Florida State Parks: #8 Blue Spring State Park
The winter home to hundreds of manatees at certain points during the winter months, Blue Spring State Park is located in Orange City, FL just outside of DeLand. An offshoot of the St. John’s River, Blue Spring is a constant 72 degrees Fahrenheit all year round, which is what draws the gentle giants to the spring when the water gets chilly. Even if you’re not visiting in the winter months there is plenty to do at this Florida state park.
When originally founded in the early 1970’s, researchers at Blue Spring found less than 20 manatees during the season. Thanks to conservation efforts by organizations such as Save the Manatees, the number has recently reached over 400 manatees sited in a day. While there manatees are still in danger from being injured or killed by speeding water vehicles, it’s a great way to get an upclose view of these mammals.
The cost to enter Blue Spring State Park is $6 per vehicle.
Camping is also available at the park. 51 campsites are available for $24 per night, not including a non-refundable reservation fee. there are also (6) cabins which are $95 a night, not including the non-refundable reservation fee.
Things To Do
Located on the St. John’s River, during the summer months Blue Spring is a place to go swimming, canoeing and diving. However during manatee season, any water activities in the spring itself are prohibited to protect the manatees. You can still canoe in the St. John’s River during the winter and there’s a pontoon trip you can take (more on that in a minute). You can also observe the manatees gathering in the spring from the walkway located over it.
There is also hiking, bird watching, fishing and other activities. The Thursby House is on site – a home built in 1872, it was a stop along the St. John’s River when waterway transportation was the quickest way to get product to different locations. The Thursby House is open for tours and a great way to get out of the sun during the hottest months of the year.
Pontoon Boat Tours
I had booked a tour on a pontoon boat with St. Johns River Cruises. Their dock is located inside the park and it seemed like a perfect opportunity to see manatees up close. If you book be sure to get inside the park with plenty of time to spare because once the park is filled to capacity (which seems to happen quite a bit), you won’t be allowed to drive in. When we got to entrance of the park, we saw a chalkboard with a spot for how many manatees had been spotted that day in the springs. On our day there was a sad face and a 0. The park ranger said they hadn’t observed any at all that morning.
Disappointed, we still took our pontoon tour. Our disappointed didn’t last long – little did I know that the 2 hour tour would be so filled with wildlife even without seeing manatees. The St. John’s River is 310 miles long and the cruise takes you through the in’s and out’s of the river in the immediate area. The captain gives a great synopsis of the history and the animals on the river. Along with the mate steering the pontoon, they spot things you would never see traveling the river by yourself. On our trip we saw multiple alligators, about 15 species of birds, lots of turtles, fish and flora and fauna native to the area.
Dogs are allowed at Blue Spring State Park but must be on a leash that is no longer than 6 feet long. Dogs are allowed at the campsites, but not in the cabins.
Food & Restrooms
There is a gift store, a water activities rental shop and food service at the park. f
Restrooms are located in convenient locations throughout the park.
Blue Spring is open from 8am to sunset.
Blue Spring State Park is located about 35 miles north of Orlando, 115 miles south from Jacksonville and about 140 miles northeast of Clearwater.
While Orange City, where Blue Spring State Park is located, is a teeny city, it’s next door to DeLand which has a lot to explore. Home to Stetson University, DeLand has a lot of small shops, local restaurants and a few local breweries to enjoy.
We decided not to camp and to use an Airbnb rental for our stay. I’ve been using Airbnb since I went to Cuba and enjoy using it, especially when visiting a small town. We picked a place that is literally 5 minutes from the gates of the park. Our host Kathy was very helpful and stocked the small apartment with coffee, individual cereals, sodas and condiments.
Local Food and Drink
One thing we try to do on all our trips is seek out a local brewery. Florida has really blown up with the craft beer business and we like to try something new. First we headed to Odd Elixir Meadworks. Located in downtown DeLand it was a cute establishment but they had run out of their own mead and only had visiting breweries on tap. Since we live in the state, we had already tasted most of the ones they had that day so decided we’d hang out at Odd Elixir on another visit.
So off we went to Persimmon Hollow Brewing Co. Located on a side street off the main drag, Persimmon had 8 beers on tap, not including the limited addition brews they had. Across the alleyway was Neighbors Artisan Taqueria so we got some tasty tacos (shrimp tacos with spicy aioli sauce anyone?) to enjoy while we had a flight of beers inside Persimmons. Their beer was really refreshing and the atmosphere was very family friendly. On the way out we grabbed a growler, which is always a great reusable souvenir when you travel.
I would highly recommend everyone take a trip to Blue Spring State Park at some point during the year. Manatee season would be ideal but you could really visit whenever you can and still have a great time.
*If you’ve never stayed with Airbnb and would like to give it a try, click on my reference link and you’ll get a $40 credit on your first adventure! Airbnb terms and conditions apply.
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