"Salt Springs Run" marina provides boat ramp access to the spring for the general public. If you are camping in the Salt Springs Recreation Area campground, you can use their boat ramp. The water is crystal clear with the exception of the silt occasionally churned-up by the manatee tails. The water remains at 72 degrees year round, so the large gentle mammals love small lake formed by the springs. Be aware that the same warm water appeals to other wildlife too, such as alligators.
The campground at Salt Springs Recreation Area is very nice. Surprisingly, the sites are full hookup including sewer. They are mostly level and spacious, and include a fire ring, grill, and picnic table. The ground is thickly blanketed by long pine needles, and Spanish Moss hangs from the limbs.
Another camping/RV option is the Salt Springs RV Resort (Elite Resorts). The sites are much smaller as can be expected in an RV resort. The sites are privately owned, but many can be rented by contacting Elite Resorts. Some owners rent directly, and there are plenty of sites for sale. The lake access, two pools, cable, and club house with pool tables and Wii are major bonuses if you have kids.
Our first impression of the Salt Springs Recreation area was the "Run", a marina located on the small lake formed by the spring. We used the salt Springs Run marina for two days because of convenient parking, easy water access, a nice picnic area, and convenient restrooms.
The first day was our maiden voyage for the canoes, and Rebecca and the kids were a little nervous. On one hand, we were comforted by the fact that the water was a balmy 72 degrees, on the other hand, we were also aware that alligators love the warmth of the springs too. It didn't take long for everyone to become a little more at ease, and we started spotting the wildlife. The water is crystal clear, so we could see the fish swimming beneath us. We could occasionally see the manatee surfacing across the still water.
It wasn't long before we spotted some manatee very nearby. A young pup, probably 800+ lbs, was curious about a pontoon boat very near to us. I used my new waterproof Pentax camera to snap a shot or two. He then swam over to me, slowly raised his massive head out of the water, and just sat there looking at me. I confess*, I reached down and touched his head, and he slowly slipped back under. He seemed curious about a rope dangling from the rear of Rebecca's canoe. He surfaced and began nudging it with his nose causing the rear of the canoe to slowly rise up. Rebecca excitedly said "Row! Row Lee Thomas"! We saw the manatee several more times that day, but I was never able to get a better picture above or below the water.
After a full day of paddling, we moved our camp from the RV Park across the street to the campground at the Recreation Area. The sites are much larger, much more like camping in a state park. Sure, there's no cable, but who needs cable when there's a fire ring. For a change of pace, we visited St .Augustine the next day.
The second full day
at the spring was our last day in the area, so we packed-up the
camper, checked out of
he campground and moved everything to the Marina. There were a
lot more people there on this day (New Years Eve), but there is
plenty of parking, so we had room for the RV, Jeep, and trailer.
After about 3:30, we reluctantly loaded the canoes on the Jeep, then loaded the Jeep on the trailer for our journey North to Crooked River State Park near Saint Marys, Georgia. It was there that we would bring in the new year, just us, a family of six curious people in an RV we call Homer.
*Note- There are laws against "harassment" of manatees. These include swimming after (chasing), riding, poking, and feeding. The term "harass" is very subjective, and I'm sure some people would consider touching a manatee "harassment", even if the animal swims up to you and begs for attention. The rules posted at the marina say touching with one hand is acceptable, but not two. That would constitute "riding". Therefore, I think it must be ok to touch the head of a manatee that surfaces by your canoe. Between you and me, it was a very neat experience.