Juniper Creek - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip
Juniper Springs is located in the Southeastern part of the Ocala National Forest along SR 40 about 30 miles east of I75 or 39 miles west of I95. The park offers a full range of outdoor activities, including swimming at the headwaters of the spring, picnicking, camping, hiking and canoe rentals. This designated nature wilderness area is characterized by semi-tropical scenery found in few other national forests in the continental United States. It includes lowland hammock species such as cypress, red maple, black gum, poison sumac, the rare needle palm, bays, rich ferns, the crooked pond pine and loblolly pines. Deer, bears, otters, alligators, turtles, fish, many birds (including bald eagles) and numerous other critters live here and you'll likely see most of them. The combined daily water flow from the Juniper Spring and nearby Fern Hammock Springs is about 15 million gallons per day, which gives the 7-mile run along Juniper Creek a hefty flow. The exceptionally low dissolved solids concentration for a Florida Spring leaves the creek waters sparkling clear over white sands for the first few miles (if there hasn't been a heavy rain recently).
At first glance, the run looks too narrow to navigate, but it widens in size (rarely more than about 25 feet) as the 7-mile run meanders past ancient cypress trees and lush semi-tropical forests. There are many interesting offshoots and alternate routes. Dead ends can be avoided by following only those routes with apparent flows. The narrow creek is filled with obstacles, and it takes some effort to avoid submerged snags and squeeze under overhanging branches and fallen trees. Due to recent tree falls the run may be blocked and portage over or around the obstacle may be difficult as the run is thickly lined with trees and vegetation. Whether you find these challenges fun or frustrating will depend upon your personal outlook and kayaking skills. I love it.
The 7-mile run takes a leisurely five hours with a lunch break. There are numerous opportunities for swimming or lulling in secluded byways. There is a landing at the halfway point (not easy to get out) that is popular as a lunch stop. All throwaway items must be carried out. Littering is prohibited on the run and violators will be fined.
A shuttle runs between the takeout at the bridge on U.S. Highway 19 and the park. The last shuttle leaves each day at 4:30 p.m. The shuttle is free if you rent a canoe. A "re-haul" ticket can be purchased at the springhead concession building for $5 per person to take those who used their own kayaks back to the park to get their cars. There are restrooms at the takeout, which is also a popular family swimming and play area.
The entrance fee for the park is $4 per person (as of June 2003). There is one parking area for the swimming area at the springhead and another adjacent to a 1/8-mile walkway where kayaks can be unloaded for the 1/8-mile walk on an asphalt walkway to the put-in. There is parking available for vehicles with trailers.
Use a current Florida map. If you’re traveling to Juniper Springs on I95 or I75 exit on SR40 and head west or east, respectively. From Orlando the fastest route is probably I4, exit at Deltona and go north to Deland, follow SR17 north to SR40 and turn west. The entrance to the park is on the north side of SR40, but the park sign (rather small) is on the south side. So, watch carefully.
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