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.

freshwater springs
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!

6 Hidden Gems on the St. Johns River

The St. Johns River is your go to hot spot for fishing, boating and enjoying wildlife. But what if we told you there were other must-visit spots along the St. Johns River that are very much worth your time and exploration? These six hidden gems on the St. Johns River give you even more incentive to visit the river.

Salt Springs near the St. Johns River
Salt Springs in Ocala National Forest is one of many springs that attract visitors each year.

The Ocala National Forest

The Ocala National Forest is 607 square miles of nationally protected forest that’s full of more than 600 lakes, springs and rivers. It’s a fantastic place to explore nature and enjoy a panoramic view of wildlife. Depending on the time of year, you can see bears, deer, manatee and a lot of birds and other marine life in the forest,

There are hiking trails, canoeing and kayaking opportunities and campgrounds to enjoy inside the forest, which runs along the St. Johns River.

Looking for some special spots in the Ocala National Forest to enjoy?

Check out these spots:

  • Alexander Springs Recreation Area is one of only 27 first-magnitude springs in Florida. The water is a constant 72 degrees and some of the clearest water you will ever swim in. It is surrounded by palms, making it a tropical swimming experience in the middle of a forest. Canoe and kayak rentals are available.
  • Mill Dam Recreation Area lies in the shade of the 168-acre Mill Dam Lake. It has a large swimming area and a beach that’s even accessible by wheelchairs.
  • Lake Dorr Recreation Area sits under a shade of oak trees and includes a boat ramp, a picnic area overlooking the lake and RV camping.

Read our blog on watching wildlife in the Ocala National Forest for more wildlife viewing tips.

You can also impress your friends with these fun facts:

  • Ocala National Forest is the southernmost forest in the continental United States
  • It’s the second largest nationally protected forest in the United States
  • It’s the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi River.

Florida National Scenic Trail

The Florida National Scenic Trail is a 1,300-mile federally-designated recreation trail that doesn’t allow motorized vehicles on its path. It crisscrosses its way near the St. Johns River, offering those that travel wonderful opportunities to enjoy different landscapes, wildlife and bird watching opportunities.

Need some help traversing the trail? The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a new map that allows you to plan your own route.

Spring Sensation

spring near St. Johns River
Silver Glen Springs is home to manatee sightings in the winter months.

The St. Johns River is home to some of Florida’s most stunning freshwater springs, which sit along the Ocala National Forest.

Touting crystal clear water that stays a constant 72 degrees, the springs are popular for locals and tourists alike. Popular activities in the springs include swimming, snorkeling, kayaking and canoeing. You’ll be amazed with up close and personal view of the wildlife and underwater vegetation you’ll see in the clear water.

Put these springs on your must-see list:

  • Salt Springs is home to a variety of turtles, Blue Crabs and bass. Motorized boats aren’t permitted here so plan on renting a canoe or kayak.
  • Silver Glen Springs is home to manatee sightings in the winter months. The springs’ two vents spew 65 million gallons of water per day!
  • Juniper Springs is one of the oldest in the area and is an access point to the Florida National Scenic Trail.
  • De Leon Springs is seeping with history. Native Mayaca Indians inhabited the area for more than 6,000 years.

Florida’s Black Bear Scenic Byway

If you want to catch a glimpse of a Florida Black Bear, the nationally designated Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway is the place to see one. This byway houses the most heavily concentrated Florida Black Bear populations in the state. Keep your camera handy because it’s common to see a black bear or two in the spring, summer and fall. The east west segment of the byway takes visitors along State Road 40 near the St. Johns River and through the Ocala National Forest and the Lake George State Forest.

Need some help finding a black bear? There’s an app for that. Read up on our blog on the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway to improve your black bear sightseeing skills.

hidden gems pinterest pin
Glimpses of a Florida Black Bear can be found on the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway.

Lake George

The St. Johns River is linked to 14 lakes. The largest lake is Lake George, which offers anglers many opportunities to catch fish and has wonderful bass fishing opportunities. Lake George is the second largest lake in Florida behind Lake Okeechobee. Once home to an operational U.S. military bombing and aerial mining range, the lake today is full of various species of fish, migratory birds and other wildlife. The lake also has a blue crab population that is big enough to keep a local fishery running.

