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


5 Tips for a Romantic River Trip

If you’re looking for something different to do with someone who loves the outdoors as much as you do, we have just the trip for you.

Below are 5 tips for a romantic river trip on the St. Johns River for Couples Appreciation Month that will have you coming back again and again to enjoy the natural beauty of the St. Johns River in Central Florida.

couple fishing on the river
Catching fish and enjoying each other’s company on the St. Johns River is a great idea for Couples Appreciation Month.

Lure your Partner With a Fishing Trip

Imagine the peace and serenity of a quiet day on the river, catching fish and enjoying each other’s company on the crystal clear water of the St. Johns River. Spring is a great time to catch fish. If your loved one isn’t an angler but is interested in taking up your hobby, you’re in luck. This weekend you can take advantage of Florida freshwater license free fishing days. So grab the tackle boxes and rods and get moving.

Boating on the River

You don’t have to enjoy fishing to enjoy the St. Johns River together. Rent a boat and spend the day on the river enjoying the wildlife and each other’s company. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy your surroundings as you and your loved one spend quality time on the river.

Rent a Cottage

Stay awhile and enjoy a romantic weekend on the St. Johns River. There are plenty of quaint cottages and motel room options, including our cottage and motel room options, that allow couples to settle in for the weekend, relax in the evenings and even fry up that day’s catch from your fishing adventure.

couple on the river
Enjoying the beauty of the St. Johns River and looking for wildlife is a great way to spend quality time with your loved one.

Wildlife Watching

You’ll see more species of wildlife on the St. Johns River than you will at the beach. Enjoy a day on the boat with your special someone looking for manatees, alligators catching some sun along the river shoreline and blue crabs. If you’re adventurous, get off the boat and head inland where you may see some deerr even a Florida black bear in the Ocala National Forest.

This is also a great time of year for bird watching on the St. Johns River as birds migrate north. You’re likely to see bald eagles, white pelicans, sandhill cranes, wood ducks and other species enjoying the river.

Soothing Springs will Relax You

Did you know that you’re near some of Florida’s most beautiful warm water natural springs when you visit the St. Johns River in Central Florida? The constant 72-degree water springs disperse crystal clear water for those couples looking to unwind. Grab a raft or a tube and enjoy the water and serenity of the area’s freshwater springs.

couple on a romantic river trip at sunset
Enjoying a sunset on the St. Johns River is a great way to enjoy the river’s natural beauty.

Watch the Sun Rise and Set Over the River

The beach isn’t the only place to see a beautiful sunset in Florida. The sun rising and setting over the St. Johns River is a site to behold with the natural beauty of the area reflected in the river while the sky turns hues of orange and pink. If watching the sunset together is on your “romantic to do list” you won’t want to miss this.

At Castaways on the River, we offer everything you need to plan the perfect romantic trip on the St. Johns River. We offer cottages with access to all of the features on the river. You can also rent a boat or a Jet ski. Pick up the phone and call Castaways on the River at (352) 759-3422 to plan your perfect romantic getaway on the river.

Planning the Perfect Spring Break in Florida

Girl tubing on the river
Spring break isn’t spring break unless you’re near the water.

Are you planning your perfect spring break in Florida but craving something different? Look no further than the St. Johns River. It’s the perfect spot to get away from typical spring breakers infiltrating Florida coastlines. Plus, it has natural amenities that beach towns offer, minus the crowds.

We’ll fill you in on why this Old Florida location should be your next spring break destination.

Spring Break on the Water

Spring break isn’t spring break unless you’re near the water. You’re just mixing it up this year by trading the salt water for fresh water on the St. John’s River. Spend your break boating, kayaking, snorkeling and fishing while enjoying a change of spring break scenery.

Fun fact: The St. Johns River is the longest river in Florida at 310 miles long and is one of only three rivers in the country that flows from south to north.

We Put the Spring in Spring Break

Bird on the river.
You’re likely to spot wildlife you won’t find at the beach.

Why not celebrate spring break by enjoying an area known for its natural springs? Your spring break destination spot puts you near some of Florida’s most beautiful warm water natural springs to help you unwind and relax. Bonus perk? You’re likely to spot wildlife you won’t find at the beach. Plus, you might spot manatees in the crystal clear water.

