West Indian Manatees are an endangered species native to Florida and parts of the Caribbean. These gentle giants can weigh up to 3,000 pounds and live in warm, shallow waters. You can see these beautiful creatures in the wild when they seek warmer waters each winter.
Where To Go:
Blue Spring State Park in Volusia County, Florida, offers an ideal place to see manatees in their natural habitat. The state park is located in Orange City (between the towns of DeLand and DeBary), about 45 minutes north of Orlando. Blue Spring is the biggest spring on the St. Johns River.
When To Visit:
West Indian manatees come to Blue Spring because the spring produces water that remains 72 degrees year-round. Manatees reside in the warm spring water from mid-November to mid-March. During this time, swimming is not permitted at Blue Spring State Park.
We’ve found that it’s best to arrive early (the park opens at 8 a.m.), because entrance to the park closes when it reaches capacity. Plus, manatees are more active in the morning when the temperature is cooler.
For the complete Florida manatee experience, go to the Manatee Festival in Orange City. The event is held just minutes from the park, and attendees can ride a free shuttle into Blue Spring State Park to see the manatees.
What You’ll See:
When you visit Blue Spring during manatee season, you’ll get the chance to see up to dozens of manatees at once, including some baby manatees! The park recently reported that there were up to 332 manatees at once this season. You’ll get a great view from the main platforms overlooking the spring. You could be as close as six feet from a manatee! View pictures from our visit.
There’s more to explore at Blue Spring State Park, including walking trails, camping areas, a café and gift shop, and other amenities. During the summer season, you can canoe, snorkel or scuba dive, kayak, swim and more.
Who To Take With You:
Visitors of all ages love seeing the manatees. At different times, I’ve taken friends and family members ranging in age from 3 years old to 92 years old! It’s a great place to take your date, kids, grandparents, or visit solo. My dog has even visited, but be sure to follow all posted rules – dogs and other pets can’t go down to the viewing platform, and must be on-leash at all times.
How Much It Costs:
Entrance to the park depends on your mode of transportation and the number of people with you. For instance, the admission fee for a car with 2-8 people is $6.
1. Arrive early. If the park is overcrowded, you’ll be turned away.
2. Take a camera. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity should be documented! Make sure you turn off your camera flash, because it will reflect off the water and you won’t get good pictures of the manatees. Check out our Blue Springs Facebook album for inspiration!
3. Wear sunscreen. Even when it cools off in Florida, it’s easy to get sunburned.
4. Bring water. Any time you travel, you should stay hydrated.
5. Be patient. If it’s a busy day, you may have to wait your turn to get into a prime viewing spot. It’s worth the wait!
6. Be respectful. Always review and follow the rules and guidelines of state and national parks.