Our blog on the perfect Lake George day trip will help you master the large lake.

Blue Springs Park: A Manatee Refuge

Do you want to see manatees? You can get your fill of them every winter at Blue Springs State Park.

Blue Springs Park, a more than 2,600-acre park and manatee hideout, is the perfect place to spot Florida’s large, lovable sea cows. The park is a designated manatee refuge and is a well-known popular winter hangout for West Indian Manatees. During manatee season, which runs from mid-November through March, hundreds of sea cows can be viewed hanging out in the spring’s warmer constant 73-degree temperature water staying warm for the winter.

The park has air-conditioned cabins, fishing, canoeing, boating and scuba and snorkeling opportunities.

Enjoy the Summer on the St. Johns River

Now that you know all the hidden gems on the St. Johns River, all you need to do is rent a boat at Castaways on the River. We also offer quaint cottages and motel rooms that are just steps away from a dock full of rental boat options. However, please note that not all destinations are reachable from Castaways on the River. Call Castaways on the River at (352) 759-3442 to plan you summer trip on the river today!rentaboat


Watching Wildlife in the Ocala National Forest and Along the St. Johns River

Watching wildlife in the Ocala National Forest and along the St. Johns River is a panoramic view of nature. The area is home to a large variety of wildlife from birds to fish which draws visitors from all walks of life to get a closer look.

Watching Wildlife in the Ocala National Forest and Along the St. Johns River
Manatees are popular sightings along the St. Johns River especially when temperatures dip.

Whether visitors are on a casual outing or an enthusiast viewing a particular species, it won’t take long for the show of wildlife to delight spectators. Few can say they saw a manatee, an alligator or a bear all in the same day. Oh my! In this area of Florida, it’s just another day.

Manatee Watching on the St. John’s River

While manatees are known as gentle giants, you have to be purposeful and patient to see them in their natural habitat. They are shy and will gracefully avoid boats, other vessels and noise in the wild. If you turn your boat motor off and sit for a bit, you may catch a quick glimpse as they surface for a fresh breath of air. A manatee won’t come close to investigate so have your camera ready and stay quiet.

A diverse group of wildlife can be found in the Ocala National Forest and along the St. Johns River.

Wild Gators on the St. John’s River Shores

Seeing alligators catching a little sun along the shoreline of the St. Johns River is commonplace. Remember this is their natural habitat so observe at a distance and be careful. Alligators are swift swimmers and prefer marshy areas or open water. The slow moving river flowing through the Ocala National Forest is ideal to see an alligator while enjoying a day of boating.

Watch out for Bears

While there are no lions or tigers in the region, there are bears in the wild. The black bear population is mostly concentrated in this region, hence the name of the scenic Florida Black Bear Highway. The 60-mile route is the best place to sight a bear in the area.

Birds on the Wild Side

We’re not talking about snowbirds here. The Ocala National Forest is home to approximately 200 species of birds; especially a large concentration of American Eagles. The area is considered somewhat of a paradise for bird watching enthusiasts. If you are staying with us, be sure to meet the pelicans. Don’t worry they won’t let you ignore them for long along the dock, they keep a close eye on newcomers and old alike.

Watching out for Wildlife on the St. John’s River

Largemouth Bass, Black Crappie and Blue Crab are plentiful in the region attracting both sport and casual anglers. Get advice from the veterans to learn the best spots to snag your catch. While all have their prime seasons, it’s best to check ahead to see what’s biting and where to plan your strategy for the day on the water.

Watching Wildlife – Entertainment at its Finest

Did you know there are several groups of wildlife comedians? Yes, they would be the squirrels who can be seen whizzing around in a rush everywhere and checking things out. And don’t leave out the cute turtles peaking from their shells to see who is stopping by for a visit. These are cute pictures for sure to remember your trip.

Check with the Castaways On The River staff to learn the best spots to watch wildlife in the area. We’ll be glad to accommodate your stay for a bird watching expedition or for those boating or fishing trips. Contact us via Facebook or Twitter, through our website or call us at (352) 759-3422.

