Silver Springs Family Fun: Discovering Florida’s Beauty

Dukart Family standing in front of the Silver Springs State Park entrance in Florida

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Heading to Ocala, Florida with the family and want to do something both fun and educational? Head over to Silver Springs State Park to experience nature and history while making memories together!

Living in the metro Atlanta area, we’re only about a 6-hour drive to the port of Tampa in Tampa, Florida. In an effort to save some money on flights and include some opportunities for hands-on learning, my family and I decided to drive down to Tampa for our last family cruise. We broke the drive down over 2 days and scheduled in a few educational stops to break up the monotony.

Our first official educational stop? Silver Springs State Park in Ocala, Florida!

Why did we stop by this state park? What did we do? Why should you visit Silver Springs, too?

Let’s get into it!

About Silver Springs State Park

The history of Silver Springs literally goes back thousands of years. Before becoming a tourist attraction in the 1800s, the springs were home to creatures such as mastadon and giant sloth! After serving as a commercial distribution center for Central Florida crops and supplies, the culmination of the Civil War brought travelers to the springs to watch (and take part in!) races in the water. You could say the springs were “the” place to visit when traveling through Florida!

The creation of their well-known glass bottom boat, though, was really the start of what we know Silver Springs to be today! I, for one, am thankful for this novel creation – it’s such a neat way to explore the depths of the springs without getting my clothes all wet.

Taking a photo of plants at Silver Springs
One of the reasons we got the kids their own cell phones was for safety. The other reason? So they could document their travels without having to ask for my phone! Success!

As the glass bottom boat tours grew in popularity, the attractions of the springs also increased! Animal displays including local amphibians & reptiles soon joined the boat tours as tourist attractions and, before long, movies were even being filmed at (and IN) the springs! Creature from the Black Lagoon, multiple Tarzan movies, a James Bond movie were just a few of the films featuring Silver Springs. Cool, right?!

In 2013, Silver Springs became an official state park, preserving the natural beauty of the springs, and surrounding park, for generations to come!

Why Visit Silver Springs State Park?

When I think of Florida, one of the first things that comes to mind is Disney World. Now, I love Disney, but there is so much more to Florida than Disney. Our visit to Butterfly World prior to our cruise on Freedom of the Seas proved to my kids (and I) that there is so much beauty and wonder that we have yet to discover in the sunshine state.

view of the glass bottom boats at Silver Springs State Park in Ocala Florida
The weather was perfect for a visit to Silver Springs!

Why did my husband and I decide to visit Silver Springs State Park with the kids? Why should you visit with your own kids?

  • The price.
    • A visit to Silver Springs State Park is beyond reasonable. Admission is roughly $2 per person and affords visitors opportunities to hike, bike, observe an assortment of wildlife, geocache, and more.
  • The history.
    • I am a sucker for visiting historical spots around the world and feel it’s important to encourage my kids to do the same.
  • The experience.
    • “Florida” also means “alligators” to me and I’ll never turn down a safe way to view alligators in their natural habitat! Plus…glass bottom boat tours?! Count me the heck in!

Planning our Visit to the Springs

With all the traveling we do, it should come as no surprise that I pride myself on my ability to plan educational travel experiences. Just as with any other adventure, there are a few things I did in advance to make sure our visit to Silver Springs went off without a hitch.

Here’s what I did prior to our visit:

  • packed comfortable shoes
    • I knew we’d likely be walking quite a bit, so making sure everyone had comfortable shoes was a necessity. My oldest son and I took this a step further and wore shoes that would still be comfortable even if they got wet. (We both wore Crocs)
  • packed bug spray and sunscreen
    • The Florida sun is not something to mess around with…neither are the bugs!
  • packed bottles of water
    • It’s important to stay hydrated!
  • reserved our glass bottom boat tour time
    • I decided we were going to be on team “go big or go home” for this visit, so I went ahead and reserved our tickets for their extended glass bottom boat tour. Because the extended tour requires guests to arrive a minimum of 30 minutes prior to departure, I was able to keep my family on schedule.
  • planned on getting lunch before our visit
    • In an effort to avoid hangry children, we made a stop at our beloved Wawa before visiting Silver Springs. This Jersey Girl will never say “no” to a hoagie, so it’s possible I wanted to go there anyways!

I did NOT plan on having 2 quarters and 1 penny per child but, luckily, I did! Read on…wink, wink.

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Our Silver Springs State Park Experience

Even though we were visiting the springs in the middle of February, I was super thankful we got to experience a gorgeous day with temps in the mid 70s! It was such a gorgeous day! Not too sunny, not too warm…just right.

The entrance to Silver Springs right off a main road and down a winding, paved road a bit. Since the parking lot was pretty crowded and the lanes only allowed traffic to go in one direction, it took a few minutes to find a spot to park the van in. No big deal, but just be sure to pay attention to the directional arrows! Otherwise, you could end up in a bit of a parking lot snafu, you know?!

silver springs schedule of events and activities
I spotted this Silver Springs schedule of events & activities in the bathroom. Definitely check their online schedule before your visit, though!

After making sure we had everything we needed for our visit (easier said than done sometimes, amiright, parents?), we finally made our way up the paved walkway to the admission entrance. Since I had already reserved our boat tour, I “only” needed to pay the admission fee of $2 per person. The transaction was super easy and, after payment, I was provided with a map of the springs and shown where we were to meet for our tour.

Also worth noting: one of the Silver Springs State Park bathrooms is located right by the admission booth! Take the kids before you enter and right before your boat tour for good measure.

