Hiking the Florida National Scenic Trail

The Florida National Scenic Trail is a national treasure of 1,300 miles of federally designated recreation trail that meanders across Florida right near the St. Johns River. This beautiful scenic trail has welcomed visitors for over 50 years. To celebrate, we have the tips you need to enjoy the peaceful and scenic Florida National Scenic Trail while hiking in Florida.

hiking the Florida National Scenic Trail
The Florida National Scenic Trail is approximately 1,300 miles long and has officially been a beautiful part of the state for over 50 years.

Plot the Distance While Hiking in Florida

In total, the Florida National Scenic Trail is approximately 1,300 miles long, with most hikers starting in the southern tip of the state and working their way north to Pensacola. That entire hike requires two to three months of hiking.

We suggest tackling the central portion of the trail near Astor, FL, and the St. Johns River, where you can search for birds, Florida black bears and enjoy the serenity of the river and other wildlife in the Ocala National Forest.

Here is a map of the Florida National Scenic Trail that allows you to plot and print the portion of the trail you want to hike.

The Florida National Scenic Trail is Different

Is this your first time hiking in Florida? Hiking in the Sunshine State is different than anywhere else. There may not be a lot of elevation, but there are other obstacles hikers must overcome. Follow these Florida hiking tips:

  • It’s hot in the summer so plan your hiking trips in the early morning hours before noon.
  • Carry enough water to stay hydrated.
  • Carry a GPS or compass to stay on track.
  • Take a cell phone.
  • Wear light and breathable clothing.
hiking the Florida National Scenic Trail
Hiking in the Sunshine State is different than anywhere else. Follow our hiking tips.

Backpack Checklist

What does a hiker need for a hiking trip on the Florida National Scenic Trail? Here’s your Florida backpack packing checklist:

  • Rain poncho
  • Hat
  • Bandanas
  • Sunglasses
  • Bug spray
  • A first aid kit

Are you seeking to camp overnight? Use this list of designated campsites and trailhead locations.

Wear Boots

We know it’s Florida and you feel like you should wear sandals everywhere. But stick to sandals on the beach and hiking boots on the trails. Florida is damp and it’s easy to get your feet wet. A good pair of hiking boots will keep your feet dry. Take extra pairs of socks, just in case.

Visit the Ocala National Forest

The Ocala National Forest is a must-stop when hiking the central portion of the Florida National Scenic Trail. It’s 607 square miles of preserved, nationally-protected forest full of 600 lakes, natural springs and rivers. There are also parks to enjoy freshwater clear springs, campgrounds and canoeing opportunities.

Read our blog on watching wildlife in the Ocala National Forest for great wildlife viewing opportunities.

hiking the trail
Enjoy the scenery and the St. Johns River on your next Florida hike.

Be Cautious Around Wildlife

Florida black bears, snakes and alligators are common sights along the Florida National Scenic Trail while hiking in Florida. Enjoy the wildlife on your hike, but stay away from these creatures when hiking in Florida. Check out this guide to identify Florida poisonous snakes.

Enjoy the St. Johns River

The St. Johns River alone is a fantastic reason to visit the Florida National Scenic Trail near Astor. It’s a great place to rent a boat and enjoy fishing and boating at Castaways on the River. We also offer cottages and motel rooms near a marina on the St. Johns River. Call Castaways on the River at (352) 759-3442 to plan your summer hiking and river trip today!

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6 Tips to Stay Safe Around Wild Alligators

There isn’t a more beautiful place to enjoy the natural beauty and wildlife of north central Florida than on the St. Johns River. When you’re boating, fishing or hiking trails near the river, you’re likely to run into longtime residents of the river – alligators. If you do, we offer these tips to stay safe around alligators while you’re enjoying the St. Johns River.

Don’t Feed the Alligators

This is the most important alligator rule. Alligators are naturally afraid of humans. Feeding them with food other than their natural prey only makes them bolder and makes them want to seek out people to find more food. So keep the people food to yourself. You also don’t want to feed ducks, turtles or other natural wildlife along the St. Johns River.

Be Cautious During Mating Season

Alligators can be a bit testy and do peculiar things during mating season, which happens in the spring and the summer months. Alligators only leave their marked territories this time of year to look for females, so you may see larger alligators more frequently and in places you don’t normally see them. Just wave to them, give them their space and leave them alone.

Never disturb alligator nests or baby alligators because their mom is always nearby ready to protect her babies.

Keep Your Dogs on a Leash

Everyone likes to take their dogs boating and fishing on the St. Johns River. Just be sure to keep them on a leash when you disembark the boat for a restroom break. You don’t want them running off alone, especially during alligator mating season.

