A few months ago, the 800 feet of boardwalk leading out to the Suwannee River lookout pavilion at Manatee Springs State Park were off limits. But now, a stroll along the reopened wood plank path will lead visitors to viewing areas where manatees, birds and turtles can be seen going about their business.
Manatee Springs is a first magnitude spring that discharges water at a rate of at least 2,800 liters per second.
The spring water flows through a quarter-mile long spring run and meets up with the Suwannee River flowing toward the Gulf of Mexico. That fresh water then travels to the Suwannee Sound, an estuary about 25 miles down river.
The park also offers 8.5 miles of nature trails and a safe connection to the 32-mile Nature Coast State Trail, so bringing along bicycles is a good idea.
And, with the cooler temperatures, the manatee visitors have arrived on schedule to hang out in the warmer springs water.
According to Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Spokesperson Alex Cronin, “Visitors who are quiet and observant may be lucky enough to hear the sound of a manatee’s nose breaking the surface of the water as it takes a breath of fresh air.”
Manatee Springs State Park is a winter gathering site for manatees in Florida, Cronin said. “Manatees depend on warm water for survival, as they cannot tolerate water temperatures lower than 68 degrees for long periods of time.”
Each year, manatees travel to the springs by swimming up the Suwannee River from the Gulf of Mexico to enjoy the spring’s constant 72-degree Fahrenheit water.
During these months, park staff perform daily surveys, and, during the Dec. 14th count, 14 manatees were observed, Cronin reported. “Park rangers are closely monitoring the species to track migration, travel, physical health and other behavioral factors.”
Since Florida State Parks are natural environments, visitors may encounter wildlife in a variety of forms, Cronin said. “The Florida Park Service actively works to educate visitors and the public about wildlife and reminds them to keep a safe distance and not to feed, touch or disturb them.”
Besides the boardwalk view of manatees, park visitors have access to a launch area for kayaks, canoes and paddle boards. Rental of these vessels are available onsite through Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures
Canoe and Kayak rentals are a 2-hour minimum with the following rates per hour:
Tandem Kayak/Canoe…(Includes 2 Passengers) $25
Single Kayak/Paddle Board…………………………… $20
Additional Passengers…………………………………… $10
Tubes……………………(For In-Park Use)……………. $8
Admission to the State park is $6 per vehicle with a limit of 2-8 people per vehicle or $4 single occupant vehicle and motorcyclists and $2 for pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers, passengers in vehicles with holders of Annual Individual Entrance Pass.
Free with regular admission fees per person is spring, open water and cave diving. All divers are required to register with the office prior to diving. All divers must be registered by 3 p.m. and out of the water and checked out 1 hour before sunset.
The park is open 365 days a year from 8 a.m. to sunset.
Camping is $20 per night, plus tax, plus a non-refundable $6.70 reservation fee. This includes water and electricity. Florida residents who are 65 years of age or older or who hold a social security disability award certificate or a 100 percent disability award certificate from the Federal Government are permitted to receive a 50 percent discount on current base campsite fees. Proof of eligibility is required.
Click here for more information about Manatee Springs State Park and annual events.
Florida State Parks will follow local orders requiring facial coverings or masks to provide for staff and visitor safety. These requirements vary from area to area. The park is located about an hour’s drive from Gainesville at 11650 NW 115 Street in Chiefland and is 14 miles from its sister park Fanning Springs State Park. For more details, go here.