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Western Gateway – SR 40 from Silver Springs and Ocala

Western Gateway

If you’re entering the byway from the west through the Gateway Cities of Silver Springs and Ocala in Marion County, you’ll be heading east on SR 40. This entry way is one of the quickest access routes to the heart of some of the byway’s highlights.


Highlights

    • Silver Springs Nature Park and Wild Waters
    • Silver River State Park and Museum
    • Juniper Springs Recreation Area
    • Mill Dam Recreation Area

Silver Springs Nature Park and Wild Waters (SR 40)

     

This is one of Florida’s oldest tourist attractions and still holds its charm. At the western start of the Byway is the town of Silver Springs and Silver Springs Nature Park. This is a great place to see gators behind the safety of rails and fences, as well as from a boat. Ross Allen’s Reptile Island exhibit is still here with gators, snakes, turtles and other intriguing specimens. Here you can entertain the kids for hours with the birds and wildlife exhibits. There are several bears here (but no Florida Black Bears). Silver Springs is the main spring here that feeds the Silver River, which connects with the Ocklawaha River. Ride the glass bottom boats, take a jungle cruise and see the Rhesus Monkeys along the Silver River. Also here is the water park Wild Waters, offering a day of entertainment of kids of all ages.

Links: Silver Springs Nature Park

       
         

Silver River State Park and Museum (SR 35)

     

Just south of the byway, on SR 35 is the Silver River State Park and Museum. The park is the site of many local and county festivals. It has campsites, hiking trails, canoe rentals, cabins for rent and a museum. There is an authentic Cracker Village with a collection of Cracker buildings that portray life in the late 1800s. The Silver River is accessible from here down a hiking trail.

Links: Silver River State Park, Silver River Museum

       
         

Ocklawaha Visitor Center

     

The busiest of the byway’s visitor centers, this one is on the north side of SR 40 near the Ocklawaha River Bridge. The Visitor Center has maps, brochures, some exhibits and a large HD video screen that plays the 25-minute video about the Byway, Discover Wild Florida (produced in 2012).

Links: Ocklawaha Visitor Center

       
         

Juniper Springs Recreation Area

     

This is one of the most popular and picturesque springs. The construction and enhancements to this spring, such as the iconic Mill House and cement walkway around the springs, were performed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. The Mill House itself is one of the most unique projects the CCC ever did, bringing electricity to this remote area.
The interpretive trail along an extensive boardwalk is informative and takes you deep into the Juniper Creek ecosystem, leading you back to an intimate view of Fern Hammock Springs, which is delicate and lovely. The park offers swimming, hiking, camping, concessions, and canoe rentals. The water around the Mill House is jewel like and enchanting – a very popular swimming spot, it seems like a natural swimming pool.

Links: Juniper Springs Recreation Area

       
         

Juniper Creek Run

     

If you are interested in a canoe adventure, the 4 hour Juniper Creek Run is well worth a half-day. Canoes can be rented at the concession stand and the Park Service has scheduled pick-ups to transport you and the canoe back to the park. The run is not for the beginner alone – what makes it challenging is that there are many branches from above (to duck) and below (easy to get stuck on a log if you head in the wrong direction). It is a bit of an obstacle course – a fun and beautiful one. Most of the 7 miles is along the narrow, canopied Juniper Creek. You can spot turtles, fish, gators, otters and birds. The water is crystal clear and seldom is it over 5 feet deep.

Links: Juniper Run

       
         

Mill Dam Recreation Area

     

If you are looking for a relaxing spot on a lake with swimming and picnic tables, this is a prime spot. Located just west of Juniper Springs Recreation Area, Mill Dam is on the north side of SR 40. There is a wide sandy beach and a calm, lovely lake for swimming. In addition there is a boat ramp and parking. Concessions are limited.

Links: Mill Dam Recreation Area