Nestled way down upon the Suwanee River, is Manatee Springs State Park, an oasis of old Florida first seen and named by the botanist explorer William Bartram in 1774. The spot is picturesque and is indeed a haven for the manatees seeking warm waters during chilly weather. Even so, the springs were named after the manatee because Bartram found a manatee carcass there when he first visited.
Today’s visitors don’t have that sad sight; indeed, they see the lush beauty of primeval Florida’s forests and springs, as well as the abundant wildlife that calls this part of Florida home.
Why visit Manatee Springs State Park?
Here, you can see the springs, where 100 million gallons of water emerge every day. The springs are absolutely beautiful. You can swim in the right season (late spring to early fall – when the manatees are not there). Keep in mind that the water is a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit, which is pretty chilly for most people.
Wetsuits are recommended if you chill easily and plan to swim. Take your mask, fins, and snorkel in the warmer months. Remember, you cannot swim, but you can enjoy watching the manatees that congregate there, in colder weather.
Manatee Springs State Park is a quiet and quality natural wonder. You can take a ride on a pontoon boat for a relaxing and enjoyable time on the water.
Things to do at Manatee Springs State Park
When you visit, you can take a hike along the boardwalk surrounded by cypress knees that leads to views of the Suwanee River. You can rent and paddle a canoe or kayak up the Suwanee River. You will probably see alligators – and they are sure to see you. The park is teaming with wildlife, including nearly tame deer, armadillos, snakes, fish, jumping sturgeon, spiders, and of course, bugs of all kinds. Bring your bug spray for the mosquitos and watch out for the ubiquitous love bugs in May and September.
At Manatee Springs State Park, you can bird watch. You’ll spot red-shouldered hawks, owls, buzzards, anhingas, cormorants, ospreys, and herons. You can picnic for a day, or you can camp. The park has large sites for trailers, clean restroom facilities, and a culture of responsible and respectful camping neighbors. If you forgot to bring your picnic with you, there’s even a snack concession stand. All of these treats are there for you to savor and enjoy.
Manatee Springs State Park is near Chiefland, Florida, about an hour west of Gainesville. There is a modest $6/day rate per car for those who are not camping. The park is open from 8 am to sunset every day of the year.