Surrounded by the dryness of the Big Scrub, the world’s largest scrub forest, Juniper Springs is a playground of hydrological wonders, the center of a jungle-like oasis of riotous growth.
Here, you’ll find every sort of Florida spring imaginable. Besides the massive outpouring from a cavern at the headspring, there are tiny bubblers along the bottom of the spring run.
Juniper Creek has constant seeps along the loamy slopes. In Fern Hammock, watch eerie flat boils like video screens, and giant boils thrusting perpetual clouds of sand skyward.
To present this symphony of hydrology to you, the Juniper Creek Nature Trail winds between Juniper Springs and Fern Hammock Springs.
At the main recreation area surrounding the headspring, day users can swim and picnic, or arrange a paddling trip down beautiful Juniper Run.
Campers will appreciate the deep shade of the scrub forest in a campground established in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Resources for exploring the area
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Location: Ocala National Forest
Length: 1.4 mile round-trip
Address: 26701 SR 40, Silver Springs
Fees: $8/person weekdays, $11/person weekends
Restroom: At the bathhouse area
Land manager: National Forests in Florida
Phone: 352-625-3147. 1-877-444-6777 for campground reservations.
Open 8-8 daily. Operated as a concession by Adventure Ocala. Campsites must be reserved in advance.
No pets or bicycles are permitted within the recreation area or along the nature trail.
From Interstate 75, take exit 352, Ocala, and head east on SR 40 (Silver Springs Blvd) through Ocala and Silver Springs into the Ocala National Forest. After 31 miles, the entrance to Juniper Springs Recreation Area is on the left.
From Interstate 95, take exit 268, Ormond Beach, and head west on SR 40 through Barberville and Astor. After you pass the light at SR 19, keep alert for the park entrance on the right, about five miles further east.
Developed in the 1930s as a swimming and camping area by the Civilian Conservation Corps, Juniper Springs offers many options for recreation.
First and foremost is the swimming area at Juniper Spring. From the parking area, follow the paved path between the buildings to the bathhouse and concession / camp store area.
From there, a patio and picnic area offer an overview of this lovely spring. An old mill sits at the outflow of the basin and once provided electricity for the campground.
If you’ve brought your swimsuit, a plunge in this shimmering spring – a constant 72ºF – is a must.
The campground is located down a separate road off the entrance road from the day use area and connects to the spring by means of a series of footpaths.
Sites cost $31 per night. They are tucked into the scrub forest and generally well shaded. Tent campers are welcome as well as RVs. Pets are permitted at campsites.
Bears frequent the area and are known to raid loose food and tents, as do resident raccoons. Keep all food stored in your car so as not to encourage wildlife to browse.
It’s a requirement throughout the National Forests in Florida to secure your food and personal products (toothpaste, etc) to prevent attracting bears to camping areas.
If you’re looking to paddle, check in at the concession. Here, you can rent canoes for the four-hour journey down Juniper Run.
If you’ve brought your own equipment, inquire about the launch fee and the shuttle fee from the far end. The take-out is along SR 19 about 9 miles north of SR 40.
Paddling Juniper Run
Paddling Juniper Run from Juniper Springs to the take out at SR 19 in the Ocala National Forest, a popular paddling trip along this sinuous, spring-fed waterway that winds through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness.
Central to the traverse of the Florida Trail across the Ocala National Forest, Juniper Springs offers direct access to two segments of the trail.
To the north is a stretch through the beautiful Juniper Prairie Wilderness, and to the south the trail crosses SR 40 and burrows into the Big Scrub before emerging to trace the east side of Farles Prairie.
The trail crossing for the Florida Trail is along the entrance road into the recreation area. Backpackers can leave a car behind the gates at Juniper Springs for $7 per night.
Florida Trail, Juniper Springs to Hopkins Prairie
10.6 miles. Marvel at a mosaic of ancient scrub forest, vast prairies, and pine islands while crossing the Juniper Prairie Wilderness
Florida Trail, Farles Prairie to Juniper Springs
9.7 miles. Follow a ribbon of tall grasses and lily-dotted ponds along Farles Prairie before trekking miles through classic sand pine scrub to the Juniper Prairie Wilderness
Juniper Creek Nature Trail
NOTE: As of June 2022, this trail is closed for renovations.
The Juniper Creek Nature Trail officially starts behind the mill. Look down, and you’ll notice tiny spring boils below the “Nature Trail” sign.
These small bubblers throw up perpetual fountains of sand. By keeping the streambed in suspension, they create a tiny pool of quicksand.
Crossing a bridge over a slender drainage into the run, you follow the interpretive trail, a boardwalk through the lush subtropical hammock.
Watch for unusual blonde squirrels, a genetic aberration in the gray squirrel gene pool in these woods.
Needle palms grow lushly on both sides of the footpath. Dense patches of marsh fern and sword fern crowd along the waterway. The air is thick, always humid, always feeding the greenery.
At 0.5 mile, you reach Fern Hammock Run, which flows to your left, towards Juniper Run. Fallen cabbage palms choke the stream bed.
Like giant feather dusters, royal ferns emerge from the tops of rotting pilings for an old bridge across the run.
At the T intersection, turn left. A broad bridge crosses the waterway. On the left you see a giant boil in aquamarine and turquoise.
Fern Hammock is distinctive in Florida for springs that look like puddles of paint that ebb and flow on the bottom of the pool.
Lean over and look beneath the bridge to see sandstorms in miniature, enacted on the bottom of the spring.
It’s nature in motion, forming performance art that changes every minute, mesmerizing by the shapes and patterns that emerge.
Although you’ll spend most of your time looking down, look up, too. Pines and hickories stand tall around the spring.
Wander around to the far side for different perspectives. The water is so clear, you’ll see turtles and fish very easily.
This is a round-trip hike, so retrace your path back over the bridge to the boardwalk to return to Juniper Springs.
After you pass the spot where you can see the canoe launch, you arrive at the stone bridge in front of the old mill.
Walk back along the path to the left to return to the parking area.
Learn more about the Ocala National Forest
Ocala National Forest
Established in 1908 as the first National Forest east of the Mississippi, the Ocala National Forest is a mecca for hikers and campers, and the birthplace of the Florida Trail
Hiking the Juniper Prairie Wilderness
For immersion into the world’s largest sand pine scrub forest, take a journey along the Florida Trail through the Juniper Prairie Wilderness. It’s perennially a getaway for backpackers thanks to its natural beauty.
Happy (Belated) Birthday, Ocala National Forest!
On November 24, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside a large piece of land east of Ocala for future generations by declaring it the Ocala National Forest, one of the first in the eastern United States. We celebrate its centennial.
See our photos of Juniper Springs
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.
Florida Trail, Pat’s Island to Hidden Pond
One of the most scenic segments of the Florida Trail, the hike from Pat’s Island to Hidden Pond immerses you in the Big Scrub en route to an oasis in Florida’s desert.
A ramble through Pat’s Island on the Yearling Trail brings home the reality of forest fires sweeping across a once-lush landscape.
The Yearling Trail
5.3 miles. On Pat’s Island, discover the landscape and the history that inspired Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings to write her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Yearling in 1938.
Silver Glen Springs
With a strong aquamarine hue accented by refracted rainbows as sunlight plays across the ripples on its sandy bottom, Silver Glen Springs is a first-magnitude spring in the Ocala National Forest.