Florida’s Blue Spring State Park is a wildlife gem and the best place to find manatees. The park’s natural cave-fed spring keeps the water temperature in these central Florida waters warm all year round. Hundreds of manatees flock to the area for the winter months. During our stay in mid-December, the daily count ranged from the high 200s to the high 300s. It is an amazing sight to see so many majestic sea creatures in such a small area. Along with the manatees, there is no shortage of shorebirds. We saw egrets, ibis, herons, cormorants, turkey vultures, a few bald eagles, and numerous other birds. We even spotted a few alligators along with turtles and many species of fish. On the shore, we were able to find several armadillos and a snake to round out our animal adventure.
The St. Johns River
The park has a place where visitors can rent canoes or kayaks or you can bring your own. Visitors can row out onto the St. Johns’ River which the Blue Spring flows into. The park keeps boats out of the spring area but the manatees leave the area and enter the river to feed. In the summertime, visitors are able to swim in the spring water although there are very few manatees in the area during the warmer months.
We rented a canoe and set off into the river and had a really good time searching for the local wildlife on the water. Visitors aren’t allowed to chase down the manatees, but we had several of these inquisitive sea cows come up to the side of the boat. Sea cow isn’t a great term as the manatee actually has more genetic traits to an elephant than cows or at least that is what one of the rangers told us.
Plan to Stay Awhile at the Best Place to Find Manatees
We had only intended to stay in Blue Spring State Park for two days but we loved it so much that we ended up staying for a week. Blue Spring State Park is truly a unique experience and one not to be missed when in the Orlando, Florida area.
Activities at Blue Spring State Park
There is a short trail that parallels the flow of the Blue Spring. This is a wheelchair-accessible path with many overlooks to see the manatees in the crystal clear spring water. This is the best place to find manatees. The park has optimized viewing areas where the manatees like to pool.
There is a longer 5 mile out and back trail called the Pine Island Trail. We did not find the time to do this trail and the reviews generally say to skip it although the ranger did tell us that they often see bears and alligators on this trail.
Canoe and Kayaking
Canoes or kayaks are available for rental inside the park or you can bring your own. Exploring the waterways of the St. Johns River is a great way to spend a day. We loved getting up close to the manatees as they are very inquisitive creatures and will swim right up to the canoe. Click here for rules and pricing.
Don’t want to venture out on unknown waters by yourself? The park has kayak and canoe tours as well.
For those who don’t like to paddle around in a small boat, a river cruise is available. We did not partake of this opportunity but those we saw who did seemed to enjoy the experience. Click here for more details on the river cruise.
There is a bike trail that links another park to the north and continues south past Blue Spring. The trail system to the south is still being constructed. We rode the north route and it is a beautiful mossy tree-covered bike path. It is fairly flat and easy but doesn’t have a particular destination. It is nice to get out but Blue Spring State Park is the best place to find manatees and that is why people come here.
The Blue Spring State Park campground is really nice with good space between the sites and lots of tree cover. We acquired our reservations last minute but the grounds were pretty full and we had to swap sites halfway through our stay. I recommend getting reservations a few months in advance in order to ensure a camping spot in the park. After all, Blue Spring State Park is the best place to find manatees and you don’t want to miss out because you didn’t get a reservation in time.
Click here to make your reservation. I recommend sites 15 – 17 as they are flat and have easy access to the facilities and the path down to the Blue Spring.
Tips for Visiting Blue Springs
- Visit during the Winter. The manatees visit the St. Johns River all year long but are only found in great abundance in Blue Springs Run during the colder months of the year.
- Get up with the sun. Manatees come in at night to stay warm. As the water warms up during the day they leave the spring water and head into the river to feed.
- Don’t forget your bug spray.