Last Updated on January 17, 2024
I visited Blue Spring State Park in Orange City, FL, near Deland and 30 miles from downtown Orlando, January 5, 2024, to see manatees congregating around the spring there. I was in luck. A cold snap brought nearly 700 Blue Spring State Park Florida manatee into view on the chilly morning.
Winter is the best time to see the Blue Spring State Park Florida manatee. The freshwater spring maintains a constant year-round temperature of 72-degrees and when the animal’s other hangouts become too cold, the mammals come from far and wide to warm up at the park. Manatees – the West Indian Manatee to be precise – are mammals, so they need to stay warm like humans.
Manatees need fresh water which is another reason they particularly like the state’s springs.
Blue Spring State Park Manatee Season
While manatees can be found at Blue Spring State Park throughout the year, its during winter cold snaps that the huge numbers show up. This part of Florida does experience pockets of freezing weather December through February and it’s during those periods when hundreds of manatees arrive up at the park.
Blue Spring State Park manatee season is technically considered to be November through March, but if you’re looking for the huge numbers, you’ll find them during peak winter. If you’re visiting the area from out of state, you won’t be able to time your trip by the weather, but you can rest assured you will see plenty of manatee at the park whenever you stop by during the winter months.
The park opens at 8 AM. Show up early. The manatees congregate around the springs early in the morning when the temperatures are coldest. As the day warms up, they’ll disperse into the surrounding area and adjacent St. John’s River.
On my visit when the count was so high, I was there at 7:45 AM and a line of about 20 cars was already waiting ahead of me. This is a popular attraction and expect a line on prime winter mornings. Park staff move people through quickly, however, so the wait typically isn’t bad.
On occasion, the park can reach capacity and temporarily close, more reason to arrive at – or before – opening.
Blue Spring State Park Manatee Viewing
In addition to the volume of manatee at Blue Spring State Park, viewing them is easy from a boardwalk running alongside the spring. No hiking or binoculars required, they’re right there.
All the Blue Spring State Park manatee pictures in this article were taken with only an iPhone.
Blue Spring State Park Florida Manatee Count
Park volunteers count the manatee daily in the winter. You’ll see them in a canoe on the springs. Individual manatees can be recognized by the all-too-common scars on their backs, the result of boat strikes. Again, remember, manatees are mammals, while they live in the water, they must surface to breathe air like dolphins and whales putting them at frequent risk of propeller injuries.
The park’s record count according to its website is 729. During Blue Spring State Park manatee season, you’re almost guaranteed to see at least a couple hundred.
Out of season, you will surely find some, but not in the huge congregation.
You can track the daily manatee count at Blue Springs State Park in the winter by following @savethemanateeclub or @bluespringstatepark_ on Instagram.
For tips on where to see manatee across Florida, click here.
Blue Spring State Park Manatee Festival
The Orange City Blue Springs Manatee Festival – event organizers use “Springs,” not “Spring,” – occurs in late January every year. It takes place at Valentine Park less than a mile from the State Park entrance.
There’s food, vendor booths, arts, crafts, music, etc.
Where to See Manatees in Central Florida
While Blue Spring State Park is the best place to see manatee year-round in Central Florida, Homosassa Springs State Park on the Gulf Coast 70 miles north of Tampa is also good. Three Sisters Springs (915 N. Suncoast Blvd, Crystal River, FL 34429) there is also good, especially in winter.
When thinking about where to see Manatees in Central Florida, it really depends on time of year. During spring, summer and fall, manatees are dispersed widely throughout the state, some traveling north as far as Virginia and west to Texas. In the winter, however, you’ll only find them in Florida.
The Tampa Electric Company (6990 Dickman Rd. Apollo Beach, FL 33572), due to the warm water discharge coming off of its power plant, also makes for an outstanding, reliable winter manatee viewing destination.
Fun Fact: Florida’s Save the Manatee Club, the state’s leading manatee advocacy group, was founded by singer Jimmy Buffett and State Senator Bob Graham.
Visiting Blue Springs State Park
Blue Spring State Park (2100 W. French Ave., Orange City FL 32763) is easily accessible from Interstate 4 running between Daytona Beach and Orlando. It’s about 20 minutes to the park once you exit the interstate. Nearby Deltona and Deland have all kinds of hotels, restaurants and gas stations.
The park is open from 8 AM to sundown 365 days a year.
Restroom facilities are available.
Admission is $6 for a passenger vehicle.
In addition to checking out the manatees, Blue Spring State Park offers hiking trails, birding, camping, fishing, boat cruises, and during the summer months, swimming, tubing and scuba. During Blue Springs State Park manatee season, all water activities are suspended out of consideration for the animals.
To learn more about Florida’s manatee, listen to my “Welcome to Florida” podcast episode:
NOTE: Visitors to Florida should be aware that the NAACP has issued a travel advisory for the state noting, and warning, that under its current governor, Ron DeSantis, Florida has “engaged in an all-out attack on Black Americans, accurate Black history, voting rights, members of the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, women’s reproductive rights, and free speech, while simultaneously embracing a culture of fear, bullying, and intimidation by public officials.”