Florida has hundreds of spring-fed streams, but perhaps the most pristine is Juniper Spring and Juniper Run in the Ocala National Forest.
When the Orlando Sentinel conducted an extensive investigation into the sad condition of Florida springs in 2012, one spring stood out as one of the healthiest in the state – Juniper.
“It may not be what it was 200 years ago, but it’s probably as close as you get,” said springs scientist Rob Mattson of the St. Johns River Water Management District.
Even better, Juniper Spring Run is exceptionally beautiful and very easy to kayak or canoe.
We’re happy to offer this guest post from Richard Barrett, a 26-year-old Florida native who is a graduate research assistant at the University of Central Florida College of Medicine and is finishing a PhD in Biomedical Sciences. (You’ll learn more about Rick at the end.)
When I read Rick’s comments about Juniper Springs on Facebook, I was struck by what a good outing this would make on a summer day.
“Even on a hot day,” he wrote, “most of the run is very well shaded and the cool spring water keeps it noticeably cooler than the surrounding area.”
Here’s his practical advice on kayaking or canoeing Juniper Springs Run:
Logistics: The logistics are very easy. You can rent a canoe or bring your own and launch with no extra fee than admission to the park. (Admission to the national forest is $5 per person.)
Shuttles are available at the end of the 7-mile run and cost $10 per person and $10 per canoe to shuttle back to headwaters. So with your own canoe and two people, your total would be $30 to get back. If you rent a canoe, the fee is $35 including the shuttle.
Shuttle times vary slightly but tend to pick up every hour on the 30 minute mark. (i.e. 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 3:30 p.m., etc) Carts are also available free of charge to help you walk your canoe/kayak down to the water where they will check your bags and coolers before launch.
Note: Since the run is 7 miles long, the cutoff for daily launches is by 11:30 a.m. The route generally takes four to five hours to complete, including the frequent need to “limbo” under low branches. Canoe rental info: 352-625-2808.
What to/not to bring: So I underestimated the advice I got on “no disposable items allowed.” They check your bags and coolers and even had me unwrap my granola bars and put them in a towel instead!
Drinks had to be in non-disposable bottles and I had to throw out the extra plastic bottle I brought. It’s certainly worth these measures though. The run had three pieces of trash I could see along the entire seven miles! Impressively pristine! I’d recommending packing food in Tupperware and putting all drinks in a Nalgene or other sports bottle.
Scenery: The topography of this run changes quite a bit from tight and shallow at the beginning and opening up into wider grassland type terrain. There is even a rapids section where the water flows quite aggressively over a limestone portion of the river. I was not expecting that in Florida and it was an absolute blast!
There are many unique features on the run including scattered sand boils in the earlier shallow sections, small unnamed springs feeding the run along the way, and spring seeps, where spring water seeps out from the ground forming small creeks that flow into the run.
Flora and fauna: You’re almost guaranteed to see gators and turtles along this trip and seeing as the run is rather tight most of the way down, you will likely be getting quite close to these reptiles as well! (within 10 to 20 feet perhaps)
Most of the animal life on the run seems quite used to the human presence though and either completely ignores you or slowly swims away. The gators I saw were about 4 feet long but there were signs of bigger gators in certain areas.
If you want to avoid some of this animal life, I would suggest launching in the afternoon on a weekend. As weekends see more traffic on the run, the bigger gators will probably have already moved farther back and out of the run by that time.
If you want to see as much animal life as possible, then weekdays and early mornings are your best bet.
As for plant life, you’ll see a wide variety of what Florida has to offer from palms, oaks, and towering cypress trees to grassland areas and tight shrubbery areas filled with wild blackberries.
Richard Barrett: I am a 26 year old Florida native. I was born and raised in north Orlando and spent most of my outdoor time playing in the Ocala National Forest and surfing around New Smyrna area. I spent six years at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, where I was a part of the collegiate sailing team and an active research diver for the university. I also managed to get a B.A. in biology and a M.Sc. in Biology Neuroscience in between surfing, spearfishing, and mountain biking time. I currently work as a Graduate Research Assistant at the UCF College of Medicine and am finishing up a PhD in Biomedical Sciences. Outdoor adventures are the perfect way to recharge after endless hours in the lab.
More resources for your visit to Juniper Springs:
Fees: $5 per person admission to recreation area. Canoe rental is $35 including shuttle. In your own canoe or kayak, shuttle is $10 per person plus $10 per canoe/kayak.
See the Florida Rambler guide “Five things to do in Ocala National Forest“ for details on camping, horseback riding, mountain biking and more in Ocala National Forest.