When the temperatures head south there is no need to stay indoors – make plans to meet the manatees as they spend their days in the warm waters of Blue Springs State Park.
Every winter Blue Springs State Park, located in Orange City, Florida (about 30 miles north of Orlando), becomes the temporary home to dozens of West Indian Manatees. Recognized as a Manatee Refuge, the Park includes the largest spring on the St. Johns River. The spring pumps millions of gallons of water into the river each day, constantly keeping the spring at a warm 72 degrees. When the river temperatures begin to cool the manatees make their way to the warm waters of the spring and visitors have a unique opportunity to see manatees in a safe and natural habitat.
Although we typically prefer sunny skies and 75 degree temperatures when we plan outdoor activities in the winter months, for this field trip we waited for one of those gray overcast days with temperatures in the 60s to take our science lessons on the road and spend an amazing day with the manatees at Blue Springs State Park.
The number of manatees in the springs will change from day to day (depending on the temperatures) but fortunately for us our day was perfect for manatee watching. There is a long boardwalk that follows the spring which provides plenty of space for viewing and photo opportunities. The crystal clear water of the spring makes it easy to spot herds of manatees making their way through the shallow waters, but our children really enjoyed waiting to see the manatees come to the surface and just put their snout above the water to take a big breath.
Along the boardwalk there are several places to stop and learn more about the many creatures that can be found in the park, including manatee, fish, alligators, tortoises, birds and more. There are also tips about wildlife watching and protecting the environment.
Although we visited on an overcast day, the park would be comfortable on a sunny day as most of the boardwalk path is lined with beautiful, large overhanging trees. When you visit be sure to take your camera along – many park visitors were there specifically to photograph the manatees and everyone was graciously sharing ideas for perfect photo spots along the trail.
With our manatee watching and science discussions complete we were able to end the day with a stop at the playground and a snack at the picnic tables…and of course a quick stop at the gift shop for a manatee souvenir to help us remember our day!
No time to make a trip to Blue Springs? Don’t worry, you can keep an eye on the manatees anytime by watching them on the live streaming Manatee Cam provided by the Save the Manatee Club. The Save the Manatee Club website also includes student and teacher resources to help you prepare for a visit to meet these wonderful creatures.
Although Blue Springs State Park is open all year, the manatees only visit the park in the winter, usually between November 15th and March 1st.