Keep your Distance

Alligators may look lazy and slow, but when they want to move, they can move fast! You should stay at least 60 feet away from alligators at all times. If an alligator hisses or lunges at you, you’re way too close. Also, never disturb alligator nests or baby alligators because their mom is always nearby ready to protect her babies.

alligator on the river
Don’t swim in areas where you can’t see your arms or legs to avoid alligators.

Water Safety

The cool refreshing water of the St. Johns River is enticing when you’re on the boat and want to take a swim. But if you can’t see your arms, legs and feet when you’re in the water, you shouldn’t swim in the water. Stick to swimming in the cool, refreshing springs like Silver Glen Springs and other springs you can access from the St. Johns River. The water is shallower, crystal clear and alligators aren’t likely to be there.

Fishing Around Alligators

Be cautious when casting a line near alligators. Some alligators will try and grab a hooked fish. Also stay away from fishing in heavy vegetation and near the water’s edge where alligators like to hang out. You don’t want to catch an alligator on your line.

Plan Your Trip

It’s time to plan a trip to the river. Rent a hotel room or book a cottage at Castaways on the River to make your trip perfect. Once you step outside your room, there’s a variety of rental boats sitting in the marina waiting for you to cruise the river or go fishing. Call Castaways on the River at (352) 759-3422 to plan your fishing trip on the river.

Daytona 500 Fans: Plan Your Florida Visit

It’s the most wonderful time of year for race fans! February marks the return of NASCAR racing each year at racing’s biggest venue: The Daytona 500. For those looking to experience a true Florida experience that doesn’t just include the race track and the beach, we will teach you how to make Daytona 500 plans off the beaten path in North Central Florida.

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The St. Johns River near Astor has some of Florida’s most beautiful natural freshwater springs.

Visit Astor, Florida

Just a 40-minute drive from the race track in Daytona Beach is a St. Johns River paradise in Astor, Florida. Astor contains several attractions that make it a great place to visit and experience the natural beauty of North Central Florida.

Natural Springs

The St. Johns River near Astor has some of Florida’s most beautiful natural freshwater springs. The springs stay at a constant 72-degrees no matter what the temperature outside is and have crystal clear water for snorkeling lovers. You can also spot manatees this time of year in the warm springs.

De Leon Springs State Park

De Leon Springs is a water paradise full of boat ramps, swimming areas, and canoe and kayak rental opportunities. Picnic tables, grills and a playground for the children make this a great family spot to enjoy a freshwater spring that produces 19 million gallons of fresh clear water a day.

daytona 500 fans visit florida
Daytona 500 fans should plan their trip off the beaten path this year in Astor, Florida.

Ocala National Forest

The Ocala National Forest is full of natural springs and a great spot to do some hunting. A nationally protected forest of 607 square miles, there are also great opportunities to camp in the forest along the St. Johns River.

Lake George

Lake George near Astor is the state’s second-largest lake behind Lake Okeechobee. A freshwater lake full of bass, it is fed from the northern flow of the St. Johns River. Enjoy some boating, fishing and sunset viewing on Lake George.

Dine at Local Restaurants

Astor is also a great place for Daytona 500 fans to grab a bite to eat in a less crowded atmosphere. Visit these five must-stop dining spots that serve up a variety of fresh seafood and waterfront dining options along the St. Johns River. Some restaurants offer boat docking access from the river and most Astor restaurants are also motorcycle-friendly for those who enjoy driving the picturesque State Road 40 that runs through town. Make sure you check out the local dining options when you come to Astor!

daytona 500 fans visit florida
Daytona 500 race fans can watch the race in Daytona and plan a peaceful stay along the St. Johns River.

Rent a Cottage on the River

Are you looking for a peaceful place to stay during the Daytona 500 race week? Look no further than Castaways on the River in Astor. Guests can enjoy quaint cottages and motel rooms overlooking the St. Johns River. Enjoy the serenity of the St. Johns River in a setting that’s a short drive to Daytona Beach. Check out these other eight must-visit spots in Astor while you are in town too.

Rent a Boat

While you are here, make sure you rent a boat to enjoy some boating and some fishing on the St. Johns River. Call Castaways on the River today at (352) 759-3442 to book your boat rental and your Daytona 500 accommodations today!

