Away from the crowded beaches and major theme parks that attract millions of visitors from around the globe is the natural Florida — places where nature is left intact and preserved. Places where you can witness the beauty of the “old” Florida. The springs. And there are a lot of them. In fact, geologists have estimated there to be more than 900 springs in the state, including Blue Spring.
Blue Spring State Park in Orange City is home to the largest spring on the St. Johns River. With more than 2,600 acres, the park offers something for just about any nature lover —or manatee lover. And now that the weather is getting colder, it’s the perfect time for manatee watching.
Blue Spring is a designated manatee refuge and is the winter home to hundreds of West Indies manatees. Manatee season runs from mid-November through March and is one of the biggest draws to the park. The water is a constant 72 degrees, so when the mercury drops, the manatees find their way into the spring run and the spring itself. On a cold winter morning, with steam rising from the spring, manatees can be easily spotted. Manatee watchers count them daily and record their numbers. Since guests are not allowed to get into the water, several lookouts are strategically located and allow you to stand above the spring to view these gentle giants.
Depending on when you visit, and the temperature outside, the number of manatees you can see can varies. On a good day, expect to see more than 300.
The park is also an historical site. The Thursby House, a two-story frame structure, was built in 1873, at the height of the steamboat era, by Louis Thursby. It was the hub of activity along the St. Johns River and hosted steamboat passengers as they traveled up and down the river.
For water lovers, there is canoeing, kayaking, boating, fishing, swimming, snorkeling and certified scuba diving (with a partner). Just be advised: no water activities are allowed in the spring or the spring run during manatee season.
For campers, there are six cabins, each with two bedrooms, and 51 campsites. For those just wanting to get away for a day and enjoy a nice picnic in the park, there are plenty pavilions to help you do just that.
Location and hours
Orange City is located on Highway 17 between DeBary and DeLand. The park is four miles off 17 on West French Avenue. The gates open at 8:00 a.m. but will close temporarily when the parking lot is full. Admission to the park is $6.00 per car.
Doris Keeler is a freelance writer and blogger from Orlando who travels the state on weekends searching for people and places that represent “old Florida.” If you’re looking for things to do, or just want to see some of the unique things around the Sunshine State, visit her blog at FloridianaMagazine.com.