When botanist William Bartram paddled up to Salt Springs from the St. Johns River in 1773, he marveled at Salt Springs. We can only imagine what a wild place it may have been then, surrounded by ancient cypresses and oaks.
After returning from his journey along the St. Johns River, Bartram shared the first description of this place in his Travels, his description inspiring the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge as he wrote of the sacred river Alph in Kubla Khan.
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Trailhead: 29.354897, -81.734478
Address: 13851 SR 19, Salt Springs
Fees: $10 per person day use fee.
Restroom: At the concession area. Changing rooms provided.
Land manager: National Forests in Florida
Open daily 8-8. Operated as a concession by American Land & Leisure.
Leashed dogs and bicycles are permitted in the campground, but not in the day use area. Campers may take their dogs on the Bear Swamp Trail, which starts near the campground.
We strongly suggest you don’t leave anything lying around on a picnic table or chair in the day use area as raccoons have been known to make off with towels, clothing, and food.
Fishing is permitted downstream from the swimming area. A valid FWC freshwater fishing license is required.
The campground here is very busy, particularly in winter, because it can handle larger RVs. A 14-day stay maximim is enforced.
As with other springs in the Ocala National Forest, we’ve found it best to visit early on a weekday, particularly if you want to swim or snorkel, or make your visit part of a camping trip.
From SR 20 in Palatka, follow SR 19 south for 21.8 miles to Salt Springs. Make a left into the recreation area just after the intersection with CR 316. From Ocala, follow SR 40 east through Silver Springs. After crossing the Ocklawaha River bridge, make a left at Nuby’s Corner to follow CR 314 for 18 miles to Salt Springs. Turn left onto SR 19 and the recreation area will be on the right within a half mile, just past the grocery store.
When the recreation area has reached capacity, additional visitors will be turned away unless they hold camping reservations for that evening.
About the Spring
Walking down to the spring, you first pass the restrooms and a concession area. It’s a bowl in the earth, so no matter the approach, the landscape slopes down to it.
Live oaks form a tight canopy above. Picnic pavilions, benches, and grills provide places for families to plan their gatherings between dips in the cool, clear water.
The spring basin does not look like it did when we first saw it as kids. It is now ringed with concrete walls to prevent further erosion of the steep banks into the spring.
Because of this walling, which happened in the mid-2000s, there are multiple walled terraces surrounding the spring and only a couple of access points along its concrete walkways.
Steps lead into the spring, but the water isn’t particularly shallow. The spring is deep, especially around the rocks visible where the bulk of the water bubbles to the surface.
Look down into the spring basin. We were amazed to see blue crabs in it. Salt Springs is considered salty because it contains natural magnesium and potassium salts.
From Bartram’s writings, it is thought this spring once bubbled above its basin, as other Florida springs once did.
Water withdrawals through wells affecting the Floridan aquifer have erased the bubbling nature of most springs. But this spring may draw on much deeper sources given its chemical composition.
Starting from the edge of the campground, the Bear Swamp Trail is an easy 1.4 mile loop hike showing off the wild heart of the swamp.
Along it are lyonia, pine, and cypress trees of significant size and age. A boardwalk traverses the wettest parts of the swamp.
For a longer hike, you can tackle a piece of our statewide Florida National Scenic Trail. Campers can walk to the blue-blazed trail that starts from the road to the marina. Or drive out and park at the free trailhead parking.
Follow the blue blazes from that trailhead out along SR 19 and across it south of the CR 314 junction. This 2.9-mile connector trail is a scenic out-and-back hike in itself. Leashed dogs are welcome.
It reaches a junction with the Florida Trail leading south to Hopkins Prairie and north to Kerr Island and the 88 Store.
Paddling Salt Springs Run is possible from both this recreation area and the marina accessed by a separate road in Salt Springs. Rentals are available at the marina, where there is also a $10 fee for parking.
Salt Springs Run is quite broad with marshy edges, and meanders for a little more than four miles to the St. Johns River.
It is very popular with boaters, with many often congregating just outside the swimming area ropes by the spring.
Boaters can put in at the same launches – one at the recreation area, the other at the marina – as paddlers do. The unimproved launch inside Salt Springs Recreation Area is down a road that starts near the tent campground.
The campground lies north of the entrance station of Salt Springs Recreation Area, so turn left if you’re headed there.
There are 54 tent campsites with no hookups, located close to the Bear Swamp Trail and the back road down to the launch. These cost $23 per night.
Sites with electric and water are more optimized for trailers and RVs. There are 106 of these sites around a long loop. These run $34 per night and include use of the dump station.
Bears frequent this campground. Raccoons are known to steal food and belongings. A hook is provided at each campsite for hanging items out of reach but won’t be much help against bears.
Food should never be left unattended and anything with a scent should be stored in your vehicle.
Salt Springs is one of four major springs in the Ocala National Forest. Learn more about what you can see and do in the Ocala National Forest.
See our photos of Salt Springs
More worth exploring while you’re in this area.