How to Navigate the St. Johns River

boat on the st. johns river

The St. Johns River isn’t your typical Florida getaway, having many unique characteristics that make it a one-of-a-kind destination! Because of this diversity, it could be difficult to navigate the St. Johns River. Before you visit, learning how to navigate the St. Johns River will allow for a relaxing day on the water. Castaways on the River lies directly on this waterway and is the perfect location to rent a boat or enjoy the week in one of our cottages or motel rooms.

St. Johns River Fun Facts

Known as the “Bass Fishing Capital of the World,” the river is rich in marine life including ample crappie, bluegill, catfish and other varieties of freshwater fish. In addition, visitors enjoy swimming, kayaking and boating along the river’s connected watersheds during the spring and summer months.

The St. Johns River is also linked to 14 lakes and numerous Florida springs including Blue Spring State Park, a protected manatee refuge. During the winter season, hundreds of these gentle sea cows inhabit the spring’s surface much to the joy of onlookers. To read more, visit our blog, St. Johns River Fun Facts.

Tips to Navigate the St. Johns River

Cell Phone Navigation

Many people decide to go “unplugged” while out on the water, and with good reason! Since there’s limited cell phone service on the St. Johns River, your device may not be much use for navigation. Additionally, taking in the surrounding beauty is a nice reprieve before heading back to the digital world. For these reasons, we don’t recommend relying on cell phones for navigation. Instead, use your phone to take pictures of the surrounding nature and the beauty of the area! Be sure to tag us with the hashtag #CastawaysontheRiver when you share your photos, and you might win a t-shirt in our photo contest.

First, read the rules to make sure your photo entry counts.

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Our first contest winner, Sharon, fishing with her new Castaways on the River shirt!

St. Johns River Markers and Signs

bird nest on the st. johns river
Visual aids will help you find your way while out on the water. The St. Johns River boasts channel markers, boat signs, notable landmarks and speed limits to help you navigate correctly.

North of Castaways on the River lies Axle Creek, Hitchens Creek, Payne Creek, Silver Glen Springs and Lake George. To the south, look for Lake Dexter, Stagger Mud Lake, Tick Island Mud Lake, Lake Woodruff and channel marker #24. On the river, you’ll see channel markers referencing how far north or south you are, ensuring you stay within the boat’s boundaries. For instance, the northern boundary is a third into Lake George, just past Silver Glen Springs to the west while the eastern lake boundary lies a bit beyond Jones Cove. And finally, you’ll find the southwest boundary at channel marker #24 on the St. Johns River; visitors heading southeast should not wander beyond Lake Woodruff.

Here’s a visual map of Castaways on the River boundaries to view before you go exploring. These maps are also available in our office.

How to Read Your On-Boat Compass

All Castaways on the River boat rentals are equipped with a compass to help you navigate the river, lakes and springs. Here’s a great resource on how to read a compass, which will be helpful in situations where you have no phone or GPS. To navigate the St. Johns River, all you need is a compass and a map of the area!

You’ll find your onboard compass on the dashboard of the boat.

how to read a compass graphic
Taking a look at the compass, you’ll see the card, the bezel and the lubber line.

The lubber line shows you which direction you are going. To find which way you should return, just add 180 degrees to the lubber line number for your course home.

For newcomers, the website Improve Sailing has a great beginner’s guide on how to use a boat compass. For those looking to fine-tune their skills, boats.com has additional information that will definitely come in handy!

However, if you have any questions, we are here to help! Our office phone is 352-759-3422. Should you find yourself in a difficult situation, give us a call. Better yet, speak to our team before your trip for additional resources in planning the perfect outdoor excursion.

Boating Safety on the Water

Florida Boating Safety Laws

According to Florida law, there must be one life vest available for every person on the boat and each personal flotation device (PFD) must fit the associated person. Also, children under 6 years old, regardless of swimming ability, are required to always wear a life vest while on a boat. Castaways on the River provides, free-of-charge, the number of adult life vests according to the maximum capacity on each boat. Children under 90 lbs, including infants, are fitted with their PFD before entering the vessel.    

For more information on which PFD to use and some additional tips, visit the US Coast Guard website.

Common Boating Signs

Just like motorists on the road, boaters must be mindful of signage out on the water. For your convenience, we’ve listed some common signs you’ll encounter on the St. Johns River below.

“Idle Speed No Wake” 

The approaching area with this sign posted requires boats to move extremely slow and not create wakes that come from boat motors working hard and fast. Basically, an Idle Speed no Wake sign means that you should not be accelerating at all to create any wake. Maintaining steerage and headway is key until you coast out of the no-wake zone.

boating sign to help navigate the st johns river
A “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake” sign helping you navigate the St. Johns River.

