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.


How to Find the Perfect Christmas Tree in the Ocala National Forest

Oh Christmas tree! Thy leaves are so unchanging. If you have never experienced the fun and excitement of finding the perfect live Christmas tree as a family, we urge you to find and cut down the perfect tree in the Ocala National Forest in North Central Florida. It’s legal as long as you follow these guidelines.

Christmas tree Ocala National Forest
You can find the perfect Christmas tree in the Ocala National Forest near Astor, Florida.

Ocala National Forest Permits

The Ocala National Forest is a great place to find and cut down your perfect Christmas tree. The Ocala National Forest is protected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service. Special forest permits to cut down a Christmas tree can be obtained at the Lake George Ranger District Station or the Seminole Ranger District Station. Permits are $7 and are available from Thanksgiving Day through Dec. 23 each year.

Finding the Perfect Tree Takes Time

The Ocala National Forest has more than 380,000 acres of protected land. It takes a longer period of time to find the perfect tree in a forest full of native plants and wildlife. Rangers will provide you with a map for three Christmas tree harvesting areas that help narrow down your search parameters. Make sure your tree will fit in your living room before you cut it down. Trees in the forest can look deceiving.


Choose a Healthy Tree

A freshly cut Christmas tree will last longer than a tree that was cut down weeks ago and transported to a tree lot. Look for trees that do not have a lot of dead or browning needles. Gently stroke branches to make sure the needles bend and don’t fall off the tree.

Check for Live Animals

Before you begin the process of cutting down your tree, shake it and inspect it for live animals that may have made your Christmas tree their home. The last thing you want to do is place your new tree inside your home and discover there is a squirrel inside it.


Take a Tarp

Place a tarp on the ground on the location where you anticipate your tree will fall when you cut it down. This will help your tree from falling into dirt and grass in the forest, which makes bringing the tree home much less messy.

Christmas tree Ocala National Forest
Make sure you take the proper tools to cut down your Christmas tree.

Bring Tools

Don’t pull a Clark W. Griswold and forget to bring something to cut down your tree. You don’t want to dig up a tree and its root system. Take one of the following with you to make your job much easier.

  • Battery-operated handsaw
  • Battery-powered chainsaw
  • Hatchet
  • Bow saw
  • Handsaw

Remember to bring along a pair of work gloves and some rope to secure the tree to your vehicle.


Do Not Create Trunk Base Friction

Refrain from using reciprocal saws or any blade that moves so fast it creates friction. Too much blade friction causes the truck to get too hot, which seals the trunk up with hot sap that acts like a permanent glue to prevent your tree from absorbing water.

Cutting Your Tree for the Base

Using a handsaw or one of the above methods to cut your tree trunk, cut approximately a half-inch off the bottom of the tree trunk before putting your tree in its base. This allows the tree to absorb more water.

Do not cut the trunk base at an angle or a V-shape and don’t drill a hole in the base. These methods actually make it more difficult for your tree to absorb water.

Mount Your Tree Within 8 Hours

A fresh tree can go without water for eight hours after you cut it down before further water absorption becomes more difficult. Place your tree in a safe stand that can hold a quart of water for every inch in trunk diameter.

Do not remove the bark of the tree to get the base to fit in the tree stand. The bark is the layer that absorbs the most water.

Christmas tree Ocala National Forest
Before you find the right Christmas tree, make sure you spend some time in nature along the St. Johns River.

Allow the Tree to Settle

Once the tree is safely and securely in the tree stand, allow it to settle into its shape or fall, for anywhere from an hour to overnight before you begin decorating the tree. This allows the branches to settle.

Ensure Christmas Tree Safety

Inspect light cords and make sure they are not frayed before you weave the lights into the tree. Keep your tree away from heat sources and also never leave your home unattended with the Christmas tree lights on.


Plan a Holiday Trip Along the St. Johns River

Are you looking to get away for a holiday trip that culminates with finding the perfect Christmas tree in the Ocala National Forest? Before you find the right tree, make sure you spend some time in nature along the St. Johns River.

Castaways on the River offers comfortable cottages and motel rooms right along the St. Johns River near the Ocala National Forest. Castaways also has a fleet full of rental boats for your use. Call Castaways on the River at (352) 759-3442 to book your Christmas tree adventure trip today!


