout
Juniper Springs Recreation area is on State Road 40 a little west of State Road 19 in Ocala National Forest.
Take State Road 40 east from the Ocala & I-75 or west from Ormond Beach & I-95.