This is the third river in 4 days of our multi-day trip. After camping for the night in the Fore Lake state campground (only $10 a night with bathrooms and showers and nice lake to swim in), we drove to Ray Wayside Park. We paid the $3 car fee, parked and dropped into the channel that leads to the Silver River. We've been wanting to do this River for a while mainly for the monkeys and the crystal clear water.
At the end of the channel, turn right and go upstream. You will not see a single house, powerline or other sign of civilization. We encountered a few private boats, but since we went on a Tuesday it was very quiet and private. The paddle upsteam was not very difficult, but you have to paddle pretty constantly. If you are paddling forward and stop paddling for 4 or 5 seconds, you start to drift backward. This affects photography when you are trying to get a good shot. You don't want to get so close that you scare off the bird or gator you want to photograph, but when you stop paddling to take the shot, you move away from it.
Since we launched early in the morning, the paddle upstream was in the morning light. Since the sun was not overhead, we couldn't see in the water as well as on the return trip. On the return trip, you notice that there are the bright blue underwater springs EVERYWHERE along this run. Near the boils is where the giant 4 foot Gar like to hang out. The birds were amazing and very unafraid. You can get up very close for a picture.
We paddled up to the main spring head in the Silver Springs amusement park. You can't get out, but we were half tempted to ask one of the guests that were there looking at the springhead to go get us a hot dog and coke from a nearby concession. At the main spring, you can see all the way down, including the cave and the statues at the entrance of the cave (from the old movie days).
On the way out of the main spring we tagged along with one of the tour boats to listen to the guide tell about the different boils and history. In one of the springs near the park, I saw the biggest gator I've ever seen. When the boat got there, the guide said it must be at least 12 foot.
Speaking of gators, we saw 30 total! The birds were amazing because they would let you get so close. We saw plenty of turtles and the giant gar....but alas, no monkeys. Maybe next time, because this river definitely has that primitive "other worldly" quality that brings me back again and again.
This river has no guess work navigation and is well worth the upstream paddle. We are anxious to do it again.
The campground was really nice with bathrooms and showers. The on-site hosts were very nice and like to travel around a hang out with campers if they are in the mood for company. Rays Wayside is basically a large parking lot with ramps. Very easy. There are plenty of places to lodge and eat in town if you dont want to camp/cook. Since this vacation was our anniversary getaway, we splurged and went to the Melting Pot (fondue restaurant) on the Town Square in Ocala. The best ever!! Ask for David, he's very funny. Tell him the kayaking chicks from Jacksonville sent you. Don't skip dessert!!!
Rays Wayside has a $3 per car parking fee.
The campground was $10 a night.
A 4-course dinner for 2 at the Melting Pot fondue restaurant was about $90 and well worth it after a long paddle.
Rays Wayside Park is on SR40 east of Ocala and Silver Springs by the giant bridge. Fore Lake campground is further east over the big bridge and north on 314 about 5 or 6 miles.
We picked up some maps and brochures at the Visitor Center east of Silver Springs as well at the Chamber of Commerce on Town Square in Ocala.