“Slow Speed, Minimum Wake” 

You can move a bit faster here compared to the sign above and create a small wake. However, you should move cautiously.

boating sign to help navigate the st. johns river
A speed limit sign that will help you navigate the St. Johns River.

“Maximum 25 mph and 35 mph Speed Zone”

Essentially the equivalent of a school zone on the water. In other words, take care to not exceed the posted limit.

“Vessel Exclusion Area” 

Marked with a vertical diamond shape with a cross in the center. Essentially, this indicates boats aren’t permitted here and are typically posted to inform boaters of an area designated for swimming.

“Manatee Zone” 

Designed to alert boaters to slow down in areas where endangered manatees congregate. The words “Manatee Zone” are typically placed above a “Slow Speed, Minimum Wake” sign to make boaters aware of the big, lovable sea cows. Most often, there are stand-alone signs warning boaters to watch for these aquatic mammals.

For complete details, read our blog on the Boating Signs of the St. Johns River to familiarize yourself with the appropriate signage.

St. Johns River Safety Don’ts


  • Anchor your vessel in the river’s navigation channel or otherwise obstruct boat traffic.
  • Moor or attach your boat to a buoy or navigational aid or sign.
  • Move, displace or tamper with any navigational aid or sign.
  • Obstruct a pier, wharf, boat ramp or access to any public facility.

Boat Rentals on the St. Johns River

At Castaways on the River, we offer boat rentals at our Lake County location in Astor, FL. Looking to stay awhile? Rent a cottage or motel room today right on the St. Johns River.

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Share your Tips on How to Navigate the St. Johns River!

After all, we want your input! Do you have tips on how to navigate the St. Johns River? Leave a comment below. Also, you can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Don’t forget to tag us! We’d love to hear from you on social!

6 Must Make Pumpkin Fish Recipes for Fall

Pumpkin is the rage right now. Pumpkin everything is on grocery store shelves, in coffee and even corn chips! Why not combine your love of fishing with all things pumpkin? Pumpkin is a delicious squash that adds a lot of nutrition to your plate. If you’re ready, we have the six must make pumpkin fish recipes to turn your catches into fall season entrée masterpieces.

pumpkin fish recipes
We have the six must make pumpkin fish recipes to turn your catches into fall season entrée masterpieces.

Baked Fish With Pumpkin Curry Sauce

This is the time of year to reel in some large mouth bass in the St. Johns River. We have the fall bass fishing tips guide you need to prove it. Once you bring home that bass, ignite your taste buds with this baked fish with pumpkin curry sauce recipe courtesy of Budget Girl.

This recipe can also include a ½ teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice if you want to kick the pumpkin in your recipe up a notch. The main course pairs nicely with some brussel sprouts as a vegetable and some pumpkin pie for dessert.

Pumpkin Risotto with Salmon

Add a pumpkin risotto recipe with any great fish dish to make a more fall festive dinner. Yummly’s Pumpkin Risotto with Fish and Cherry Tomato recipe creates a hearty meal with a Parmesan cheese mix twist. Serve immediately with fish, cherry tomatoes and a lemon wedge.

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Book a stay at Castaways on the River to catch some fillets for pumpkin fish recipes.

Thai Yellow Pumpkin and Seafood Curry

Looking for a pumpkin seafood recipe with some Southern charm? The Food Network’s Thai Yellow Pumpkin and Seafood Curry recipe satisfies your cravings. The recipe calls for shrimp and salmon fillets. This dish pairs nicely with a nice fresh loaf of French bread to sop up the flavorful curry at the bottom of your bowl.

Apple-Stuffed Baked Fish

Add some fall apples to your fish recipe! The Cooper Cookin’ Apple-Stuffed Baked Fish Recipe, courtesy of The Old Farmer’s Everyday Cookbook Almanac, creates an apple-based stuffing that pairs well with a number of fish fillets.

Pumpkin Seed Fish Sticks

How about a fall take on the tried and true fish sticks? Yummly’s Pumpkin Seed Fish Sticks recipe allows you to toss in some pumpkin seeds along with your breading mixture to create a nice crunchy, fall fish stick.

pumpkin fish recipes soup
Fish fillets and seafood pair nicely in pumpkin-based stew and soups.

Pumpkin and Fish Stew

Seeking to enjoy some of your fresh fish on a cool day? Keep warm and enjoy fall with A Day in the Life on the Farm’s Pumpkin and Fish Stew Recipe. Fish fillets pair nicely in the pumpkin-based stew with tomatoes and chicken stock.

