While Disney World is Florida’s most popular tourist attraction, there is another famous attraction that Florida is known for — manatees!
Are you going to be in or near Orlando and wondering where to see manatees?
If you are traveling to Orlando in the winter or spring, consider taking a day or even just an afternoon to head to Blue Spring State Park to catch a glimpse of the sea cows. Manatees can generally be seen there from November to April, but especially in January and February when it is coldest and the manatees seek the warm water of the springs. These large animals are slow-moving and easy to spot in shallow waters, making them a favorite with the young and young at heart.
See the manatees swimming here:
Blue Spring State Park is northeast of Orlando and about an hour drive from the Orlando airport. When we visited on a Saturday in February, it was extremely popular and we had to wait for over 30 minutes in a line of cars just to get to the entrance. However, it was well worth the wait!
Entrance to the park is $6 per vehicle and it’s open daily from 8:00 am to sunset. As we found out, it does reach capacity, so get there early or you will have to wait until other parties leave to be able to enter.
No need to worry about food–there is a small camp store with concessions and plenty of picnic areas. There are also numerous restaurants within a few miles of the park entrance.
Once in the park, a wide, shaded boardwalk hugs the shore of the river for about 1/3 of a mile starting near the parking lot. As we walked, it wasn’t long before we started seeing dark shapes moving in the water and spotted manatees through the trees!
The water next to the boardwalk is shallow and clear, making it a great spot to stand and watch the manatees. Just walking along this shallow area we probably spotted 20 manatees in 30 minutes. Because of the hot springs, the water is always around 72 degrees. The colder the day, the more likely the manatees will be near the warmth of the spring. Where the spring flows into the larger St. John’s River it is much deeper.
There is no swimming allowed in the winter when the manatees are present, but in the off-season this would definitely be a great place to swim! If you want to get out on the water you can rent kayaks or canoes and paddle next to the manatees, or take a guided cruise to learn more about them.
While the manatees are the main draw, there is are a number of species of birds, deer and small animals that can also be seen. We spotted lots of turtles and fish.
You can also tour the three-story Louis Thursby House. Built in 1872, the house overlooks a grassy area above the dock. It is now home to a small museum that recounts the hotspot of steamboat activity that the area once was.
The Save The Manatee website has webcams that you can use to watch the manatees at Blue Spring from afar if you can’t make it to Florida. They also document how many manatees are seen there daily.
No matter what the season, don’t forget to take a selfie with the giant mosaic manatee, because, well, it’s not every day you get the chance to take a photo with a guy like this!
Looking for other things to do in eastern Florida? Another place that is fun for both kids and adults is the historic city of St. Augustine.