For a tranquil day spent in the real Florida wilderness, make a trip to Blue Spring State Park, about 45 minutes from downtown Orlando. A $6 entrance fee gives unlimited access to the park’s beautiful 2600- acre grounds and rich historical features, but the highlight of a trip will surely be seeing the manatees. Blue Springs is one of a handful of designated manatee refuges in the state.
When the St. Johns River gets too chilly for this tranquil beasts, they like to float into the spring where a perpetual stream of 72 degree water warms their blubbery bodies like a cozy fire. Best time of the year to possibly catch a glimpse of the manatees is between November and March when outdoor temperature drop under 60 degrees.
US manatees are unique to Florida and are present in only a few other areas of the world. Your family will love watching these gentle giants interacting in their natural habitat, so be sure to bring the cameras. You may even catch a glimpse of some other forms of wildlife, such as alligators, snakes, and various native birds.
Since many locals know that the manatees come into the spring when it gets cold, the park often fills up fast, often reaching capacity by 10am. Sadly, this means visitors are often turned away. If this happens to you, grab a bite to eat at a local diner and wait an hour before heading back to try again. You’ll often have better luck the second time around.
If you plan a trip during the summer months, you will find relief from Florida’s heat as you dive into the refreshing spring and snorkel among the fish. After your swim, explore one of the many nature trails around the park and break for lunch at one of the popular picnic areas. For the brave of heart, scuba diving into the underground caverns is sure to get your adrenaline rushing.
The St. Johns River Cruise is another way to experience the area with two-hour guided tour of the waterways. Finally, to really delve into Florida’s back country, stay for the weekend in your own tent or one of the available cabins. Blue Springs has so much to offer year-round but the park can fill up fast, so be sure to arrive early.
By Kristen Manieri and Elise Gennrich