Blue Spring State Park is a park that features natural hot springs, manatees, sparkling clear water, and lots of wildlife about a 40 minute drive north of Orlando.
I visited the park this past March with two of my very good friends from college, along with a few of our young kids. When we first drove into the park it reminded me of some of the bigger National Parks out west. We paid a $6 per vehicle entry fee on our way in, and drove down a long, dusty and beautiful road filled with vegetation and a handful of turnoff points to other areas of the park. The sign at the front said that there were two manatees in the spring that day. The park ranger at the gate told us to drive straight, all the way to the end to find the parking lot and the section where the manatees were that day.
At the bottom of the parking lot there were restrooms and an open space shaded with large trees draped in hanging Spanish moss and dotted with picnic benches. There was also a nice playground in the middle of the open area.
We made our way over to the elevated boardwalk that overlooked the water where the Blue Springs Run meets the St. John’s River. The water is crystal clear and blue-green in color. The banks are covered with large trees and lots of hanging Spanish moss. We relaxed at a bend in the boardwalk where we set up a picnic and laid down looking up at the trees. It was so relaxing, it’s hard for me to believe that this exists at the same time as the cold harsh winters in the northeast.
After a long and much needed picnic, we walked up the boardwalk towards the spring, less than half a mile, stopping in a few of the viewing areas. At one point a volunteer at the park pointed out one of the manatees to us. She told us about how the manatees come here in the winter to escape colder waters. The water temperature in the Blue Springs Run is always 72 degrees. This past January they had record numbers of over 700 manatees in the Run.
It was surprising to me to hear that manatees are still facing issues with being caught in the propellers of boats (something I remember reading about in early elementary school). Apparently, boats can hit the manatees and not even know it. From what the volunteer told us, it is not uncommon for boats to not follow the rules of the waterway and thereby end up harming the manatees. Rangers count and track the manatees by the scars and markings left by boats’ propellers.
This spring in particular is also apparently a great place to re-introduce manatees into the wild. It is a safe and protected area (boats cannot enter the spring area at all; it is roped off), and the park rangers can keep a close eye on the manatees without interfering with their habitat.
Because the water is so clear it is difficult to tell the depth of the water. You can see right down to the bottom, but it’s impossible to tell if it is 4 feet deep or 20 feet deep. Many places in the Blue Springs Run are fairly shallow and filled with fish (some of which are multiple feet long). The water is so clear that they look close enough to touch. There were also a lot of birds, none of which I had ever seen before or knew anything about. It was fun to listen to the volunteer tell as all about them. She also told us a pretty thrilling story about a run-in with an alligator while she was kayaking. We even saw a small alligator in the water while we were there! I never would have noticed it since it was in the middle of the water, with only the bumps on the top visible above the water.
In the picture above is the crevice, or source of the natural hot spring. That break in the earth under the water (the darker area above) goes 240 feet deep.
In the picture above here you can see a manatee swimming in the hot spring. It looks like a little grey submarine. This one was being closely monitored by the park staff and reintroduced to the wild.
With a quick look at the park’s website, there are plenty of other activities that you could get involved in, like boating and tubing and swimming in the summer as well as a campground. It’s definitely well worth a stop if you’re in the area, and probably a nice reprieve from the craziness of all of the theme parks in the Orlando area. To me there’s not much more impressive than the natural world around us and this is such a great spot to take in a bit of it.
What to Do:
- Walk the boardwalk
- See the Manatees
- See the birds, fish, crocodiles
- Boating, Tubing, Swimming
Where to Eat:
- Bring a picnic!