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.
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!
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.
Paddle with the manatees
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.