The Sun Rises and Sets Here Too

Sunset on the river
Watching the sun pop up and down over the St. John’s River will rival any sunrise or sunset you’ve seen at the beach.

Who says you have to have your toes in the sand to watch the sun rise and set on spring break week? Mix it up this year. We would a hedge a bet that watching the sun pop up and down over the St. Johns River will rival any sunrise or sunset you’ve seen at the beach.

We offer cabins with access to all of the above, including boat and Jet ski rentals! Pick up the phone and call Castaways on the River at (352) 759-3422 to plan your perfect spring break on the river.

Manatee Awareness: Florida’s Gentle Giants

The waters of the St. Johns River and nearby springs are popular to spot manatees here in Florida. And as the air temperature begins to dip, manatee stay close to springs seeking warm water. The month of November is designated as Manatee Awareness Month in hope of better protecting these gentle giants.

Manatee endangered
Manatee Fact: Manatees are an endangered species.

Manatees are considered endangered and are protected by law. Boaters will find signs along waterways where manatees are known to swim reminding them to shift to idle speed in these zones.

A Gentle Giant

As a distant relative of elephants, manatees are often referred to as gentle giants because of their bulk, slow moving and non-aggressive nature. Manatees can swim up about 5 miles per hour and travel a distance of 15 miles in short bursts. They use their powerful tail to propel them through the water while using their front flippers to steer.

Manatee breathe
Manatee Fact: Manatees breathe air but never leave the water.

Manatee Habitat

There’s a lot to know about manatees and their habits. For starters, did you know that while they must breathe air manatees never leave the water. A quick scan of the water’s surface can usually find a nose or two sticking up for a breath. They can hold their breath underwater in excess of 15 minutes.

Manatees can go between freshwater and saltwater and can be found along the eastern U.S. from Florida and south to Brazil in South America along the Amazon River and also on the west coast of Africa. Can you say international?

The manatees found in Florida are known as the West Indian Manatee.

manatee eat
Manatee Fact: Manatees are big eaters.

Time to Eat

Manatees like to eat! And they eat a lot! These vegetarians eat grass and other plants found along the shoreline and in the water. If they are not sleeping or swimming, manatees are eating! Manatees are big…usually weighing an average of 1,500 to1,800 pounds as an adult.

In the wild, manatees live an average of 30 to 60 years. Seeing a manatee for the first time in the water or after many times is remains a priceless experience for many. The Blue Springs Park Manatee Refuge is a short boat ride away. Visit us here at Castaways on the River, bring your boat or rent one of ours to see manatees up close. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates about the area, check out our website or give us a call at (352) 759-3422.

Family Trip Ideas

Boat Ride – St. Johns River

Greenery on St. Johns River

St. Johns River is Florida’s longest river; forming a beautiful path that flows from Indian River County to northeast Florida and into the Atlantic Ocean. A boat cruise of the river offers many opportunities for an affordable family trip, as the river is known for its diverse wildlife and freshwater fishing, especially largemouth basses. The river is a haven for manatees and a variety of birds. Pass through Heritage Corridor, which offers views of Volusia County’s rich cultural heritage and national treasures.

Recreation –  Silver Glen Springs

If you are boating on the St. Johns River, plan to visit Silver Glen Springs, located just a few minutes up the river from Astor, FL. Silver Glen Springs is in the Recreational Area of the Ocala National Forest. The spring has a large semicircular pool that measures 200 feet from north to south, and 175 feet east to west. With such magnitude, the crystal-clear spring basin is popular for snorkeling, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, and swimming. Everyone will have plenty of room to splash and play!

Silver Glen Springs - Family Fun

Silver Glen Springs is an important archaeological site with hiking trails where you can explore and learn more about the history and ecology of the area.  The natural setting is surrounded by forests of oak, cedar and pines, providing the perfect scenery for photography and birding. If you happen to visit the Spring in the winter, you may see manatees visiting from the cooler waters of the St. Johns River.

Castaways on the River offers many boats for rent for your next cruise. Consider staying with us as well and wake up to beautiful sunshine in our many cottages and motel rooms that will accommodate almost any party size. We would love for you to come visit and experience the beautiful oasis Astor has to offer.

-Castaways on the River