Manatee Springs State Park
The spring run
Manatee Springs is a first-magnitude freshwater spring producing an average of 100 million gallons of water per day from the underground karst formations of central Florida about six miles west of the City of Chiefland on SR 320, west of US Highway 19 near the Suwannee River. Manatee Springs State Park includes acreage around the springs with some cypress swamp and hardwood wetlands and along the spring run to the Suwannee River. Also on the property are several sinkhole ponds, one of which leads to the "Catfish Hotel": a cave ninety feet underground that connects to the main limestone cave system beneath central Florida.
The park (and spring) got its name from the manatees that flock here for shelter and for calving purposes. Manatees can't survive in water colder than 68°F so the spring with its constant voluminous flow of 72°F water is very attractive to them in the colder seasons. Manatees are in the area year round but their population rises dramatically in the fall and winter. The spring is also a big attraction for American black vultures in the winter.
Manatee Springs State Park offers hiking, biking, picnicking, camping, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling and wildlife viewing, although aquatic activities in the vicinity of the springs and the spring run to the Suwannee River are curtailed in winter because of the presence of the manatees. There are eight miles of tree-shaded off-road trails, several picnic pavilions and the camping facilities offer electric and potable water at each of the 92 campsites (some are tent-only, maximum RV length: 30 feet). Kayaks and canoes can be rented at the park office from a contracted concessionaire, usually from May through September.
Manatee Springs State Park is open from 8 am to sunset every day of the year. Admission fees: $6 per vehicle to a maximum of eight occupants, $4 per single occupant vehicle, $2 for pedestrians, bicyclists, extra passengers. Picnic pavilion rentals: $35 per day (plus tax). Each pavilion has six picnic tables and water and electric are included. Camping: $20 per site per night, includes electric and water. Fees quoted are subject to change.
Swimmers in the spring at Manatee Springs State Park
Turtle hitching a ride on a manatee
Upper left photo courtesy of Sheldon Kagel, Florida State Parks
Photo of swimmers in the spring courtesy of Wikipedia userid Ebyabe, CCA-by-SA 3.0 License
Photo of manatee with turtle courtesy of David Marcum, Florida State Parks
Manatee Springs State Park map courtesy of Florida State Parks