The winter home to hundreds of manatees at certain points during the winter months, Blue Spring State Park lets visitors get an unclose view of Florida wildlife. 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. Don’t worry if you don’t get a chance to visit during manatee season. There’s plenty to do at Blue Spring all year long.
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History of Blue Spring Area
The largest spring on the St. Johns River, Blue Spring is the ancestral home to the indigenous tribe of the Timucua people. After the colonization by the Spaniards, the Timucuan settlements were severely reduced and by the late 1700’s had almost completely disappeared. About 100 years later, the area around the current Blue Spring State Park was settled by the area’s earliest European settler, Louis Thursby.
When Blue Spring State Park was 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.
Blue Spring vs. Blue Springs
When making travel plans, be extra careful to be sure that you are headed to and made camping reservations for the correct park. Blue Spring State Park, which this article is about, is located in Orange City, Florida. There are also two other Florida State Parks that have similar names. One is Lafayette Blue Springs State Park which is in Mayo, Florida. The other is Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park in High Springs, Florida.
The cost to enter Blue Spring State Park is $6 per vehicle.
Things To Do at Blue Spring Spring Park
Located on the St. John’s River, during the summer months Blue Spring is a place to go swimming, tubing, 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 to learn more about the nature of the area. You can also observe the manatees gathering in the spring from the walkway located over it.
In addition to water activities, Blue Spring has hiking, bird watching, fishing and other activities. The Thursby House is still located onsite. 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
A great way to explore Blue Spring is to book a tour on a pontoon boat with St. Johns River Cruises. Their dock is located inside the park and it can be a perfect opportunity to try 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.
The day we visited, it was a warmer winter day so the chalkboard at the guard gate said that zero manatees had been spotted. Disappointed, we still took our pontoon tour. Our disappointment didn’t last long because the 2 hour tour was 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 plants native to the area.
Blue Spring Campground
Blue Spring State Park has tent and RV camping within the park. There are also cabins available for rent and linens, pillows, towels and cooking utensils are included. You can make reservations at Blue Spring campground up to 11 months in advance.
Is Blue Spring State Park Pet Friendly?
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
Blue Spring has a gift store, water activities rental shop and food service at the park.
Restrooms are located in convenient locations throughout the park.
Blue Spring Hours
Blue Spring State Park is open from 8am to sunset.
Blue Spring State Park is located 35 miles north of Orlando, 115 miles south from Jacksonville and 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 weren’t able to get a reservation at Blue Spring campground so decided 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 5 minutes from the gates of Blue Spring State 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 a local taqueria where we got some tasty shrimp tacos 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.
I love visiting such nature-driven places. Blue Spring state park is definitely on my wish list.
Ivan at mindTheTravel says
Hey, Marcea! Blue Spring State Park looks like a cool place to visit. I have never been to this part of Florida. This opens your eyes to more destinations to visit if heading towards there, other then Miami, Orlando or Tampa. Very impressive!
How amazing that the number of manatees grew from 20 in 1970’s to 400 nowadays. Peculiar creatures, would love to see them in person. Thanks for the tips. 🙂
I would love to see manatees in the wild! 400 in a day?!? The pontoon trip sounds so fun, even if you were there the seeming one day of the year that no manatees were sighted!
Melissa Luther says
I would love to spend some time watching the manatees, looks like a beautiful place! I want to take a road trip and just visit the state parks, so gorgeous. I will have to add this to the list.
Love canoeing in Florida, you always get some wonderful wildlife, gators included! We haven’t been to Blue Spring State Park, but have wanted to go to see manatees, but that is awesome that you still enjoyed exploring the area even though the manatees didn’t cooperate!
May Durkee says
Wow! I’ve never been to any of these, definitely saving it for later. I hope to visit Florida soon, so that will be really helpful. 🙂
I’m headed to Orlando for the first time next month. I’m adding Blue Springs State Park to our itinerary – it looks GORGEOUS ..and seems to super accessible from Orlando. Thanks for sharing these useful tips!
This looks like sooo much fun!! It would be amazing to see manatees!
Jamie Italiane says
I really would love to visit, but manatees would be my main draw. Maybe I should go for a couple of days to ensure I can see some?
Marcea Cazel says
Yes, staying a few days would be a good idea to get a chance to see manatees. If you stayed in the park or fairly close by, you could visit the ranger’s station to see if they spotted any manatees that day. Manatee season is mid-November through March but by late February it’s probably not the best time to try to see them. Good luck!
Wow, the pontoon tour sounds so fun! Great tip. Would love to see a manatee in the wild if they were out!