Back in the 1980s, when I first heard that land had been acquired near Silver Springs for a state park, I was thrilled. Having grown up nearby, it bothered me that the Silver Springs attraction no longer let you roam the gardens for free, and I knew there would now be a way to walk along the river on foot.
Silver River State Park is one of the few state parks where you’ll run into hikers on every trail at any time of day. The park features a campground and beautiful cabins, a 5-mile mountain-bike trail, canoe rentals, and even a pioneer Cracker village to explore. Still, hiking is the primary activity at this popular park.
The Sandhill Nature Trail is a 1.7-mile loop through a longleaf and wiregrass sandhill habitat. It’s the park’s shortest hike and concentrates on the highest ground, nearest the park entrance—a sandhill ecosystem with longleaf pine and wiregrass.
Location: Silver Springs
Length: 1.7 miles
Lat-Long: 29.201433, -82.049567
Type: Loop with connector to Sinkhole Trail
Fees / Permits: state park entrance fee
Bug factor: low to moderate
Restroom: Located farther down the park road (near the picnic area) and at the environmental center
After you complete the hike, drive along the park road up to the main parking area, flanked by the Cracker village, the Silver River Museum and environmental education center, and two arched trailheads—Sinkhole Trail and River Trails. Open only on weekends, the museum (with an additional nominal charge) presents in-depth information on geology, paleontology, and the natural and human history of this region.
From I-75 exit 352 (Ocala), follow SR 40 for 8.4 miles through Ocala to Silver Springs. Turn south on SR 35, driving another 1.1 miles to the entrance to Silver Springs State Park on the left. The trailhead is immediately on the left after you pass through the ranger station.
The trail starts under a large archway just beyond the entrance station. It leads into an upland area of turkey oaks and young longleaf pines. Beyond the first jeep road crossing, the forest opens up, showing off an understory of wiregrass and young longleaf. You’ll see plenty of woodpeckers, too. Keep alert for trail signs indicating the route, as many unmarked side trails intersect the loop.
At 0.6 mile is the junction with the Sinkhole Trail. Turn left to stay on the Sandhill Trail. Emerging into an open area, the trail makes a left, then turns off to the right to head downhill under the shade of live oaks, skirting clumps of saw palmetto.
At 1 mile, the trail turns left onto a jeep trail, then onto a jeep trail to the right. You can hear nearby traffic on Baseline Road. Turning left twice, the footpath reconnects with the firebreak you first encountered at the start of the hike, completing the loop.