Kayaking Florida: Silver Springs

Since my kayak obsession began, I’ve been a hermit paddler. I tend to go out alone as much out of necessity as of desire. Not terribly smart, really. But I just haven’t found anyone yet who shares my passion for kayaks.

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That changed when I paddled Silver Springs with several folks I met via Paddling.net. Phyliss saw my post on the site and invited me along for their paddle, and it turned out to be the best of the three days I spent on the water in Florida. And given how incredible Gum Slough and Juniper Springs were, that’s saying something.

Silver Springs was teeming with wildlife during our paddle, and Phyliss was great at spotting it and identifying it as we went. We had a great encounter with a band of monkeys who wanted to get too close for comfort. Apparently, they like to get in the trees overhead and pee on paddlers, but thanks to Phyliss’ warning, we avoided that unfortunate fate. We watched for a while as a dominant male and several other monkeys come in close hoping for food. We didn’t oblige, but it gave us a great chance to get a close look at them, including a few youngsters.

We also saw a lot of gators, ranging from a few feet to 8 or 10 feet. They were content to let us pass and we kept a safe distance. The avian life at Silver Springs is amazing. We saw blue heron, white heron, ibis, cormorants and anhinga in the trees drying their wings. They reminded me of the scarecrows marking the Forbidden Zone in the Planet of the Apes. Black wings spread, dark and foreboding.

We also saw that most-common of all Florida wildlife, the wily and overpopulating tourist. They were sardined into glass bottom boats to admire the pristine views of the underwater flora and fauna that inhabit the springs. This was my third day of paddling spring-fed waters that are as clear and direct as a Hemmingway sentence. I never grew tired of it, but I couldn’t imagine the experience in the glass bottom boat was anything like seeing it from a kayak.

Our paddling partners included Dan and Carol, both of whom were a lot of fun and knew how to handle their boats. I definitely was the rookie of the bunch. Group paddling is a different dynamic for me. It was interesting to watch how we sometimes clustered, sometimes broke into small groups and occasionally wandered off to stalk the shoreline for interesting finds. It definitely made me eager to seek out other opportunities to paddle in groups. I’m sort of a loner when it comes to nature, and I love hiking or paddling at my own pace, in my own way. But the social aspect of being in a group and sharing knowledge has major benefits.

  • Fees: It cost $5 to launch at Ray Wayside Park, which is a nice facility with a perfect place to put in a kayak. Along the way, we stopped for a break at a state park canoe launch. That was free and afforded us a chance to talk to other people who were there to enjoy a beautiful Sunday afternoon on the water.
  • monkey4.jpgMonkey business: One of the things I’d hoped to catch a glimpse of was the monkeys who inabit Silver Springs. Legend has it they were escapees from Tarzan movies that were filmed here, but Phyliss told me the real story: An enterprising tourist trap operator had brought them in to create “Monkey Island” in the ’30s. For his residents he chose the rhesus monkey, which is the only one that likes to swim. It wasn’t long before they struck out from Monkey Island to colonize the surrounding swamp, cypress groves and live oak. A few of the male monkeys approached us brazenly, hoping for a free meal, but when they didn’t get that, they just sat around a few yards away and watched us as intently as we watched them. There were several youngsters in the group who frolicked nearby. We had to keep our distance for fear they’d leap for the kayaks or gain the branches above us, where they’ve been known to urinate on paddlers below.
  • Trip details: We put in at Ray Wayside Park and paddled up to the springs at a leisurely pace. The trip upstream wasn’t very strenuous but the current made it tricky in a few places. The entire trip was about 10 miles roundtrip, and it took us about five hours to complete, including a few breaks and lots of stops to gawk at wildlife or chat. We got an early start, between 8:30 and 9 a.m., which gave us a big advantage in wildlife viewing. As we returned that afternoon, a group of rowdy tourists were heading out, determined to “see the monkeys.” At first, I was hoping the monkeys were safe and hidden. But then my evil side was thinking it might be good if these tourists got to see their simian friends, and said simians had full bladders …
  • Phyliss told me two sobering tales: Apparently, a gator lunged for a kayak in the Central Florida area, taking a bite out of it and leaving several holes. That definitely gave me pause, but all the gators we encountered were content to bask in the sun and watch us drift past. They’re apparently at their most aggressive in the spring, when they’re in a mating mood. The second story was about someone who was lost in Gum Slough, where I kayaked on Friday, and had to be airlifted out. My caution while paddling there apparently was well-founded.
  • Gear heads: Phyliss and Dan both are multiple kayak owners, and I quickly had gadget envy as we talked about the various paddling paraphernalia everyone had indulged in. It definitely is a sport that fosters obsession.
  • Photos: Here’s a link to the Silver Springs photos and video that I shot.
  • Resources: I found more useful resources online here than I did when researching Gum Slough or Juniper Springs. jackl’s post on Paddling.net was very useful. Green Wave Forum has lots of useful info. This post on Central Florida Kayak Trips was helpful. And finally, Tales from the Delk Side has a nice post about paddling Silver River.

One reply on “Kayaking Florida: Silver Springs”

  1. Sounds amazing, Bob. We bought a big, stable kayak when Emerson was born (around the time I met you, actually) and have had him out on it ever since. Stop by northern California sometime and we’ll go for a paddle. There’s a great hidden lake on the back of Lassen Volcanic National Park that’s full of giant mounds of broken black cinder. No monkeys, sadly.

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