Blue Spring: Oh the huge manatees


Blue Spring’s consistent 72-degree springs make the state park a swimmer’s paradise year-round — depending on the species.

The 2,600-acre park in Orange City is a summertime haven for Central Florida swimmers with its cool waters and a wintertime oasis that makes it a world-class manatee watching destination.

And it’s less than an hour’s drive from downtown Orlando.

From November to March the tributary spring of the St. Johns River is crowded with the blubbery manatees who seek refuge there as other body waters get chilly.

During the summer months, it’s packed with swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers using that spring as a reprieve from Central Florida’s sweltering heat.

The spring starts at a limestone cave and certified divers can navigate the 120-foot-deep crevice.

Those on the surface can innertube the 1/8-mile stretch between docks, climb out of the spring water and hike back upstream for another go.

Water fun season was at its height in September, when a 10-mile canoe, kayak and paddleboard race called the St. Johns River Paddle Battle was slated to start at the park.

The winter months culminate with the Orange City Blue Spring Manatee Festival, a celebration of the sea cow.

“It’s known as one of the best places anywhere to see manatees,” said Larry Fooks.

Watchers crowd with cameras to view the manatees and their young wait out the winter season in spring-fed comfort.

Park staff have been known to count more than 500 manatees in the small body of water at times.

Manatee season tends to run from November to February and the park is closed to swimmers then. The best times for watching manatees are in January when the air is coldest and the river is swarmed with the gray mammals.

It’s also then that the park’s spacious fields, playground and concessions make it an ideal place for a winter-time picnic.

January is when the state park is the most crowded too. Lines at the entrance can stretch hours when the park hits capacity, Fooks said.

The park also features six cabins, a campground, hiking and a historic homestead from the Thursby family that first used the land in 1872 during the steamboat era to ship citrus fruit.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Travel

A birder’s paradise in Zimbabwe

John Brebner swept his binoculars over a fissure-ridden rock face that towered over a grove of acacia trees. Candy-colored striations of dolomite and quartz ran through the tan granite, and human figures painted by Khoisan Bushmen three millenniums ago were faintly visible on the facade.  “There it is,” Brebner exclaimed, passing the...
What's it like to film a TV travel show? I joined the crew of "Travels With Darley" to find out.

The question rang out like a cowbell through the French Alps: "Where did Darley go?"  The host of PBS's "Travels With Darley" was missing. She was last seen at the bottom of Isola 2000, a ski resort about 55 miles north of Nice. A member of the ski patrol released a stream of French into a walkie-talkie, his words punctuated...
Marriott’s new loyalty program: not as bad as Starwood fans feared

In the nearly 2 1/2 years since Marriott announced its intention to acquire Starwood Hotels and Resorts, the parent of Westin, Sheraton and W, skeptical customers of both companies have waited impatiently for answers to the following question: Just how many rewards and perks would Marriott take away from the 110 million members when it combined the...
Stewart Airport adopts a new identity: New York area’s budget flight hub

NEW WINDSOR, N.Y. — As the baggage claim area at New York Stewart International Airport filled with passengers arriving from Dublin last month, the airport’s manager of business development, Michael Torelli, shook his head with delight.  “Awesome,” he said of the crowd.   Just two years earlier, the airport, 67...
Where to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara, California's chefs have the natural advantage of an abundance of fresh produce from the Central Valley, a robust wine industry and a nearly perfect climate. These attributes have lured restaurateurs from San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles to the city's thriving dining scene, but natives tend to prefer spots with deep roots in the...
More Stories