The park has a charming “Cracker village,” where a cluster of historic buildings forms the Silver River Museum and Environmental Education Center. The center is open to the public on weekends and holidays for a $2 admission.
Silver River State Park also has a concessionaire who operates guided horseback trail rides through the park. Cactus Jack’s Trail Rides (352-266-9326) charges $40 for one hour; $60 for two. Riders must be 6 or older.
Adjacent to Silver River is the Silver Springs Theme Park, which is going to end its life as a commercial attraction and become a state park this fall.
Hontoon River State Park cabins are in a totally different category; they appeal to folks who want more of a camping experience. They offer the fun of being in the woods and cooking over a campfire, while guaranteeing you’ll stay dry in a storm and have a refuge from mosquitoes.
Six very basic cabins are in a shady, open forest. There’s no heat or air conditioning, no kitchen and, like the campers, you walk to the central bathroom with hot showers and flush toilets. The cabins have bunk beds with vinyl-covered mattresses and you bring your own sleeping bag (or linens).
The cabins have a screened porch with a table and chairs — perfect if you get bad weather. They also have ceiling fans in the bedroom and porch, lights in both bedroom and porch and a single electric outlet. The cabins come with a fire ring with a grill and a picnic table, like the campsites.
It costs $30 a night for a four-bunk cabin; $35 for six bunks. The larger cabins have a larger screened porch area.
What makes the cabins at Hontoon Island especially attractive is their remote location. Hontoon Island State Park is in the St. Johns River and the only way to reach it is by boat. A free electric ferry buzzes back and forth every few minutes, carrying hikers, campers and fishermen and all their gear. Campers and cabin guests and gear are then shuttled by van to the campground a half-mile from the marina.
As a result of the island’s location, it has no cars, no concrete, no crowds and no development within sight.
The park has an extensive trail system. I recommend the 3-mile-long Hammock Hiking Nature Trail, which takes you through a thick hardwood forest with lots of sprawling live oaks draped with Spanish moss. The path ends at a huge Indian shell mound, a hill about 20 feet high and 400 feet long.
The park is also a great base for kayaking or canoeing. Circumnavigating Hontoon Island in a canoe or kayak is a perfect day’s paddle. You can bring your own or rent them at Hontoon at a rate of $20 an hour or $40 for the day. Note, however, that there are only two double kayaks and five canoes and they cannot be reserved. On busy weekends you must get to the marina early.