Boating Requirements in Florida


Boating is a year round activity here in the Sunshine state. There are a few boating requirements in Florida that must be followed whether you are a seasonal visitor who wants to hit the water to escape the snow back home; or a native looking for a day of fun.

Prepare for Boating in Florida

First, to make sure everyone is on the same page, Florida does not have a “boating license.” What is required however is a Boating Safety Education Identification Card for anyone born after Jan. 1, 1988. The card is proof that the boater passed the approved safety course. Out of state guests can either show proof of boating safety course completion from their home state or obtain a temporary card. Check with the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission on obtaining boater education.

There are some boaters who are exempt from obtaining Florida’s boating identification card. Check the list to see who qualifies for an exemption.

Who Can Boat In Florida?

Did you know?

  1. In Florida a boater must be at least 14 years old in order to operate a personal water craft or PWC.
  2. Additionally, a boater must be at least 18 years old to rent a PWC in Florida. This includes not only a boat, but also jet skis and other vessels powered by an inboard motor.

Other Boating Requirements

Just because you have met the boating requirements in Florida does not allow overlooking other rules associated with boating like fishing, diving, skiing.

  1. Everyone on the boat – driver and passengers – along with those being towed behind for skiing must wear a life vest. It’s the law.
  2. If you plan to fish while boating, everyone aboard must have a current fishing license. Also know what type of fish you are catching and the regulations for the species.
  3. Have the proper flags on display while diving or snorkeling from the boat.

There are a number of other requirements to cover fun activities to know while boating.  Check with the FWC or other resources like Florida Go Fishing.



Renting a Boat

The rental facility must provide an instructional overview of all boats over 10-horsepower before leaving the dock. This session is to then be followed up with a demonstration on the water to make sure the renters are comfortable with the vessel.

Our staff at Castaways On The River is ready to help you find the right boat to enjoy a day of fun on the St. Johns River. We have a wide array of rental boats to suit your needs. You can request a boat reservation through our website, on our Facebook page or by calling us at (352) 759-3422.

Cooking the Fresh Catch of the Day

A day of fishing out on the St. John’s River could net a great dinner to be prepared back on dry land for a few or many. Fishing is a favorite pastime in the area and many travel here year round to cast their lines.

So the question becomes what’s for dinner? Or better yet, how are we cooking dinner? Here in these parts of the Deep South, a favorite way to cook a fresh catch is too deep fry it, of course coated in a great batter.

Beer batter is always one of the best so let’s hash out a quick beer batter mix you can prepare easily.

Beer Batter Receipe:

Mix 1-cup of all-purpose flour

1 egg

A touch of garlic powder

A little bit of black pepper

1-cup of beer; add more beer if the batter is too thick

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl; dip your fish and deep fry until golden brown

Now for the big question, what beer should you use in the batter? Here are some fun fish-themed recommendations, and yes, all are available here in Florida.

Largemouth Bass

A summer favorite, you caught some trophy largemouth bass.  For this pinnacle catch we recommend a lager, Ballast Point Longfin.  A lighter beer, this will complement nicely with the flakiness of the bass.


You caught a mess of perch to make a nice meal.  Congrats!  Some may be turned off by the black dots on the flesh but a good strong beer batter will cover that right up and make for a delicious meal.  Feel free to play around with this one and add in some cayenne pepper to the batter for an extra kick.  For an even stronger batter we recommend pouring in some beer named after a saltwater variety catch, Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA.  If you love hoppy beers this is for you. Enjoy the rest of your 6 pack with your meal; you’ll be glad you did.

Bluegill or Bream

Another small catch that makes a great fry, bream calls for a lighter batter.  Make yours with Florida’s own Stump Knocker American Pale Ale from Swamp Head Brewery. Its moderate flavor will be an easy compliment to the crunch of your fish.

Channel catfish

Hooked a huge channel catfish?  Then you must stir in some Alligator Pale Ale from the Alligator Brewing Company.  Light and drinkable, it would go well for a lightly seasoned fish on a muggy summer night.

Striped bass

Make sure you add some Cajun seasoning to that striped bass batter before you deep fry this delicious fish.  Try it with New Crustacean Barleywineish Imperial IPA Sorta, the lightness will balance with the spices in the batter.