Book Your Fall Fishing Visit

Your fall fish recipes are in place and will excite and wow your friends and family. Now you need to book a stay at Castaways on the River to do some fishing and catch some fillets for those pumpkin fish recipes. The marina can handle all of your boat rental needs. We offer cozy cottages and motel rooms so you can enjoy fall on the St. Johns River while you go fishing. Call Castaways on the River today at (352) 759-3442 to book your boat rental and fishing adventure today.

Ocala National Forest Hunting Season Guide

North Central Florida hunting season is in full swing! The wildlife is abundant in the Ocala National Forest, where you will find plenty of turkeys, deer, ducks and more to hunt during the appropriate hunting season. We have the information you need to plan the perfect hunting trip in our Ocala National Forest Hunting Season Guide.

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Follow our Ocala National Forest Hunting Season Guide to hunt white-tailed deer.

Hunting White-Tailed Deer

Florida White-tailed deer are located from the Panhandle all the way to the Florida Keys. They are the most popular game species in Florida. Here are the Florida deer hunting season requirements and dates.

Hunting Wild Pigs

Wild pigs, also called wild hogs or wild boar, are the second-most popular large animal hunted in Florida. They live in all of Florida’s 67 counties. Peruse pig hunting season dates before you start hunting wild pigs.

Duck/Waterfowl Hunting

Wetland habitats in Florida offer a variety of places for hunters to find duck and other waterfowl available for hunting.

Canada geese season in Florida is through Jan. 30. Duck and light geese hunting season begins Dec. 10 and runs through Jan. 29.

Hunting Florida Black Bears is Off Limits Right Now

The state’s largest land mammal is the Florida Black Bear. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted to postpone bear hunting in Florida in 2016 and might consider future bear hunting in 2017. The last limited Florida bear hunt was in October 2015.

There are more than 4,000 bears in Florida and many of them can be spotted in the Ocala National Forest for sightseeing only at a safe distance away.

Osceola turkey
One of the most sought-after species to hunt in Florida is the Osceola turkey

Hunting Osceola Turkeys

One of the most in-demand species to hunt in Florida is the Osceola (Florida) turkey. These turkeys do not live anywhere else in the world. Follow these Osceola turkey hunting requirements and seasonal hunting dates so you have the best chance of bringing home the bacon (or turkey)!

Hunting Small Game

You don’t always need to go big or go home. Florida has a variety of small-game hunting opportunities. Some of the most popular small game species in Florida include gray squirrels and rabbits.

Ocala National Forest Hunting Season Tips

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) manages the Ocala National Forest. Hunters must obtain a special permit to use hunt camps during deer hunting season in the Ocala National Forest. These permits can be picked up at the Lake George Ranger District Station or the Seminole Ranger District Station.

There is a $5 per day use fee to access the hunt camp and a $5 launch fee to use the boat ramp at Farles Lake Hunt Camp.

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Find all the wildlife you need to hunt in the Ocala National Forest.

Florida Hunting Licenses

A valid Florida hunting license is needed to hunt in the Ocala National Forest. Hunters must adhere to all FWC hunting regulations. The FWC oversees the distribution of all recreational hunting licenses. Licenses for residents and non-residents are available with the FWC and can be purchased online.

Hunting licenses vary in price and are more expensive for non-residents, but you don’t always need a hunting license in Florida. If you are a child less than 16 years of age or hunting wild hogs on private land, a license isn’t needed.

Plan a Hunting Trip Along the St. Johns River

After an amazing day of hunting and watching wildlife in the Ocala National Forest, you will need a calm and relaxing place to stay. Make sure to spend some time enjoying the beautiful St. Johns River when you visit North Central Florida. Castaways on the River offers comfortable cottages and motel rooms just steps away from a marina full of rental boats for your use. Call Castaways on the River at (352) 759-3442 to book your next hunting trip adventure today!

St. Johns River Fun Facts

It’s BIG

The St. Johns River is the longest river in Florida at a whopping 310 miles long.  It flows through 12 counties, moving from northeast Florida to the Atlantic Ocean.  At its largest point, the St. John’s River is almost 3 miles wide.


It is also separated into three river basins and two watersheds.  The Upper Basin of the St. Johns engulfs approximately 2,000 square miles, and the largest basin is the Lower Basin covering 2,600 square miles. Thanks to its massive size, the river transports about 16,000,000 tons of freight through the ports in Jacksonville, Fla. per year.

It Flows North

The vast majority of rivers in the world flow from north to south.  This is usually due to the river’s source, mostly mountains, is to the north of the mouth causing the water to flow downward.  However, it is said that fewer than 30 rivers in the United States are the exception to the rule and flow northward, including the St. John’s River.


