In spring, as the weather turns warm and humid, Blue Spring has a brief firefly season. For a few weeks in April (again, timing depends on weather), the woods fill with thousands of blinking fireflies at dusk.
Year-round, there are trails to explore and kayaks and canoes that can be rented for scenic paddling along the St. Johns and several nearby creeks. You also can take a narrated boat tour of the St. Johns River from the park’s boat concession or take a Segway tour of the park.
The park is in the middle of a wide swath of undeveloped woodland and its woods are full of birds. Wild turkeys frequent the grassy hillside next to the historic Thursby House, built by pioneers in 1872, when Blue Spring was emerging as an important steamboat landing on the St. Johns. The Thursby House is open for self-guided tours and has historic artifacts that tell the history of the Blue Spring.
Thankfully, a park with so many assets also has top-notch cabins, although not many. With six cabins and the popularity of both manatees and swimming, snagging a cabin here can take planning. You can reserve cabins up to 11 months in advance, and weeknights are often available with shorter notice.
The two-bedroom cabins are secluded from the busy spring and its parking lot by their location in a thick oak hammock. Cabins can accommodate up to six people with two bedrooms (one double bed and two twins) plus a sleeper sofa in the living room. There’s one bathroom. Kitchens have dishwashers and microwaves and cabins have gas fireplaces for use in winter. Cabins have a screened porch, outdoor grill with a picnic table, heating and air conditioning. Price: $95 per night.
The cabins at Silver River State Park are similar in size to Blue Spring (they sleep six in two bedrooms with one bath) but in some ways are even more appealing. Each “cabin” — really more house than cabin — is surrounded by big trees and vegetation, separated from neighboring cabins. Out back, there’s a fire ring for campfires and s’mores. The metal roofs and porches make these structures look like Florida Cracker houses. The screened porches are massive and hold a picnic table and a few rocking chairs. The living rooms are a bit roomier than Blue Spring.
There’s a full kitchen and dining room table for six, cozy wooden cabin-like décor and a gas fireplace that provides a warm glow in the cabin with the flick of a switch in winter. At the ranger station, you can check out board and card games. The kitchen has a dishwasher and microwave. My only criticism: Don’t plan to do real cooking. There are no serving dishes, no cutting board and few pans. Cabins have heat and air conditioning
It’s easier to book cabins here because there are 10 of them. Price: $110 per night.
Silver River State Park is full of recreational opportunities. It has15 miles of lovely forest trails that can be walked or ridden on mountain bikes. From the park, you can rent canoes or kayaks and it’s an easy paddle up the beautiful Silver River to the spring boil. You’ll see wildlife on this paddle — lots of birds, alligators and, if you’re lucky, wild rhesus monkeys.
The monkeys are part of the colorful history of Silver Springs. In 1930, according to the Silver Springs Theme Park, a fellow called Colonel Toohey operated the “jungle” tour and placed rhesus macaques monkeys, indigenous to Central and East Asia, on an island to delight his visitors. He didn’t know that monkeys are good swimmers. The escaped monkeys have thrived ever since, with a population now estimated at 200. Because they’re an exotic species, state officials aren’t wild about them — but visitors are.