Tucked between residential and business areas in Silver Springs across from Silver River State Park, Silver Springs Conservation Area is a slice of sandhills and scrub, and a crucial upland recharge area for the nearby first-magnitude spring. As rain falls, it percolates into the aquifer to flow through limestone and emerge from the spring vents in the Silver River.
Two stacked loop trails (with a cross-trail on the upper loop) provide options for hiking, using a combination of new trails and old forest roads. There are benches at most intersections, and a picnic bench at a beauty spot under ancient live oaks. Take an early morning walk, hear the birdsong, and enjoy the colors of the sandhills.
Location: Silver Springs
Length: 2.3 miles
Lat-Long: 29.194696, -82.059559
Fees / Permits: none
Good for: birding, dogs, wildlife, wildflowers
Difficulty: 2 of 5
Bug factor: 2 of 5
Open dawn to dusk. Managed by Marion County Parks & Recreation
From the intersection of SR 40 and SR 35 (Baseline Road), head south on Baseline Road for 1.6 miles. Turn right at the light at NE 7th Street / Sharpes Ferry Road and drive 0.4 mile. Look for the park entrance on the right. Drive around the loop to the trailhead.
Starting at the trailhead kiosk, pick up a map before you head down the narrow trail. The footpath is deeply shaded and well-defined; despite there being no blazes along the trail system, you’re not likely to lose your way.
At the first trail junction–the Eagle Pass–keep right. The trail leads through laurel oak forest with patches of deer moss and reindeer lichen growing atop fallen pine needles. Chicksaw plums bear small purple fruits in summer, and paw-paw grows in clearings.
After 0.25 mile is the upper end of the Eagle Pass. This spot can be a little confusing; just follow the signage, keeping to the right, but not the sharp right, to start around the Deer Track counterclockwise. A footprint marker confirms your route soon after.
Look for unusually shaped prickly pear in the sand, and watch for spiderwebs in the early mornings. Beyond a sharp right in the trail, make a sharp left. Here you’ll find a beauty spot under massive live oaks, where a picnic table invites you to sit awhile.
Continuing out from under the canopy of oaks, the trail follows a two-track forest road, the habitats transitioning from sandhills with tall longleaf pines and to scrub. You may hear Baseline Road traffic as the trail turns sharply left at a sign.
The trail continues along a broad forest road beneath turkey oaks and longleaf pines. Look for butterflies among the wildflowers. The trail makes another sharp turn, and you may see some traffic here. You’re now in a more mature forest with tall longleaf pines and an open understory.
At 1 mile is a bench and a sign for the Shortcut Trail. This is your second option to make a shorter-than-full loop. Stay straight to continue the Deer Track. Turkey oaks provide shade for the trail, which comes to a sharp left turn at a “Service Road” sign. Here, it’s off the beaten path and down a narrow footpath in deep shade as you pass some very large puffs of deer moss.
The trail passes a service road coming in from the right and jogs to the left. The habitat changes abruptly to a mature hardwood hammock with cabbage palms and terrain that simply drops off—indicators of a large sinkhole, just past a bench on the right. The bottom of the sinkhole is obscured with vegetation. Another, smaller, depression is on the left.
After making a sharp left away from a service road, the trail narrows again. The other end of the Shortcut Trail appears at the next intersection – a four-way junction – with a bench at 1.7 miles. Continue straight.
As you walk through a mix of sand pines and longleaf pines, notice the young longleaf in their candle stage: just two feet tall and furry like a stubby bottlebrush.
The trail becomes a forest road again before making another left to slip down a narrow passage where lichens grow thickly on the young oaks and plum trees. At the 2 mile mark, you’ve completed the Deer Track Loop.
Turn right at the “Trail HD” sign and bench, and keep right to explore the other half of Eagle Pass—more turkey oaks and laurel oaks, second or third growth forest. A sharp left away from a service road leads you back towards the end of this loop.
Turn right to exit. The trail pops back out of the shade – and lovely shade it’s been, on a hot summer’s morning – after 2.3 miles.