Tips for Building the Perfect Campfire

There is something about a roaring campfire that makes the campground perfect during cool evenings in the Ocala National Forest. Follow our tips as we teach you how to build the perfect campfire to enjoy with friends and family.

tips for building a campfire Ocala National Forest
Follow our tips as we teach you how to build the perfect campfire in the Ocala National Forest.

Create Your Fire Bed

Safety comes first when you create a campfire. Camping sites like those in the Ocala National Forest in North Central Florida have designated fire areas that you must use. Select a site away from trees, bushes and plants. Create a fire bed on bare earth with no live or dead grass around it. Dry grass, branches and bark catch fire easily so make sure you find a nice bare spot. If you can’t find a good bed area, make your own by digging and raking away all grass and plant material.

Once you’ve cleared a bed area, gather some dirt and place it in the center of your clean fire bed. Form the dirt into a firm platform that is 3- to 4-inches thick.

Hunt for Wood

Once your fire bed is ready, it’s time to gather your wood. You are looking for the following types of acceptable wood:

  • Tinder: Materials like dry bark, dry leaves, dead grass and wood shavings make up your tinder. Tinder catches fire easily and this is the wood you need to get that fire started.
  • Kindling: After the fire gets started with tinder wood, kindling helps to keep the fire going. Kindling consists of small twigs and branches that are laid on top of your tinder wood. Look for wood about the width of a pencil. Make sure it’s dry or it won’t burn easily.
  • Fuel wood: Fuel wood comes next on the pile and it keeps your fire hot and makes the fire stay consistent. Look for branches of wood that are about the width of your forearm or wrist to act as fuel wood.

When gathering wood for your fire, look for wood that snaps and breaks easily. If the wood bends, it’s too wet and your fire will become smoky. Dry wood always burns best.

Hint: Collect double the amount of tinder, kindling and fuel wood as you think you will need because you will go through a lot of kindling when you start your fire.

lighting a campfire
When gathering wood for your campfire, look for wood that snaps and breaks easily.

How to Lay Your Fire

There are many different ways to lay your fire. The most common types of fires include:

  • Teepee fires, which involve placing your tinder in a bundle in the middle of your campfire site and forming a teepee around it with your kindling.
  • Lean-to fires are created by sticking a long piece of kindling into the ground at a 30-degree angle with the end of the stick pointing into the wind. Then tinder is placed underneath the support stick and kindling is scattered around the fire.
  • Log cabin fires create a small teepee, with wood being stacked on top of it like a real-life version of Lincoln Logs being stacked on top of the teepee.

How to Put Out Your Fire

You’ve enjoyed the fire but now it’s time to extinguish it properly. Follow these steps:

  • Have a bucket of water near your campfire at all times for safety reasons. This bucket of water should be sprinkled around carefully to extinguish all the embers. Don’t dump it all in one spot.
  • Stir the embers with a stick or shovel as you sprinkle the water on the fire to completely extinguish the fire.
  • Keep adding water until you no longer feel heat coming from the ashes.
  • Scoop up the ashes and return the land as you found it, spreading the ashes around the campsite to dispose of them. Then replace the dirt and sod you dug up with a shovel.

Fire Extinguish Tip: It takes at least 20 minutes to put out and monitor a fire being extinguished before you can leave the campfire unattended, so plan your time accordingly.

tips for building a campfire Pinterest image
A roaring campfire makes the campground perfect during cool evenings.

Monitor and Adhere to Fire Restrictions

Always monitor state and local fire restrictions. When camping in North Central Florida in the Ocala National Forest, there is a risk of wildfires due to strong winds and drought conditions. Check if you are in an area with campfire restrictions, listed in the alerts and notices and forest orders.

Read the campfire restrictions that exist year-round in the Ocala National Forest so you know the approved and non-approved fires and where you can make a campfire. Always keep a watch on fire danger ratings too.

Plan a Trip Along the St. Johns River

Make sure to spend some time enjoying the St. Johns River when you visit North Central Florida. Embrace and enjoy the river by renting a boat at Castaways on the River. The marina on the river can handle all of your boat rental needs. We also offer comfortable cottages and motel rooms so you can stay awhile. Call Castaways on the River at (352) 759-3442 to book your boat rental adventure today.