Alexander Springs has always been tops on my list of things to do in the Ocala National Forest. It’s one among many of Florida’s crystalline springs, where locals and visitors gather to enjoy its many offerings of eco-adventure. Camping, swimming, snorkeling, hiking and canoeing are popular recreational activities. But —what many may not know is that the spring is steeped in Native American heritage. Winding through the depths of the forest lies the footprint of one of Florida’s earliest tribes, the Timucua Indians.
In this article I will discuss Alexander Springs. I will also highlight Juniper Springs and Silver Glen Springs. I will cover adventure activities for each, while exploring the Native Americans of the Ocala National Forest.
The First Things to Know About Visiting the Ocala National Forest
- All the springs in the forest are very sacred to both the modern tribes and their ancestors. Please use the utmost respect when visiting. Shelling, digging and removal of artifacts of any kind is strictly prohibited. This is a protected area.
- There is no “off” season, however January-May tends to be the busiest time in the forest (for camping and hiking).
- Large events in Central Florida, such as the Daytona 500 and Mount Dora Arts Festival bring an influx of guests to the campground.
- Inversely, the warmer months are more popular for swimming. While camping and hiking slows down, the springs get busy.
- The springs stay at a year round 72 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Bring snorkeling gear if you want to explore the natural environment of the springs.
- Diving into caves is highly discouraged; cave diving is extremely dangerous, even for professionals.
- Sunblock, bug spray and beach-like gear is recommended when going to the springs for swimming.
- If you’re hiking of course, comfortable shoes and seasonal appropriate clothing are fine.
- The Ocala National Forest is home to predatory animals such as wild bear, coyotes, bobcats, alligators and vultures. Be mindful and never leave food out when camping. For more info on safe food handling go here.
- Be safe, respectful and leave no trace of your visit in the forest. This is a pristine and natural habitat.
Where to Stay – Ocala National Forest Camping
Camping in the Ocala National Forest is an experience of pure nature. Submerse yourself in the same forest where Native Americans once lived, and that is home to incredible wildlife, natural phenomena and a variety of recreational activities.
Here are some things to know about camping:
- You can camp at both Alexander Springs and Juniper Springs for $21 USD / night.
- Both tent and camper sites available.
- Showers available.
- For more information on Ocala National Forest camping go here.
“The Fisherman” with permission from Theodore Morris
Understanding the Native Americans of the Ocala National Forest: The Timucua Indians
If you read Native America in Bradenton Florida a Travel Guide, you will see similarities between the Timucua and the Calusa cultures. Like the Calusa and Apalachee, there is very little in the way of documented history. Most of what we have learned is from archaeological sites.
To learn more about the Timucua, I had to do a bit of digging. The state-issued publication on Florida’s Native American Heritage Trail was most helpful. Here are some key similarities between the Timucua and Calusa tribes:
- Both cultures settled near rivers on or near the coast.
- Both ate shellfish (and used the shells as tools) and fished for food.
- Both had similar ceremonial rituals (such as drinking black tea).
- Both used dugout canoes.
- They were mound builders. While some were for burials, others were for refuse (midden mound).
The Timucua hunted and gathered in the forests and swamps. They also planted maize, squash, and beans in their villages.
“Freshwater Timucua” with permission from Theodore Morris
Water and Creation Myth of the Timucua
Creation stories of the North American Indian tribes are diverse. They vary widely by tribe, region and storyteller. Still, there are some common denominators across many stories.
The universe was believed as a place of complete darkness before the beginning, an endless void and sometimes, endless waters (source National Geographic Essential Visual History of World Mythology). Like many other creation mythologies, the Timucua believed in a creator god; they called theirs, Yayjaba.
The stories that were told of Yayjaba’s creation of the world are interesting. Here are some key things about the myth:
- He created the world first, by creating the Spirit of Water and the Spirit of Wind. He then created a pond, followed by an island and swimmers who, breathed above the water, and those who breathed below.