The reasoning behind the unusual flow is the slight slope in the river itself.  Beginning in the Saint John’s Marsh, the rivers course slowly lowers about 30 feet to the mouth meeting the Atlantic Ocean.  This extremely gentle slope causes a very lazy river; it’s actually one of the slowest in the world.

It’s VERY Connected

About 3.5 million people live within the various watersheds that feed into the St. Johns River.  It’s the main water body in the St. Johns River Water Management District that covers about 21 percent of Florida or about 7.8 million acres.


It has a Salty Side

The St. Johns River begins as a network of marshes, consolidating into a blackwater stream.  This means that due to its groundwater and marsh beginnings, the River is predominately fresh water.



It’s not until the River hits the Jacksonville area that the water becomes brackish.  This is due to the sides pushing seawater into the mouth of the St. Johns River, creating a estuarine ecosystem in the area.  This means animals usually seen out to sea such as dolphins and sharks are sometimes found thriving here.

It has…monkeys?

Where the St. Johns River meets the Wekiva River, troops of Rhesus Monkeys can be found monkeying around.  Known for their adept swimming abilities, the origins of the Rhesus Monkeys transports remain unknown. However, several theories exist. Many believe they were brought in during the 1930’s filming of Tarzan. Whatever the case, they have adapted well to their new Florida home off the St.Johns River.


It’s Fun

There is never a shortage of fun in the sun on the St. Johns River, known as the most significant recreational river in Florida, and for good reason.


Known as the Bass Fishing Capital of the World, the St. Johns River is rich in fisheries including ample crappie, bluegills, catfish and other varieties freshwater fish. During the spring and summer months, visitors can enjoy clear waters for swimming, boating, and scuba diving along the river’s connected watersheds.WWW.CASTAWAYSONTHERIVER.COM (7)

Ashore, the St. Johns River Water Management District maintains approximately 700,000 acres of land for hiking, camping, hunting, biking and equestrian riding.

Blue Springs State Park

The St. Johns River is also linked to 14 lakes and numerous Florida Springs including Blue Spring State Park, a protected Manatee Refuge. During the winter season, hundreds of manatees inhabit the surface of the spring for onlookers to enjoy.



Boat Rentals on the St. Johns River

At Castaways on the River, we offer boat rentals at our Lake County location in Astor, FL. Looking to stay awhile? Rent a cool cottage or a motel room today at Castaways on the River, which is right on the St. Johns River.

Share your Favorite Spot

Do you have any favorite spots along the river? Leave a comment, below.  You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t forget to tag us! We’d love to hear from you.

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Snorkeling In the Springs

The network of freshwater springs along the St. Johns River in the Ocala National Forest provides visitors with spectacular opportunities to explore this unique environment and the life that thrives there. Snorkeling in the springs is a popular way to get an up close view of this underwater paradise.

Visitors are drawn to snorkeling in the springs along the St. Johns River since the crystal clear water maintains a constant average temperature of 72 degrees year round. And be sure to do your homework ahead of time to learn whether snorkeling is permitted in a particular spring.


Snorkeling vs. Scuba Diving

While snorkeling is permitted in a majority of the freshwater springs in the Ocala National Forest, those same springs largely prohibit scuba diving. So what’s the difference in the two activities?

Snorkeling – uses a snorkel tube that extends above the surface of the water for breathing while the face is submerged.

Scuba diving – the diver is equipped with an independent source to breathe while totally submerged underwater.

In addition to a snorkel tube, those wanting to take part in the activity should also be outfitted with:

Mask – properly fitted so you can see clearly while underwater.

Fins – a set of fins to move around better in the water like the fish.

Optional equipment may include a wet suit, snorkeling vest and additional gear designed to block the sun.

Springs for Snorkeling

Snorkelers flock to the popular Silver Glen Springs off the northern shore of Lake George in the Ocala National Forest. The spring is located north of Astor, Florida and is known for the sightings of manatees warming up in the winter. Silver Glen Springs produces an average 65 million gallons of water each day from two vents. The spring is home to a wide variety of fish.

Did You Know: Silver Glen Springs is an important archeological site and considered sacred space for Native Americans?

The depth of Silver Glen Springs is shallow in comparison to other springs in the region so children can explore it too. A number of other great springs for snorkeling in the area include Juniper Springs and DeLeon Springs.

While snorkeling consider taking photos of what all you see underwater to capture the moment. A good waterproof camera can come in handy.


