Manatee Springs: Where to swim with manatees in Florida
By Katy Clarke
Recently a friend and I took a phenomenal campervan 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.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding 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 next left.” We instantly turned around and our plans for the day were changed immediately.
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 into the Suwannee River, and kayaking is available right from the spring onto the Suwanee.
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.
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 barbeque is your thing. We polished off two pulled pork sandwiches in no time, and they were delicious.
While we didn’t see any manatee 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.
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!