When you think of a state park, you probably image campgrounds, canoes and firepits. Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park will throw you for a loop. Located in Homosassa, FL, Homosassa Springs State Park is a refuge for animals who need a second chance.
For thousands of years, the springs at Homosassa has welcomed humans and animals. In the early 1900’s, visitors would picnic by and relax in the waters. The group of springs in the area puts out about 3 to 4 million gallons of fresh water per hour and 65 million gallons of water per day. Based on the way the watershed is placed and the locations where the water is discharged, Homosassa Spring is filled with a variety of fish and also, during the colder months of winter, manatees.
Opened as a roadside attraction in the 1940’s, Homosassa Springs grew in popularity as an entertainment venue that featured exotic animals. The park was eventually purchased by the state of Florida in the 1980’s and is now a wildlife refuge for animals who have been injured but can’t return to the wild or have been imprinted by humans (someone fed them or took them out of their environment as a baby).
Homosassa Springs State Park is one of the specialized state parks and costs $13 for adults and $5 for children ages 6 to 12. Children under 6 are free.
Since it is a specialized park, there is no additional discount for anyone accompanying an Individual Annual Pass holder. With a Family Annual Pass, admission includes one additional person in addition to the pass holder.
Things To Do
Homosassa Springs State Park is over 190 acres and, in addition to all of the animals is full of flora. A boardwalk leads you through the park so you can observe all the animals and exhibits that are there. Among of the the things you’ll see are:
The manatee rehab area teaches visitors about manatees and features some of the manatees that are being cared for. It has a small pool area and also part of the springs are utilized to allow the manatees to roam. There are daily presentations from the rangers who work at the manatee rehab area. Check with the entrance desk for times.
The Discovery Center is an area to learn more history about the land the park is on and those who have lived in the area. There’s a children’s education area and also a skeleton of a manatee hanging from the ceiling.
The Wildlife Walk area is where you’ll see the majority of the animals. Spoonbills, bald eagles, owls, Florida key deer, alligators, flamingo, pelicans and a variety of other animals. There are park rangers located all through the Wildlife Walk so be sure to ask any questions you have about the animals. They’ll also point out things, like birds nests and new baby animals, you might not have noticed.
Lou the Hippo
Born at the San Diego Zoo in 1960 and the oldest hippo in the Western Hemisphere, Lu the hippo was part of the original animal park before the state of Florida took over. The state wanted only Florida native animals to be in the park and was working on having Lu moved to another location. But the children of the county weren’t having it. They wrote letters to the Florida governor who made Lu an honorary Florida resident and he was allowed to stay. It is a little strange to see a hippo here, but Lu has a large area to himself and he looks very content. If you go when it’s hot, he’s apt to stay in the water . . . and who would blame him?
Underwater Fish Bowl
Over 50 years old, the underwater fish bowl is literally an underwater fish bowl! You walk down a flight of stairs (the fish bowl isn’t wheelchair or stroller accessible) into the springs where you can view fish such as snook, trout & sheepshead and manatees at certain times of the year. The manatees you might see in the fish bowl are wild ones, not the ones in rehab. It’s a great viewpoint to get down deep into the springs.
No animals, other than service animals are allowed in the park.
Food & Restrooms
A cafe is located in the Welcome Center and serves a variety of foods including salads, subs, hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches. There is also a stand that serves ice cream and sodas located near Lu’s pond area.
There are picnic areas located behind the main parking lot as well. The park also has plenty of benches around to sit and enjoy a snack throughout the park. Please remember to pick up your trash and put everything in the receptacles. Also do not feed the wild animals, including birds and raccoons.
Restrooms are located at the Entrance Center and Discovery Center.
While non-motorized boats are allowed in select areas of the park and you can rent canoes, kayaks and other water vehicles in surrounding areas, there are no rentals available within the park itself.
There are no accommodations located at Homosassa Springs. There are several name brand and local hotels located in the area.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is open from 9am to 5:30pm. There are two entrances to the park – one is right off US Hwy 19 N/US 98 and the west entrance is located off Grover Cleveland Blvd. If you enter off Grover Cleveland Blvd, you’ll be directly at the Entrance Center. There is limited parking here.
If you enter off US Hwy 19 N/US 98, you will come into the Welcome Center and board a pontoon to take an approximate 15-minute ride through the tributaries to the park entrance. I highly recommend taking the pontoon ride, even if you park at the other entrance. You can also take a tram to and/or from the US 19 entrance.
NOTE: The Florida State Parks system requires visitors to wear a mask when talking to rangers at the entrance gate and whenever entering buildings, including restrooms. When outdoors try to keep a 6 foot distance from anyone not in your party.