Getting To the Springs

Most of the freshwater springs along the St. Johns River in the Ocala National Forest are best reached by boat. In case you are wondering when you’ve arrived at the actual spring, most are marked with signage as you enter the spring run. However a sure sign that you are close to a spring is that the water will appear crystal clear and seem to bubble to the surface. In fact that’s exactly what it’s doing as it flows from the spring head.

Snorkeling From The Boat

Coming to visit us in Astor soon and you want to plan a couple of fun days in the area? Make sure to reserve a boat to enjoy the St. Johns River and get ready for snorkeling in the springs. Castaways On The River in Astor, located on the edge of the Ocala National Forest, also offers accommodations either quaint cottages or spacious motel rooms. Contact Castaways On The River at (352) 759-3442 or to reserve a rental boat, a cottage or hotel room or need assistance with other plans.


Plan A Perfect Summer Barbecue

Enjoying lazy days in the sun and on the water is a great time to plan a perfect summer barbecue party. Family and friends will want to be included in all the fun, and of course the main attraction will be the food.

As for what is on the menu, it will depend on a variety of factors like who is doing the cooking, how many people are attending, and what time the food will be served? Will it be an all-day affair or have a designated timeline? Will food be served in shifts? Served at a specific time? These are questions you’ll need to answer up front so your guests know what to expect.

It’s best to have an idea early on of how large the gathering will be to determine how much food will be needed. This will help with the overall food shopping and delegating who can supply what item.

Before we get too far along, let’s clear up a question that may be a matter of preference. Is it a barbecue or cookout? Technically the two can be considered the same in terms of events. There is no right or wrong menu item when it comes to chowing down. A barbecue just means cooking outside on the grill.


How to Plan A Perfect Summer Barbecue Party

So now that we’ve settled that, let’s move on to figuring out the menu. The typical summer barbecue party menu includes burgers and hotdogs. Some gatherings may include more elaborate fare to enjoy such as the days’ fresh catch from the St. Johns River.

The seasonal fishing calendar forecasts it’s a good time to catch Bass, Bluegill, Redear, Specks, Stripers and Catfish. So anglers let’s see what you add to the barbecue. When you return to the boat dock here at Castaways, use the convenient fish cleaning station to get everything ready for the grill just a few steps away.

And don’t forget about all the great side dishes to go along with the main entrees from salads, beans, and other tasty treats and appetizers. Invite everyone to provide their favorite dish to help feed the masses. Get ready for recipe sharing or be prepared to protect the secret ingredient.

And since we are talking about summer time, get the ice cream churn out and put the popsicles on ice so everyone young and old can enjoy a variety of cool goodies.

A good grill master must be included to plan a perfect summer barbecue .

Barbecue Grill Duty

Before everyone digs in to enjoy the spread of food, make sure to thank the person who handled the grill duties. This is often a hard, hot and thankless job. Remember without someone on the grill, it’s just eating out. Tips to show your thanks is to make sure the grill master has a cold, refreshing beverage close by to enjoy. It’s likely to already be hot, then add to that the heat and smoke from the grill. Keep the cook cool and comfortable.

It’s also a good idea to designate helpers for the grill master so they can play close attention to the food and not have to worry about carrying it to the serving area. They may need other tools and supplies so extra pairs of hands are often appreciated.

Plan Ahead

Consider creating a list of all the items needed to pull off the perfect summer barbecue party. It’s always the little things like forgetting a special condiment that can derail a good plan. If you are heading to a remote area, it may be difficult to run to the nearest supermarket or big box retailer to pick up a few items. So pack what you’ll need ahead of time to ensure everything arrives at the barbecue.

Also who is bringing the plates, cutlery, napkins, drinks, ice etc.? Yes those are all the things that round out your barbecue that need to go on the plan ahead list.

It may also be wise to have a backup plan in case of rain on the day of the barbecue. A quick rain shower or rolling thunderstorms is a daily occurrence in Florida during the summer months. Check the local weather report to see when rain is forecast. The information can help if you need to change the start or end time of the barbecue. You’ll also want to keep a close eye on the clouds if those attending the barbecue go out on a boat.

Barbecue Party Accessories

Bring a few board games for all to enjoy or a deck of cards to see who has the best hand. This is where the fun begins with plenty of laughter and great memories are made. Pose for a selfie or two to capture the moment.

Board games also come in handy while waiting for the weather to clear up outdoors.

And what’s a party without some good tunes on the speaker? Designate a DJ to make sure the music is playing and everyone gets to hear a favorite song. Create a play list to get the party started. Dancing is a good way to work off a few of those calories you enjoyed from the grill.

