Surrounded by towering palm trees and pines, draped beneath brown Spanish Moss and filled with crystal-clear, aqua-tinted 72-degree spring water, Juniper Springs Recreation Area is just one of a few springs in the Ocala National Forest where you’re allowed to swim and snorkel.
Compared to nearby Alexander Springs and Salt Springs, two more that allow visitors to take a dip during sweltering summer days, visitors may not be going to Juniper Springs just for the swimming since it doesn’t have the deep crevices offered by many of the best springs in Florida.
But Juniper Springs is home to one of the most unique out-of-water feats in all of Central Florida: the old Juniper Springs Millhouse. It’s a functioning water wheel that generated clean energy for the spring and was completed in 1936, way before its time.
The recreation area also features the Juniper Springs Canoe Run, one of the most popular canoe and kayak runs in Central Florida, a picturesque bridge spanning across Fern Hammock Springs (which is teeming with wildlife and located on the property but is off-limits to swimmers) hiking along the nearby scenic Florida Trail, and camping at the 79-site campground within walking distance to everything.
Juniper Springs Swimming and Snorkeling
Juniper Springs isn’t like many other swimming springs in Florida because it lacks the deep crevices you can free dive or scuba dive down into. To be completely honest, the actual swimming and snorkeling pool of Juniper Springs was a pretty big let down.
Yes, it’s still a freshwater spring that flows with crystal-clear 72-degree waters year-round, but much of the spring’s bottom is covered with a sea-grass-type plant that’s uncomfortable to step on. In the deepest parts, Juniper Springs is about 8 feet or so, which pales in comparison to nearby Alexander Springs’ crevices that are about 30 feet deep with rocky structures mixed with sandy floors.
With that being said, there’s absolutely no reason to scuba dive at Juniper Springs. You’d just be wasting air. Snorkeling is OK just because the water is so clear and you can see the occasional fish. But, other than that, it’s nice to take a dip in refreshing water during the heat of the Central Florida summer.
Juniper Springs Canoe and Kayak Run
The Juniper Springs canoe and kayak run is a 7-mile run that’s classified as technical paddling at times and is experienced paddlers to navigate the narrow Juniper Creek all the way to Highway 19. There are no intermediate take-out points, so there’s absolutely no turning back once you start.
Since it’s narrow and can be fast-moving, it’s strictly a 7-mile, one-way run and you must have someone waiting to pick you up or pay the extra $12 haul-back fee for some kind employees to take you back to Juniper Springs.
Day-use patrons must pay the $6 entrance fee to launch their own kayak and campers’ fees are already included in your stay. So if you’re camping at the campground, you can easily finish this roughly 4-hour trip without having to pay more than the overnight camping fee.
- Canoe Rentals: $42 for a full day (there are no hourly prices)
Exploring Fern Hammock Springs
Fern Hammock Springs is located in the Juniper Springs Recreation Area, just a brisk walk down the wooden Juniper Springs Nature Trail until you arrive at a picturesque, flora-laced backdrop of greenery with a curved wooden bridge spanning across a crystal-clear spring with pockets of deep aqua littered on the bottom.
You can’t swim in Fern Hammock Springs, but it’s a great place to sit and watch the wildlife. I saw a few baby alligators lounging on the banks of the spring and an otter munching on a fish it just caught. The latter was pretty amazing to see firsthand.
Camping at the Juniper Springs Campground
Since Juniper Springs is in the heart of Ocala National Forest (about 1.25 hours from Orlando and Gainesville, 1.75 hours from Jacksonville and 2 hours from Tampa), staying at the Juniper Springs campground is a good way to spend more time in the area without breaking the bank.
Those wanting to indulge in some Juniper Springs camping won’t have too many options since there are no electrical, water or sewer hookups in the campground. Although RV lifers, don’t you worry. The 79 shaded campsites on the premises can accommodate vehicles up to 35 feet.
Each campsite comes with its own picnic table, grill and fire ring. Since it’s in the heart of black bear country, all food must be properly stored each day and night. If they catch you with a cooler laying out at night, they will say something to you.
There are multiple bathrooms and shower houses in the campsite, each is kept pretty clean and are equipped with hot water for the showers. All in all, it’s a great campsite that’s not too busy. You can reserve a campsite here or just show up for one of their first-come, first-served campsites.
It’s also worth noting that pets are allowed at the campground, but they aren’t allowed in the swimming areas. Keep a close eye when taking them out for a walk because there are gators in nearby Fern Hammock Springs.
- Campsite Price: $24.40 per night (totals $32 with taxes and fees)
Hiking in Juniper Springs Recreation Area
Three trails are leading directly from the Juniper Springs Recreation Area, two of which are on the scenic Florida Trail and one that’s an easy loop around Fern Hammock Springs and Juniper Springs that takes you on a raised wooden path in the middle of the Florida fir.
Juniper Springs Nature Trail
- Distance: 1.4-mile loop trail
- Difficulty: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 22 feet
- Amount of Time Needed: 30 to 45 minutes
- Trailhead Coordinates: Nature Trail Entrance
Florida Trail: Juniper Springs to Hidden Pond
- Distance: 10.7-mile out and back
- Difficulty: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 285 feet
- Amount of Time Needed: 3.5 hours
- Trailhead Coordinates: Juniper Springs Road
Florida Trail: Highway 40 to Hopkins Prairie
- Distance: 19.2-mile out and back
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Elevation Gain: 485 feet
- Amount of Time Needed: 6.5 hours
- Trailhead Coordinates: Juniper Springs Road
Juniper Springs Entrance Fee
The Juniper Springs entrance fee is $6 per person, per day. But you can opt to buy an Ocala National Forest Recreation Area Pass for $60, which is good for a year from the date of purchase.
You can also participate in camping at the Juniper Springs Campground to waive the fee. In that case, you’d just pay the camping fee and have basically two free days to explore Juniper Springs.