In the 1820s, the springs became a tourist attraction for adventurous visitors who poled their way along the narrow stream through overhanging cypress and Spanish moss. With the invention of the paddlewheel, Silver River and Springs became a distribution center for Central Florida. Plantations growing vegetables, tobacco and oranges sprang up along the banks as nearby Ocala grew. In the late 1870s, Phillip Morrell fixed a piece of glass in the bottom of a rowboat and a new enterprise began. Silver River's glass bottom boat tours have been world famous for more than 100 years.
The Silver River Museum and Environmental Center and Silver River State Park both opened to the public in 1987. For several years, however, the Silver River Museum and Education Center was the only developed area at the park. The continued relationship with the park and the Marion County School Board has given many local school children the opportunity to participate in environmental education programs at the Center.
The entrance station, completed in 2000, was one of the first park buildings constructed at Silver River. Since that time, a campground, cabins, picnic area with playground and a canoe and kayak launch have been added, providing additional recreational opportunities for park visitors.
On October 1, 2013, the Florida Park Service acquired management of the headsprings area. At that time, the name of the entire park was changed to Silver Springs State Park from Silver River State Park, adding 231 acres and multiple new recreational opportunities including the iconic glass bottom boats.