Blue Spring State Park: Manatee Magic

Searching for manatees? You've come to the right place – Blue Spring State Park, one of the jewels of Florida’s state parks. Surrounded by arching live oaks draped in Spanish moss, the constant 72F spring-fed waters are a winter home for up to 500 manatees. Relax under a deep blue sky unfiltered by the haze normally associated with the southern East Coast. Winter in Florida - even the manatees seem to understand its magic.

Blue Spring State Park, FL
GPS:
28°57'3"N, 81°20'2"W
CATEGORY:
State Parks

If you've made camp at Blue Spring State Park, then you are all set. Take advantage of the short foot trail that connects the campground to the sanctuary. As with most things Florida - the earlier the better. Avoid the mid-day crowds and catch the manatees while they are still basking in the warm spring before they head out for the day. 

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
                      ~William Wordsworth

The closest you can get on foot is at the Blue Spring swimming hole which is closed to swimmers during the manatee migration which runs from mid-November through the beginning of March. Be aware that the warm summer months can bring large crowds to the swimming hole, and the park has been known to turn daily visitors away, so plan an early visit.

If you play your cards right and time your visit, you can see the manatees from the many observation points along the park's boardwalk as they make their way to and from feeding grounds in the St. Johns River.


P
addle with the manatees

Three people in a canoe looking at two manatees in the water at Blue Spring State Park, Florida

We highly recommend arranging kayaks or canoes with St Johns River Cruises for an early paddle out on the river where you can be certain to enjoy an up-close encounter with the sea cows as they make their way from their overnight sanctuary and into the river to feed. The manatees here at Blue Spring State Park are somewhat accustomed to visitors and seem to enjoy the company. They readily make their way to you when they hear you paddling along.  Apparently, they take advantage of the rough undersides of the canoes and kayaks and use them as back scratchers.  The friendly boat rental agents tell us that they've been known to team up on kayaks and give them a playful flip!

Weighing up to 1,200 lbs, manatees seem to be as friendly as they look and certainly are a curious lot. Being mammals, they must surface to breath and they are likely to give you a sniff in the process.  During the winter months, they spend about half of their day sleeping in warm secluded waters like Blue Spring, but come out in the morning hours to feed on plants in the river and return in the afternoon to the warmth of the spring. Therefore, you’ll want to time your paddle or boardwalk stroll accordingly for the best viewing.

People in a distance walking the boardwalk at Blue Spring State Park, Florida
Three people at an observation point on the boardwalk at Blue Spring State Park, Florida
Four people walking the boardwalk under a canopy of live oaks with Spanish moss at Blue Spring State Park, Florida

Blue Spring State Park: More than just manatees.

Three people in yellow canoe at the shore line near  Blue Spring State Park, Florida

If you happen to miss the manatees, fear not ... there is plenty of wildlife that calls Blue Spring State Park home during the winter months. In fact, more than 150 avian species alone make the official list including cormorant, barred owls and migrating wood-warblers. You can also see large shoals of Florida gar, gators, river otters, and a variety of turtles in the spring run. Other fish species that you are likely to see are bowfin, largemouth bass, bluegill, shad and mullet to name just a few. For the birders, we saw great blue heron, little blue heron, tricolored heron, ahingas, cormorants, and black vultures. And for reptile lovers, we canoed by one alligator.

Hike Pine Island Trail

Four people hiking a sandy road of the Pine Island Trail under the open sky at  Blue Spring State Park, Florida

To see Florida scrub-jays (only found in Florida), hairy woodpeckers and Bachman’s sparrows, go for a hike along the Pine Island Trail which starts southeast from the last parking area. Look for the kiosk at the trailhead. The one-way 4.5-mile Pine Island Trail winds through classic Florida sand pine scrub, pine flat woods, freshwater marsh to the St. Johns River- a great trail for songbird migrations in the spring and fall. Signs indicate that black bears inhabit the region, but sightings and encounters are extremely rare. Bring plenty of water, snacks, sunscreen, and mosquito repellant!

Four cormorants sunning themselves on driftwood in Blue Spring swimming hole at  Blue Spring State Park, Florida

 

Historic Thursby House

Looking to become wealthy, early settler Louis Thursby built one of the first steamboat landings here on the upper St. Johns River as well as planted orange groves. Interestingly, the Historic Thursby House sits upon a Native American shell midden, or mound. These mounds contain archaeological clues to the lifestyle of the earliest inhabitants. Take the free self-guided tour of this well-preserved 19th-century home.

Blue Spring State Park Campground

Generous in size and private by design, the 44 sites of Blue Spring State Park were a welcome end to a long haul from our stay on Sanibel Island.  Sites #18 or #19 put you square between the squeaky-clean bath house and Blue Spring trail with #19 being the flatter of the two, if you are pitching a tent. In any event, it looks as though you can't go wrong with any of the sites in our estimation.

Three people setting up tent at campsite at  Blue Spring State Park, Florida

We met personally with the camp hosts, and they take seriously the maintenance, upkeep, and cleanliness of the sites and facilities and seemed proud of the work that they were doing. The bathhouses have large, private, doored showers, an abundance of hot water, and access to laundry facilities.  Truly a gem of a place to make camp!

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Blue van with open doors at campsite at Blue Spring State Park, Florida
Young girl and others at observation deck looking for manatees in the green waters at Blue Spring State Park, Florida
Under live oaks draped in Spanish moss, five people on deck look for manatees at Blue Spring State Park, Florida
Multi-colored tiled mosaic manatee sculpture on a wooden observation deck at Blue Spring State Park, Florida
A row of yellow canoes under live oaks draped in Spanish moss on St Johns River at Blue Spring State Park, Florida
Manatee sticking its nose out of the water near a canoe on St Johns River at Blue Spring State Park, Florida
Large branched tree with Spanish moss under a deep blue sky on the St Johns River at Blue Spring State Park, Florida
Pine Island Trail brown signage at trailhead with palm trees at Blue Spring State Park, Florida
Close up of ahinga with wings spread out on a tree as it dries out under the sunshine at Blue Spring State Park, Florida
Elevation
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52
Check-in/out
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3pm/1pm
Cost/Night*
icon cost per night to camp
$24
Showers
icon for camp showers
Hot
Restroom
campsite telephone number icon
Flush
Max People / Vehicles
icon of camp visitors center
8/2
Visitors Center
icon of camp visitors center
Yes
Camp Hosts
icon for camp hosts
Yes
Best Site
icon for best camp site
18 or 19
# Sites
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44
Open Year Round
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Yes
Laundry
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Yes
*Tent campsites only; accurate at time of publication
2100 W French Avenue
Orange City
FL
32763
Contact:
/
386-775-3663
2100 W French Avenue
Orange City
FL
32763
Hours: 8:30am-5pm
Phone: 386-917-0724
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