Checking out the Indoor Areas

Before boarding the glass bottom boat, we took time to stroll around the grounds to visit the shops. There were quite a few buildings under construction, but we did manage to walk through a few indoor areas to learn about the history of Silver Springs (we even got to see the original Creature from the Black Lagoon costume!) and to peek at some of the wildlife exhibits.

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While in one of the rooms, we got to see 2 enclosures housing snakes. One enclosure had a king snake while the other had a coral snake. We happened to be in the right place at the right time because we actually got to learn a bit about the snakes from one of the rangers! My youngest was even brave enough to touch the king snake!

After walking through the educational exhibits, we went inside the gift shop. You guys…I know tourist attractions aren’t known for having reasonably priced souvenirs, but the pricing of items inside the gift shop were next level. We’re talking $25+ Christmas ornaments and $45 t-shirts. Um. no. My oldest and I enjoy collecting t-shirts from our travels, but we couldn’t justify purchasing one while at the springs because they, and everything else, were just way too expensive. We did end up getting an overpriced magnet and shot glass for our collections, but that was it.

A view of the water from the Silver Springs glass bottom boat
See the fish at the top left corner? The fish and turtles move quickly in the water so, if you see something cool, hurry and take a photo while you can!

If you want to get a fun, very easy on the wallet, souvenir at Silver Springs, though, be sure to walk through the educational exhibits. In one of the rooms sat a souvenir “experience” that reminded me of being a kid in the 90s! A penny press machine! With a few designs to choose from, my kids happily made their own pressed pennies from quarters and pennies I scrounged from my wallet.

Glass Bottom Boat Tour!

You guys. I don’t even know that words can even fully explain the experience of the extended glass bottom boat tour. It was chock full of animal sightings, education, and awe.

Throughout the entire tour, our boat captain narrated the history of the springs, shared his experiences, and pointed out interesting animals and plants along the way. Not only did we spend time viewing the multiple underwater springs from the glass bottom, but we also got to see a number of fish, turtles, aquatic plants and…the Greek statues used in a 1960s television series!

As we floated through the water, our captain reminded us that the views above the water were just as exciting as underneath. We got to see plenty of large alligators enjoying a lazy day in the sun (along with a baby alligator or two!), plenty of gorgeous birds, and turtles sunning themselves on logs. Every now and then, dragonflies would fly by the boat, too!

alligator at silver springs state park ocala florida
Just one of the many (lazy) alligators we saw on the glass bottom boat tour!

You know what else we saw? Many people paddling through the waters in canoes, kayaks, and on paddleboards. I don’t know about you, but I would likely “pass” on an offer of partaking in a water sport near alligators. No thank you!

While on the glass bottom boat tour, we didn’t see any of the Silver Springs monkeys or manatees, but there’s always the possibility that other tours saw them. It’s kind of a “right place, right time” type of deal, you know?

While the extended boat tour was twice the price of the “standard” tour, I will say that, in my eyes, it was definitely worth it! We were able to sail further into the springs resulting in the opportunity to learn and see more. If you’re able to swing the increased pricing of the extended boat tour, definitely experience it at least once!

Rhesus Monkey
Keep an eye out for Rhesus Monkeys while sailing through Silver Springs!

Other Silver Springs State Park Experiences

Even though we got to check out the indoor educational exhibits and go on the glass bottom boat tour, we barely scratched the surface of the adventures to be had at this state park. This Silver Springs family visit short on time so, in the future, I would love to take advantage of the other experiences like:

  • Pioneer Village
    • my boys are all about reenactment experiences, so I know they’d enjoy visiting this replica of a 19th century pioneer settlement
  • Camping!
    • we don’t have an RV or anything, but Silver Springs offers cabins complete with running water & central air…that’s my kind of “roughing it!”
  • Silver River Museum
    • we’re always game for a visit to a local museum!
view of the fauna and water of Silver Springs
The blue-green water of Silver Springs is absolutely gorgeous!

Enjoy your Visit!

We had such a great time experiencing this magical spot in Florida. Since I’m *hoping* we’ll “have” to drive down to Tampa for future cruises and adventures, I have a feeling this first family visit to Silver Springs State Park won’t be our last. The glass bottom boat tour was such a unique educational experience, I know we’ll be talking about the experience for years to come! I still can’t believe we saw so many alligators!

I’d love to hear about your plans for educational travel, whether it be to Florida or across the ocean to another country! If you’re up for sharing your experience, or have questions, email me. Better yet…join my Facebook group, That Homeschool Family Hangout, to share adventures in homeschooling and more.

Until next time, stay safe and enjoy quality time with your family,

- Elizabeth (and the kids. and the husband. even the dog.)
That Homeschool Family in Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World.

Elizabeth Dukart is a proud Georgia-based born and raised Jersey Girl, wife, and mom of 2 human boys & 1 canine boy.

Created in 2021, Elizabeth owns and publishes That Homeschool Family: a free resource for homeschooling parents and beyond! A seasoned blogger, Elizabeth previously published a popular location-specific family resource blog, but decided to “Pivot!” her blogging focus after she started homeschooling her two boys in 2020. In addition to this blog, you can follow Elizabeth’s homeschooling and family adventures on Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest. She can also be found in her Facebook Group: That Homeschool Family Hangout.

When she’s not busy taking over the world or homeschooling, Elizabeth can be found listening to music (especially The Beatles & Harry Styles!), being silly with her boys, watching movies with family, shopping, or traveling!

Have a question or want to work with Elizabeth? Send her an email!

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