Away from the crowded beaches and major theme parks that attract millions of visitors from around the globe, is the natural Florida. Places where nature is left intact and is preserved. Places where you can witness the beauty of the “old” Florida. The Springs. And there are a lot of them. In fact, geologists have estimated there to be more than 900 springs in the state, including Blue Spring.
Blue Spring State Park in Orange City is home to the largest spring on the St. John’s River. With more than 2,600 acres, the park offers something for just about any nature lover. Or manatee lover.
Blue Spring is a designated manatee refuge and is the winter home to hundreds of West Indies manatees. Manatee season here runs from mid-November through March and is one of the biggest draws to the park. The water is a constant 72 degrees, so when the mercury drops, the manatees find their way into the spring run and the spring itself. On a cold winter morning, with steam rising from the spring, manatees can be easily spotted. Manatee watchers count them daily and record their numbers. Since guests are not allowed to get into the water, several lookouts are strategically located and allow you to stand above the spring to view these gentle giants.
On the day of our visit, with temperatures of 35 degrees and wind chills much colder, 270 manatees were counted. The following day, that number jumped to 377.
The park is also an historical site. The Thursby House, a two-story frame structure, was built in 1873, at the height of the steamboat era, by Louis Thursby. It was the hub of activity along the St. John’s River and hosted steamboat passengers as they traveled up and down the river.
For water lovers, there is canoeing, kayaking, boating, fishing, swimming, snorkeling and certified scuba diving (with a partner). Just be advised, no water activities are allowed in the spring or the spring run during manatee season.
For campers, there are six cabins, each with two bedrooms, and 51 campsites. For those just wanting to get away for a day and enjoy a nice picnic in the park, there are plenty pavilions to help you do just that.
Make sure also you take the boardwalk (1/3 of a mile) through the hammock to the spring.
Orange City is located on Highway 17 between DeBary and DeLand. The park is four miles off 17 on West French Avenue. The gates open at 8:00 a.m., but will close temporarily when the parking lot is full. Admission to the park is $6.00 per car.