A hundred years ago, steam boats carrying well-heeled northern adventure seekers made their way up the Ocklawah River to the legendary Silver Spring - one of the largest artesian springs in the world. Throughout the 20th century the springs fame and tourist visitation grew. Today hundreds of tourists daily visit the huge theme park which now surrounds the spring - but few are aware that the river which carries away crystal-clear water is one of the most magical places in Florida.
The only access to this river is from a county boat ramp near the bottom, just upstream from it's confluence with the Ocklawaha River. A hundred yard paddle from the boat basin brings you into the swift river run. Turning right, heading upstream, you are immediately confronted with a fair current. But once you've adjusted you realize you've entered a beautiful river forest of cypress, tupelo, red maples, and ash with a lush sub-tropical undergrowth of myrtle, palmetto, holly and many other shrubs and herbaceous plants. Strange, cypress root outgrowths known as "cypress knees" line the bank and are home to a wonderful variety of animals such as river otters and reptiles.
But, by far the most fascinating animals are Rheuses monkeys. These are completely wild bands of monkeys which escaped from the park back in the 1930's. Today they range free along the entire 5 mile river. You don't always see the - probably about 75% of the time - because the bottomland forest here is about a mile wide in many places.
If you think you've never seen this river, you may be wrong. The first five Tarzan movies with Johnny Wesmuller were filmed along this river. And there were many others including several James Bond movies, "The Creature From the Black Lagoon," and over 100 "Sea Hunt" episodes.
A fun way to explore this river is to bring snorkeling gear and, after seeing the head spring and leaving park boundaries (You can paddle into the spring basin but you're not allowed to beach or swim in the park), get out and swim downstream. Be sure to have a partner hold your boat or secure it somehow. But if you do this BE VERY CAREFUL! There are two big concerns in these waters. Motorboats and alligators. Either one will avoid you if they know you're there, but drifting in the current you're about as quiet and noticeable as a human can be in the wild. Use a dive flag and keep a sharp eye out for gators. Swing wide when your rounding bends and always lead with your eyes.
This trip usually takes about 5 hours round trip - up and back.
The only facilities are at Ray Wayside Park. On the river there are a few good places to beach and take lunch or swim, but no facilities.
$4.25 per vehicle to park at Ray Wayside Park.
From Ocala drive east on Hwy 40 about 4 miles past the town of Silver Springs. Look for Ray Wayside County Park on the right. If you cross over a high bridge over the Ocklawaha you've gone too far.
The only put-in is at Ray Wayside County Park.
Adventure Outpost: kayak/canoe rentals, Outfitters and Guide Service. (904) 454-0611. http://www.adventureoutpost.net