The stars of Blue Spring State Park are the manatees. Everyone loves them. Just look at those cute little noses!
These wonderful mammals flock to the spring each winter when the ocean and St. Johns River become too cold. The spring is always 72 degrees, nice and toasty for these warm-blooded creatures. The chillier it is outside, the more manatees you’re likely to see. Just a few weeks ago, the record for the number of manatees at once was broken, totaling almost 500.
But there is a lot more to Blue Spring State Park than meets the eye. This incredible Florida State Park features beautiful waterways for kayaking and canoeing, an informative boat tour with a knowledgeable guide, trails for various skill levels, swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and amazing wildlife sightings.
PRO TIP: Arrive early! Blue Spring State Park has a capacity, and when it is reached the park is closed until visitors leave and they can allow more cars to enter. The later you arrive, the more likely it is that you won’t be able to get in.
Here are 5 reasons for you to visit, but I promise there are more.
Okay, yes, I just told you this park is more than the manatees, and I stand by that. But it is simply impossible to talk about Blue Spring State Park without mentioning them. Plus, these mammals are really amazing. Here are some fun facts.
- Like any water-dependent sea mammal, manatees breathe by surfacing and inhaling/exhaling through their noses. They can stay underwater for 20 minutes before taking a breath. Usually, they will surface every three-to-five minutes.
- They were recently removed from the endangered species list, but are still considered threatened. Their greatest threats include the destruction of their habitat, boat propellers or boat collisions, and climate change. A survey completed in January 2018 estimates there are 6,131 manatees in the United States. They remain protected under the Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act of 1978.
- They can weigh between 800 to 1,500 pounds (360-680 kg) when fully grown, and can reach up to 10 feet in length! On average, they will live 50-60 years in the wild.
- Manatees are a distant relative of elephants, most notable from their wrinkly brown-gray skin.
- Typically, they will give birth to one calf every few years and nurse them underwater. Twins are very rare.
- Their flat tails act as a propeller under the water.
- One of their nicknames is the sea cow.
To see the elusive creatures, your best bet is to visit between November and March. This is when temperatures in Florida are milder, and manatees are more likely to flee the ocean for warmer waters.
If you can’t make it to Blue Spring State Park now but are dying to see the manatees, you can view a live Blue Spring webcam here.
2. More Wildlife
Blue Spring features a wide variety of animals to see in addition to its famous manatees. While watching 263 manatees swim along the run on my most recent visit, I was also treated to views of alligators, cormorants, great blue herons, turtles, and non-native tilapia. This wild place, featuring the best of what “old Florida” has to offer, showcases such variety in its creatures.
Besides its natural environment, the history of the area is also fascinating.
The first residents were the indigenous Timucuan Indians, settling in present-day Blue Spring State Park for hundreds of years. Manatees were plentiful during this time, and crucial to the Timucuan diet. By the mid-1800s, the tribe was forced to head south. Middens they have left behind provide clues for historians studying their past and culture.
A few years later, pioneers arrived and settled here, including the Thursby family. They purchased land and built their home on top of one of the aforementioned middens. They made a living by growing orange crops and shipping the fruit up the St. Johns River before switching gears and opening a resort. They hosted tourists from around the world who visited on steamboats to experience this amazing place.
There is a self-guided tour of the Thursby house provided at the park today. Furthermore, as you walk along the boardwalk, various interpretive waysides explain the history of the area in greater depth.
In addition to wildlife viewing, there are many other activities available at the Blue Spring State Park.
This includes many water-based activities, such as kayak and canoe rentals and a guided boat tour. These are narrated by knowledgeable guides who divulge information about the ecology, wildlife, and history of the area.
Furthermore, snorkeling and scuba diving are very popular. You can actually dive about 100-feet down into underwater caves near the spring.
Swimming is a favorite past time for locals in the summer. Also in summer, since there aren’t manatees you can take kayaks farther down the spring run than usual.
For younger kids, there is a large playground with shaded pavilions and picnic tables for parents.
Hiking is also popular. The boardwalk along the spring run is 1/2-mile long, plus there’s the nearby 7.3-mile (round-trip) Pine Island Trail. The boardwalk is extremely popular, so if you’d like to avoid the crowds I highly recommend the trail.
If one day isn’t long enough, there is also a campground and air-conditioned cabins for a lengthier visit.
It’s just beautiful. If wildlife, history, and outdoor recreation don’t float your boat, you won’t want to miss the stunning Florida habitats. As you walk along the boardwalk, oaks curve over the top of you and Spanish moss hangs down, lightly flowing in the calm wind. Palms dot the shoreline where squirrels are rummaging for acorns. Birds nest in the trees above. The spring itself bubbles at the end of the boardwalk, blowing out an astounding 165 gallons per day. This is old Florida at its finest, untamed and wild.Blue Spring State Park is old Florida at its finest, untamed and wild with manatees as the star of the show. Click To Tweet