Don’t forget to plan for everyone to enjoy time in the sun or get out on the water. All that fun is sure to work up hearty appetites which will be ready to feast on a barbecue spread.

Let us know how we can help you plan a perfect summer barbecue party here at Castaways.


Plan Your Party Along the St. Johns River

Castaways On The River in Astor, Florida has space, outfitted with grills, to plan the perfect summer barbecue party. The resort has rental cottages and motel rooms to accommodate guests. Also inquire about our fleet of rental boats to get out on the St. Johns River to fish and to enjoy nature at area attractions like nearby freshwater springs. Castaways is nestled on the eastern edge of the Ocala National Forest, located between Ocala and Ormond Beach along State Road 40. Call Castaways On The River at (352) 759-3442 to book a rental boat, reserve rooms and to arrange additional plans.



What to Do During A Storm On A Boat

Storm season presents many challenges to Florida boaters. It’s best to be aware and prepared for what may come rather than being caught by surprise without an action plan.

A saying in Florida is true, it’s not if a storm is coming especially during the busy summer months, but rather when is it coming? Typically you can set your watch by Florida’s predictable afternoon summer storms. If you are heading out to enjoy a fun day on the water or to get in a little fishing, there are a few tips to follow to ensure you know what to do during a storm when boating.

Make Your Boating Plans Known:

Make sure someone knows your boating plan for the day. Whether it’s a family member not on the boat with you or the staff at the boat rental facility, inform others of where you are headed on the boat. In case a storm rolls in and you are unable to return, they will be able to notify authorities of where to search should you need assistance.

Make sure everyone has on a life vest. It’s Florida law for children age 6 and under to wear a life vest at all times on a boat.

Wear Life Vest While Boating:

This next tip is common sense, but few take time to heed it until it’s too late. Take a moment to put on a life vest or other personal flotation device (PFD). It simply can save your life if the weather turns bad and you are separated from the boat. And remember, it’s the law in Florida that children age 6 years and younger must wear an approved life vest while the vessel is underway.

Check the guidelines for life vests, life jackets, or personal flotation devices. Note: inflatable personal flotation devices are prohibited.

Note: The National Safe Boating Council promotes National Safe Boating Week annually in May.

The Boat U.S. Foundation is a reference for free online boater safety courses. In order to rent at boat at Castaways On The River, anyone born on or after January 1, 1988 must have a boating safety card.

Check The Weather Before You Leave The Dock:

Be sure to check the weather for your planned boating day. A storm prediction may mean altering your plans a bit. Instead of going out in the afternoon, it may be best to boat in the morning and return to shore well ahead of the storm.

Be prepared of what to do in a storm while on a boat.
Be prepared of what to do in a storm while on a boat.

Be Prepared – Know What To Do On A Boat During a Storm:

It is not uncommon in Florida to have a fast moving storm approach without any warning. If you are caught out on the water, a survival kit of sorts may come in quite useful until you can make it back to shore. Include:

  • A secondary source of communication should the boat radio become disabled.
  • A backup power source is a good item to include in your kit.
  • Extra water and food to tide you over just in case.
  • Flashlights, a first aid kit.
During a storm it's advised to take down the top to prevent damage from high winds and lightning.
During a storm it’s advised to take down the top to prevent damage from high winds and lightning.

Take Down the Boat Top:

Usually the roll of storm clouds in Florida means lightning in most cases is not far behind. If your boat has a top, the high winds may make it dangerous to navigate and it becomes a target for lightning strikes. At the first rumble of thunder and increasing winds, it may be best to stop and take the boat top down. It may mean being wet as the rain falls, but it may make your return to shore safer.

Florida’s tropical climate and warm water temperatures are the perfect ingredients for lightning strikes. The state has the nickname as the Lightning Capital of the U.S. So when you see storm clouds moving in your direction keep an ear out for thunder and prepare to get to safety. It’s better to be cautious than to deal with the consequences of a lightning strike on open water.

Head to Shore Out Of The Storm:

Take a look around to see where you are when you realize a storm is approaching. Once you make the decision to head back, your return route may be altered to ensure the quickest and safest path. This is not the time to speed recklessly, you could cause unnecessary damage. During a storm, take your time and guide the boat safely back to shore.

Plan Your Boat Rental and Stay on the River

Spend the day boating along the St. Johns River from the dock at Castaways On the River here in Astor, Florida. We can help you with a checklist of Florida boating regulations, navigating what you need to know to rent a boat, and plan your stay with us. Call Castaways on the River today at (352) 759-3442 to book your boat rental and area travel plans today!