Grass Shrimp

Grass shrimp the catch of the day?  Deep fry those little critters with some Sweet Water Brewing Company’s Spinnerbait.  The caramel flavors will blend seamlessly with the crunch and light texture of the shrimp.

The cottages at Castaways on the River include fully furnished kitchens ready to bring your feast from the river to the table. Or cook outside on one of the grills in the pavilion to enjoy the beautiful landscape. And don’t forget we offer a variety of rental boats to get to your favorite fishing spot. Learn more about us in our blog and keep up with us on Facebook and Twitter.

A Relaxing Getaway Close to Major Attractions in the Region

Telling visitors how to get to Castaways on the River in Astor, FL typically means using the cities of Ocala and Daytona Beach as landmarks. Most tourists have heard of these locales since both regions host several events gaining national attention year round.

Our guests come in March for Bike Week & October for Biketoberfest.

Of course, the world famous Daytona Beach is home to NASCAR’s Daytona 500 in February, Bike Week in March, CokeZero 400 in July, Biketoberfest in October and other racing events. The beach along the Atlantic Ocean is known as a Spring Break hotspot for college students.

The area is less than an hour drive from world class golf courses including Golden Ocala Golf & Equestrian Club, home to the LPGA Coates Golf Championship in January. The tournament is the newest stop added to the LPGA tour. Ocala’s equestrian ties also attract large events including the Ocala Breeders Sales, HITS Ocala Winter Circuit and the Live Oak International to name a few.

Nestled on the eastern rim of the Ocala National Forest off U.S. 40 on the St. Johns River, Castaways on the River is a relaxing getaway but within proximity to enjoy great tourist destinations.

Blue Crabs are popular in the St. Johns River

Eco-tourism plays a big role in this region thanks to the St. Johns River and the Ocala National Forest. The river is a fisherman’s paradise, home to several species of fish like Black Crappie or Speckled Perch to Largemouth Bass and Stripped Bass. The river, which flows south to north, is also known for White Shrimp and Blue Crab. Yes, that means you can catch lunch or dinner in just a few hours and prepare it on one of our outdoor grills on in the kitchen of your cottage.

The Castaways on the River can accommodate small or large groups.

Our guests can enjoy lodging in one of our quaint cottages or one of our luxury motel rooms. Whether you choose to spend the day boating or fishing on the St. Johns River or take a daytrip to a nearby tourist attraction, Castaways on the River is your headquarters to do it all!

A Glimpse of the Natural Side: Florida’s Black Bear Scenic Byway

The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway is a nationally designated byway. This 60 mile byway winds through parts of Marion, Lake, Putnam and Volusia counties in what’s known as the Big Scrub.

As the name suggests, Florida’s Black Bear population is the most concentrated in this region of the state. Yes, it’s common to see a black bear or two along the way, especially in the spring, summer and fall, so keep your cameras ready but keep your distance.

The east-west segment of the byway takes visitors along State Road 40 from Ormand Beach west to Ocala. The north-south sector stretches US 19 from Palatka down to Umatilla. The byway includes a network of scenic roads and interpretive trails.

The Florida Black Bear Scenic byway takes the traveler through several forests including the Ocala National Forest and the Lake George State Forest.

There’s an App & More

Visitors can download a phone app for the travel guide covering the area by the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway.

The app also has a wealth of maps, videos and other resources to help plan a trip to explore the byway.

A Popular Trek

The Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway is popular for birdwatchers, as well as those wanting to explore the various hiking trails.

The byway also draws many a motorcyclist to the open and winding roads. A loop along the byway is often an excursion for the annual biking events in Daytona like Bike Week in March and Biketoberfest in October.

By The Water

Here at Castaways On The River in Astor, along the St. John’s River, we are sort of at the crossroads of SR 40 and US 19, right in the middle of the Florida Black Bear Scenic Byway no matter or which direction you are traveling.

We have great accommodations to fit your needs regardless of how you are planning to visit the byway. Our boaters will find a wealth of resources about how to access the area springs included on the byway.

Let us help make your visit a fun and comfortable one! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about us and to keep up with the latest happenings at Castaways!

