Blue Spring State Park is well acclaimed for being the best place in Florida to see manatees in the wild, and we don’t mean a dozen or two.
Location: Orange City
Fees: $4-6 per vehicle
Open: 8 AM until sunset daily
Leashed pets welcome
Upwards of 200 manatees crowd the spring run in the chill of winter, nursing calves and begetting the next generation. The park is packed on winter weekends, so visit early or on a weekday, as the gates are closed when they reach capacity.
In 1775, botanist William Bartram marveled at Blue Spring, writing “what a surprising fountain it must be, to furnish such a stream.” He didn’t mention the manatees, but perhaps it was the wrong time of year.
Like Bartram, paddlers have the wild reaches of the St. Johns to explore, and backpackers can get close to nature along their own riverine peninsula. Notable are the ecotours along the river offered by St. Johns River Cruises from the park dock, as they -- along with the park’s extensive boardwalk for manatee watching -- are fully wheelchair accessible.
Explore the park
- Blue Spring State Park Boardwalk - If you’ve never seen manatees by the dozens, let alone over a hundred, there’s no better place to watch them than along the boardwalk at Blue Spring State Park in wintertime
- Manatee munching palm tree at Blue Springs - Every winter, hundreds of manatees converge at Blue Spring Run near Deland. I just happened to catch one on video while it was chewing on a palm tree.
- Pine Island Trail - A 7.3-mile round-trip trail to the St. Johns River, the Pine Island Trail at Blue Spring State Park traverses both upland and river edge habitat.