A visit to the aqua waters of the Ocala National Forest on what was once Timucua land.
Flowing out of the limestone at a rate of 64 million gallons each minute, Alexander Springs is an aquatic gem amongst the 900 other springs that are scattered throughout Florida. Managed by the National Park Service, located in the Ocala National Forest, its crystalline waters are rich in both recreational opportunities and history. From swimming to snorkeling, sunbathing to scuba, camping and more, these lands once inhabited by the Timucua are nature’s gift to those who seek it out.
This first magnitude spring consists of a gently sloping beach that leads into crystal waters, shallow enough for a small child to play in. It then weaves through a bed of seagrass, and finally drops off into an impressive blue hole, dotted with small underwater caves and ledges. Considered one of the healthiest of the springs, its water has not been plagued by algae, and quality has not declined in the 60 years of monitoring. Reading this fact online and then seeing it in person was awe-inspiring. It made sense as the park was in the middle of nowhere; there would be no fertilizer runoff to spike the algae blooms in the water. It was pristine. The day we visited, it was a cool morning and there were only a few others sprawled out on the sandy beach. Children were laughing and playing ball in the grassy field as their parents lit charcoal for a BBQ in the picnic area near the water. As we entered the 72-degree water, our eyes were drawn to movement on the far bank. A group of river otters darted back and forth, playfully, without a care in the world. We made our way through the seagrass bed and into the deep water of the blue hole. Two scuba divers were already down on the bottom traversing the ledges amongst the depths. Visibility was endless. We dove down time and time again, exploring the breathtaking beauty of the thirty foot plus waters. You don’t want to forget your snorkel and mask here, it was a spring like no other. Our imagination flashed back to the time when the Timucua reigned over the land, and how they must have seen this not only as a resource, but a place for recreation as well. Arrowheads, bows, pottery and more Native American artifacts have been discovered amongst the lush foliage of the national forest lands. If you are looking to explore beyond the waters, a trail named after the tribe is open for hiking. Bear, bobcat, coyote and snakes all call the area home, and of course, the famous swamp puppy, the Florida gator, which we saw on the outskirts of the swimming area just after we exited. Be on the lookout, as you are sharing their home. Nobody seemed alarmed and a few watched curiously from just a few feet away. The gator was unphased and eventually swam away. Canoeing and kayaking along the wild and rugged Alexander Run is a way to guarantee a gator sighting, as we hear seeing them in the swimming area is rare. It was a perfect day spent.
A drive through the Ocala National Forest and a visit to Alexander Springs is a great way to immerse yourself in nature, history, and to keep cool on a hot summer day. Swim where the Timucua swam and check another spring off your Florida bucket list!