Florida Manatees at Blue Spring State Park
Updated: Jun 12, 2020
The best place to view manatees in the Orlando area is in the clear water of Blue Springs State Park. Visiting this park is a great way to see Florida beyond the theme parks and beaches. Besides manatee viewing, activities at Blue Spring State park include kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, tubing, hiking, fishing and camping.
Fun: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (out of 5)
Difficulty: Very Easy EASY Moderate Hard Very Hard
Terrain: Spring water, river, marshlands, flat trails & boardwalk
Time: 1 hour to all day
When to go: Anytime of the year, but winter is best time to see manatees
Entrance Fee: $6 per vehicle! This might be the cheapest thing you can do in Florida and it just might be one of your favorites! Costs for other activities, like tube and kayak rentals are listed under "Things to Do."
THINGS TO BRING
Manatee Off-Season (April – October)
Water shoes if desired
Snacks and/or lunch
Manatee On-Season (Nov - March)
Stroller for little ones for walking on boardwalk to view manatees.
Swimsuit or clothes that can get a little wet if kayaking.
Blue Springs State Park was my favorite place to see manatees while we lived in Florida. It was a top pick for any family or friends that visited us and wanted to see what makes Florida so great beyond the theme parks and Beaches.
Blue Springs State Park can be enjoyed all year round, but the best time to see the most manatees is between November and March. We visited Blue Spring during the on season and off season for manatees and enjoyed each visit.
Manatee Season – November to March
Manatees migrate from the ocean to the warmer springs of Florida where the water temperature stays at 72 degrees all year. During this time, you may see hundreds of manatees congregating at the spring head where the water is the warmest.
There is a trail/boardwalk that follows the Blue Spring Run allowing visitors to see the beauty of the area and view the manatees in the crystal clear spring water. You are not able to swim or kayak near the spring head during manatee season.
However, you may still rent a kayak or canoe and explore the St. Johns River, which the Blue Spring waters feed into. If you are visiting Blue Spring only to view the manatees your visit will only take about an hour. If kayaking or taking a river boat tour on the St. Johns River, you probably need a half of a day.
Manatee Off-Season - April to October
Don’t let the phrase “off-season” fool you. Each time we visited during the off season we were still able to see a few manatees. In fact, because it was the manatee “off-season” we were able to kayak and swim near the spring head and get up close to these beautiful creatures.
Kayaking next to manatees in their natural environment was honestly magical and is something I will never forget. You almost feel like you are in the Amazon. You are allowed to kayak next to the manatees, but you are not allowed to swim with them. Also, please do not chase or harass the manatees if you are lucky enough to get close to one.
Blue Spring State Park is a popular place to swim in the summer to escape the heat. Since Blue Spring is a steady 72 degrees F year-round, it strangely feels warm in the winter and cold in the summer, but I promise it’s the same temperature. You can enter the spring at the spring head and explore the deep crevice beyond what you can see.
After exploring the spring head you can follow the current and swim or take a rental tube down the Blue Spring Run that leads to the St. Johns River. You may see turtles, fish or manatees in this crystal clear water. There is a barrier blocking swimmers from going too far. At this barrier there are stairs allowing exit from the spring.
We spent a few hours during the summer exploring the spring, riding our tubes and swimming with the current. You could spend a good portion of a summer day at Blue Spring just swimming, tubing and kayaking.
There are picnic tables for lunch that you can pack in or pick up at the concession stand. If staying for several hours, I recommend parking and finding a picnic table by the parking lot, which is close to the St Johns River. There are picnic tables dispersed in the grassy area, a pavilion and a playground for younger kids in this area.
THINGS TO DO
Best time to see manatees is between November and March. However there are usually a few near the spring throughout the year.
You can rent a kayak or canoe or bring your own. Lifejackets are provided. During the off season you can kayak canoe close to the spring head. During the manatee season you can explore the St. Johns River.
Explore the spring head and float an 1/8 mile down the blue spring run. Get out and do it again. Bring your own tube our rent one at the park.
Explore the spring head and the surrounding crystal clear water during manatee off season (April to October)
A 2 hour nature and ecological tour on the St Johns River. We did not do a boat tour at this location but we did in others. Reservations can be made beforehand at www.sjrivercruises.com.
Pine Island Trail
A 7.2 mile out and back hike that takes you through several Florida ecological systems. This is a flat trail that you can easily make into a shorter hike by just turning around and heading back the way you came at any point in time. This hike begins at the parking lot that is closer to St Johns River.
Explore the depths of the spring head. Must show proof of scuba diving certification
The Thursby House was built in 1872 and is the centerpiece of the grassy area at Blue Spring State Park. We did not go on a tour inside but looked from the outside in. This home was a hub for steamboats traveling the St. Johns River in the 1800s.
We had three young kids while we lived in Florida so we visited the playground with each visit to Blue Spring.
Yes, there is camping in Florida. There is a campground within walking distance of the Spring.
Tube & Snorkel Rentals: $5 first hour, $2.50 each additional hour, $15 entire day
Kayak Rentals: $17 to $54 depending on the kayak and length of time.
PROS & CONS
Great way to see manatees in natural environment
Various activities – able to spend an hour of an entire day
Kid and adult friendly – both have a good time
Does get crowded at times and the park can reach capacity. If going in the summer, especially on a weekend, arrive within one hour of opening or go later in the afternoon after some crowds have left.
Blue Spring State Park is located at 2100 W French Avenue Orange City FL 3276. This is about 1 hour from Disney, 40 minutes from Downtown Orlando and 40 minutes from Daytona Beach.
Below, we put in the directions to the playground as the point of reference, because that is where the main parking lot is for the spring, swimming area, boardwalk, kayak rentals, playground, picnic area and the Thursby House. Of course, google maps will take you through the main entrance for the State Park, where you will pay an entry fee.
Blue Springs State Park official site
Blue Springs snorkeling and tube rentals
Blue Springs kayak/canoe rentals and St. Johns River Cruises
OTHER NEARBY ADVENTURES
Disney World (1 hour)
Daytona Beach (40 min)
Universal Studios (50 min)
Kennedy Space Center (1 hr 20 min)
Hi, I'm Corrine! I'm an outdoor enthusiast, mother of four, wife, nurse and runner. I believe God gave us this beautiful earth to explore, enjoy and protect.
My goal is to inspire you to get outside and create your own amazing memories as a family. Life is precious and there are too many adventures to be had to spend life on the couch or in front of a screen.
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