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By Katy Clarke

Recently, a friend and I took a phenomenal camper van trip from Miami to Atlanta. We started in the Everglades (awesome!) and continued heading north. We logged a ton of miles, but we had an absolute blast. The goal was simple: Discover some of the unique spots Florida has to offer, mainly the natural springs that dot Central and Northern Florida. Why? Because that’s where the water is crystal clear and the manatees live. One thing you need to know about me is that my spirit animal is the majestic manatee. I love them. I mean, I really love them. Irrationally love them. Judge me if you will.

Natural Springs Florida

Standup Paddleboarding at Homosassa Springs

Earlier that morning we had an amazing time taking a standup paddleboard adventure in Homosassa Springs, FL. We spent the morning paddling on the Homosassa River, ventured back into the natural spring, and got to paddle with quite a few manatees given the time of year… even a momma and baby! I was dying.

Once we hit the road, I thought our manatee adventures were over, but I was wrong. Driving along we passed a little sign that read “Manatee Springs State Park” We instantly turned around and our plans for the day were changed immediately.

Stand Up Paddle Boarding with Manatees Florida

Manatee Springs State Park

Six miles off of State Road 19 in Chiefland, FL is a magic place in my little opinion. We pulled into the ranger station and paid our $6. The nice park ranger told us to just keep driving to the back, and that we couldn’t miss it… after he complimented the van.

Manatee Springs is one of Florida’s numerous natural springs. This one is considered a first-magnitude spring, meaning it is pumping 100 million gallons of fresh, clear water daily. The spring water is 72 degrees all year round and is the clearest blue I’ve ever seen. It connects to the Suwannee River, and kayaking is available right from the spring onto the Suwanee.

Manatee Springs Swimming Florida

Swimming at Manatee Springs

The spring is open for swimming, so if you’re brave you can dive right in and swim. If you’re a weenie about cold water like me, there are a couple of entrances into the spring that have stairs so you can ease it on in. It took me a few minutes, and an embarrassing amount of cursing, but I made it. Once I was in, it was awesome.

Towards the end of the spring is a natural stone shelf that apparently is quite the attraction for scuba divers. Where we were swimming, we watched as scuba divers slowly descended under where we were standing. Pretty cool.

Swimming with Manatees Florida

Southern Barbecue at the Snack Bar

Once we were done, we had definitely worked up an appetite. Our ranger friend had already given us the heads up that the snack bar was not to be missed if barbecue is your thing. We polished off two pulled pork sandwiches in no time, and they were delicious.

While we didn’t see any manatees at Manatee Springs, we saw plenty during the rest of our trip. They do congregate there, just in the cooler months when they’re seeking warmth from the spring water, hence the name.

Swimming in Natural Springs Florida

As a place to add to your itinerary, this one is a fabulous little side trip. Manatee Springs was one of my favorites of our trip, not just because of the spontaneity, but the scenery was incredible. Definitely worth a visit!

Where Else You Can Swim With Manatees

About an hour south on US 98 is another spot known for manatees, Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, FL. There are a lot of commercial tour companies there that offer manatee experiences, so you can look them up before you get there and book a swim.

It’s important to remember that it’s illegal to touch, pet or even kiss a manatee (don’t worry, the one in the picture above is a statue!). It’s OK if they brush past you, but you don’t want to climb on one or otherwise bother them. But just getting close to them is a thrill!

If you’re not sure about swimming with the beautiful creatures, you can get a good look at them from above at Blue Spring State Park, about two hours back east across Florida. Blue Spring State Park features a boardwalk along the St. Johns River that gives you a great view of manatees in the clear water. 

Book a Van to Explore Florida

There are a number of fun places in Florida to visit in an Escape Campervan. Check out the Ocala National Forest, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and the Florida Everglades National Park, among others.

Book a camper van and hit the Florida roads today!

Manatee Springs State Park Florida

1 thought on “Where to Swim with Manatees in Florida: Manatee Springs and Beyond”

  1. Thank you for your post. My wife is very excited about hopefully seeing a manatee this morning at Manatee Springs!
    Seeing your post has boosted her hopes about that possibility and of seeing how beautiful the springs are! Wish us luck!

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