When we were kids, Homosassa Springs was a roadside attraction, pre-Disney, showing off wildlife in a jungle-like setting. When Florida State Parks took it over, the park pulled in its focus strictly to Florida wildlife, and with a manatee rehab center on site, it’s one of the easiest places in Florida to see a manatee.
Location: Homosassa Springs
Fees: $13 adult, $5 children 5-12
Open: 9-5:30 daily
Kennels available for non-service animals
The year, 1969. The heft in my hand, a cabbage the size of a bowling ball. With the crowd egging me on, I pitched it directly into the yawning mouth of Lucifer, the giant hippo. The crowd cheered. Lucifer, now Lu, chomped. My Roadside Americana stardom faded as the alligator show began.
Rechristened for the woman who helped its transformation from roadside attraction to Florida State Park, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park was a must-stop on my family’s many road trips through Florida. Opened in the 1940s, its main purpose was to showcase the swirl of marine and freshwater fish inside the springs, first via an observation tower and from the 1960s to today, via a underwater observatory dubbed “Nature’s Fish Bowl.”
The exotic wildlife – except for Lu, who was given Florida citizen status by a former governor – moved out once the struggling attraction was purchased by the state. Now, it’s a showcase for Florida wildlife, from manatees to flamingos, otters to panthers. Photographers will appreciate the ability to get close as much as the kids will.
While the park still has a splashy front entrance along US 19, it takes a tour boat – included in the admission price – or a tram, or a walk, to get back to the main gate, which has its own parking area along Fishbowl Road.
Explore the park
- Three Days of Nature Coast Springs- Between New Port Richey and Crystal River, explore a variety of springs along the Nature Coast that provide splashing fun in summer and manatee watching in winter.