Safety On The Water Takes More Than Driving A Boat

With such close proximity to the ocean, the Gulf, lakes, and rivers, it’s boating season all year round in Florida. Typically, the summer season, between Memorial Day and Labor Day, is a popular time to get out on the water especially with families taking a break to have fun and relax. This busy summer holiday season is a good time to remind boaters of safety tips to make sure everyone enjoys the water.

Always Be Prepared

An important step to boating safety is being prepared before heading out on the water. Make sure there is a properly fitting life jacket for everyone on the boat. Each state has different requirements regarding life jackets worn by children. Know the rules and comply.

The “Boat Responsibly and Wear It” campaign by The National Safe Boating Council  urges boaters to be alert while on the water, be prepared and wear a life jacket every time you’re out on a boat.

“According to the most recent U.S. Coast Guard statistics, over two-thirds of fatal accident victims drowned. Out of those who drowned, approximately 90 percent were not wearing a life jacket.”

Keep an Eye on the Weather

Keep tabs on the weather forecast for the area where you’ll be boating. Consider bringing along a weather radio to stay up to date on the latest conditions. Plan how far out you want to go in case you need to return quickly due to an approaching storm. Stay mindful of where you are located so you can share the location if an emergency arises.

Know the Rules

Navigating the water is much different from driving a vehicle on the road. It’s important to know the rules to operate a boat, such as safe speed and how to pass another vessel. The driver of the boat must be on constant watch to avoid dangerous situations. Just like driving on the road, the operator of the boat should avoid alcohol use while on the water. The National Safe Boating Council estimates that 70-percent of recreational boating accidents are caused by operator factors such as: failure to pay attention, carelessness, recklessness, inexperience, excessive speed, and failure to watch for hazards.

Boat Safety Education

A number of organizations provide boat safety courses, along with a variety of tips and additional resources. In Florida you must be at least 14 years of age to operate a personal watercraft. In addition Florida requires that anyone renting a personal watercraft must be at least 18 years of age.

Florida also requires anyone born after Jan. 1, 1988 must obtain a Boating Safety Education ID card before operating a boat. There are several ways for Florida residents to obtain a card. Visit the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission to learn more. Out-of-state visitors can obtain a temporary certificate by taking a test.

Bring Your Own Boat or Rent One of Ours

At Castaways on the River, our guests will find a variety of boats available for rent. Our resort in Astor, FL on the western bank of the St. John’s River can also accommodate guests in a traditional hotel room or in one of our cottages. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to learn more about us and to keep up with the latest happenings at Castaways!

Day Trip: De Leon Springs State Park

Visitors to Castaways on the River have a ton of options for things to do in the area, with most just a short ride away if traveling by water or land. It’s easy; just pick a direction and there is something to explore.

The staff of Castaways, many of whom grew up in the region, is often asked by guests to suggest places of interest to visit in the area. One such inquiry by longtime Castaways customers Robbie and Paula Worthington led the couple and their adult daughter Kayla Worthington to nearby De Leon Springs State Park.

The trio from Crittenden, KY, spent time enjoying the day along the St. John’s River on jet skis before heading south of Castaways to the park. The Worthingtons, who spend four weeks each winter at Castaways, had never before visited the park.

The warm water of the park’s swimming area, at a constant 72 degrees year round, was too much for Robbie to resist. He described his dip in the swimming area of the spring, known as the Fountain of Youth, as “cool.” The spring, with a 3-foot waterfall, leads to the Spring Garden Run, which connects north into Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge and on to the St. John’s River.

The waterfall makes a good spot to take photographs as does the rustic wooden structure outfitted with a paddle wheel home to The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Grill and Griddle House. Diners can make their own pancakes right at their table and enjoy a variety of other menu items the eatery offers.

A Visitor Center is also on the grounds and provides a glimpse of the area’s rich history when the native Mayaca inhabited the area for 6,000 years. In the early 1500s, Spanish missions were built in the area. In the 1800s, settlers in the region formed sugar and cotton plantations that were later destroyed during the Second Seminole War.

De Leon Springs State Park is designated on The Great Florida Birding and Wildlife Trail and the Trail of Florida Indian Heritage. The park is open all year.

De Leon Springs is one of many day trips within minutes of Castaways on the River in Astor, FL. For more fun in the sun, come check out our accommodations, boats and jet skis.