- He created bottom dwelling creatures to hold the land in place below the water, and trees (the one-legged ones) to anchor the land in place above the water. For this task, the one-legged ones were given a gift of life anywhere on earth.
- All the animals of the earth, insects and birds came from the Great Cave. They were ordered to respect the one-legged ones. If any disrespect was shown, they would be destroyed by flood and dust or drought.
- As told in reference to the creator speaking to the one-legged ones:
“But you are to do wondrous things – you will be the protectors of the land. Where I place you, you are to grab the land and hold it still. When Wind wanders the land, you must hold the land steady so that his breath does not blow the land into the waters, and when Water wanders the land, you must hold the land steady so that his rain does not push the land into the waters. All of you, from the mightiest oak to the smallest flower, to the single blade of grass, you are to hold tight to the land”. –Adonaset, Timucua Legend
Even today, Native American tribes are very respectful of plants and trees. If they are to take a plant or tree away from the land, they must ask for permission and forgiveness with respect (source Indigenous People).
Things to do in the Ocala National Forest
There are a variety of things to do in the Ocala National Forest. For a complete list with links to resources go here.
- Bike Riding
- Horse Riding
- Nature Viewing
- Scenic Driving
- Kayaking / Canoeing
The Many Springs of Ocala National Forest
And there are many! For a complete list check out this great site on Florida’s Springs. For the sake of this article we explored three of our favorite springs in Florida; Alexander Springs, Juniper Springs and Silver Glen Springs. The Native American information in this article is specific to Alexander Springs.
Native America in the Forest: Alexander Springs – Camp, Kayak, Hike and Swim
Alexander Springs is a stunning example of Florida’s beautiful springs. It’s a great place to swim too. You’ll often see professional photographers with heavy-duty underwater equipment filming beneath the surface. Snorkeling and lounging is quite common as well.
When you’re ready to explore, take a hike on the 1.1 mile loop Timucua Trail which highlights the vegetation used by the tribe. It’s an absolutely pristine piece of Florida’s natural attractions with its towering palms and lush foliage.
When you’re done swimming and hiking, why not rent a kayak or a canoe and take a journey down Alexander Run? Here, you’ll get up close to the wildest side of Florida, while submersing yourself in the very same environment the native residents did many hundreds of years ago. From alligators to great herons and more turtles than you can count, a trip along any Florida water way is always one to remember.
A place like this is too good to leave in one day, and with so many other springs in the vicinity, I recommend you set up camp!
You can access all the fee information for camping, renting and park entry right here.
Additional Points of Interest: Juniper Springs and Silver Glen Springs
Since all the springs are so close to one another, we couldn’t help but to hit Juniper and Silver Glen Springs. Both have their own unique highlights.
Juniper Springs is an awesome spot for doing a cannonball! There’s a really fun platform made just for jumping from. It’s about seven feet high. If you’re unsure about the temperature, my advice is to jump right on in!
Silver Glen Springs is like a tropical dream. Its width allows a lot of sunlight making the water a crystal clear turquoise, which resembles a tropical paradise. There’s plenty of area to set up for the day, so bring the cooler and the hot dogs!
You can rent kayaks and canoes at both of these springs for a beautiful day exploring the same waterways our Native Americans did so many years ago.
There is a whole other side of Florida so many visitors and even residents have yet to explore. Rich in Native American heritage and eco-adventure, the Ocala National Forest is truly a great place to spend time with the family, and better yet, it’s very cost effective. With camping at both Alexander Springs, Juniper Springs and kayaking / canoeing at all three and a wide range of outdoor recreation, all you need is the family. So pack up!
For a more academic history on Florida’s Native American Heritage Trail you can download this 40 page PDF from the state. It’s a great guide, which I picked up a couple years ago at a local museum. I’m happy to see it’s available online. Go here for more information on Florida travel planning.
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