Road Trip Ideas – Discovering Manatees at Blue Spring State Park in Florida

Note: Due to the changes that COVID-19 has brought, I always recommend you call or visit the park website before you visit to verify hours and current regulations.  Stay safe out there!

On my recent trip to Florida, I was grateful to find this gem of a state park about an hour north of Orlando in Orange City.   Thanks to my hotel points, I had booked a free hotel in Deland, Florida, which was only 15 minutes away from the park.  I was hoping to find a spring that wouldn’t be too crowded where I could just explore and relax for the morning.  The park opened at 8:00 am, and I arrived shortly after, around 8:15.  I was surprised to see a line of about 20 cars already at the entrance gate waiting to get in.  Apparently, it didn’t matter whether you visit during the week or the weekend, this park is popular!

I had read that manatees were generally seen here in the colder months and that they would likely be gone by my visit in June, but the stunning clear water was enough to draw me in, even without manatees.  Imagine my excitement when I ended up seeing several of them just as I was about to leave!  Below is my video of the springs area; the manatees pop up around the 1:11 mark.

***Though the park website notes that swimming with manatees is not allowed, there was no park staff around asking any swimmers to exit the water once manatees were spotted.  I’m not sure if that is the norm or not, but I do hope they monitor this to ensure the ongoing safety of the manatees here.

 

I enjoyed walking around the park before it got too crowded, and was definitely wishing I had come prepared to go swimming because everyone was commenting about how refreshingly cool the water felt.  If I return, I’d definitely bring a snorkel and my own tube to enjoy relaxing on the water!

Know Before You Go

  • ARRIVE EARLY. The park had closed to visitors prior to 10:00 am the day I was there (Wednesday) and didn’t start accepting visitors again until 2:00 pm.
  • Entry Cost: $6 per vehicle, unless you’re alone, then it’s only $4 (gotta love solo trips).  You can opt to pay online ahead of time here.
  • Temperature: 68-72 degrees in the spring, year-round and the water is crystal clear.
  • Location: 2100 W French Avenue, Orange City FL 32763, Phone: 386-775-3663
  • Amenities & Rentals:
    • Tubes are available to rent, or you can bring your own, as long as it does not exceed 6 feet tall or 6 feet wide.
    • Canoes and Kayaks are available for rent from St. Johns River Cruises in the park, but the rates were rather high in my opinion – I believe it was $22 per hour.  I also saw several people Stand Up Paddleboarding.
    • Scuba diving is available for certified divers only and snorkeling is also available.
    • 3.6-mile hiking trail in the park, picnic area, cabins, RV, camping, and gift store, among other amenities.

 

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The Historic Thursby House
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Such clear water!
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I saw a lot of scuba divers – the caverns are popular here

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Isn’t he pretty?  This is also the overlook where I first saw the manatees in the water!

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I love how easy it was to see them in this water
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The kayakers had a great view of the manatees

Another great place to see manatees in Florida is the Crystal River area on the western side of the state.  A few Novembers ago, I went swimming (with a wetsuit) with the manatees there through River Ventures  and got to see so many of these beautiful creatures and snorkeled among them.  As soon as I got into the water, one gave me a “hug”.  It was slightly scary at first since they are HUGE, but they’re extremely gentle animals, and just very curious.  Our guide said they are drawn to people that have similar vibes to them.  Who knows if that’s true, but it was neat to think about!

I’d encourage you to check out this park and/or one of the many other beautiful Florida state parks if you want an inexpensive way to spend some time exploring nature.  Hontoon Island State Park is another lovely park in the area (less than 30 minutes away from Blue Spring).   It is only accessible by a short (free) ferry ride across the St. Johns River and is a great place for fishing.   It also has a hiking trail and is definitely much less crowded and has a more secluded feel.  There are a few rustic cabins there for camping as well.

Have you been to any Florida state parks?  Do you have any road trips or local adventures planned soon?  Let me know your favorite spots in the comments!

Thanks for reading! Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel for more US adventure ideas and outdoor product reviews.

Emily

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