Have you ever seen a sea cow? Blue Spring State Park provides a picturesque Florida setting where guests can get acquainted with the humble manatee. In fact, many of the park's visitors come just to see these magnificent creatures. The endangered Florida manatee makes its winter home, from November until March, within the park's spring.
The park is open year-round, so visitors are welcome to spend their winter and early spring months among the manatees. Summer months and weekends tend to be the busiest of time for travel through the park, so guests can anticipate quite a line. The best plan is to arrive early to forgo the long line or, even better, make reservations to stay multiple nights within the park's campgrounds. RVs and trailers are welcome here, as spaces will accommodate rigs 30-35 feet - some 40. This is not a camping trip you'll want to make on a whim, though. Reservations aren't marked as "required", but are highly recommended.
The campground is one of the most accessible-friendly and includes two bath houses and bathrooms that are easily navigated by wheelchair. Visitors not only stay for the manatees and the atmosphere, but also the almost endless aquatic activities. Guests can enjoy snorkeling, swimming, and even SCUBA diving. Equipment for a number of activities is even made available to rent at park stores.
The water isn't all that there is to enjoy. Gear up to go hiking, fishing, boating, and much more. Get parked and get moving. The spring is only a short walk from the campground and just the start to your Blue Spring State Park adventures.
You can expect quite a line getting into the park, unless you've arrived early enough. Even in the "off" seasons when the spring isn't open for aquatic activities, visitors still flood to the park to get a look at the area's manatees. The roads within the park are dirt, but well maintained and level. Signage is easy to navigate and guests can readily make it to St. Johns River or find their way to the campground to unload their haul. Let the fun begin!
There are ample areas to park vehicles for day-use visitors, as well as those staying, but getting around by car. If you're camping, it's suggested to simply park where you know you will have space, especially during busy seasons. Parking your RV or trailer within the park's campground is a breeze. As long as all length requirements are met, you shouldn't have any issue with getting comfortable. Unload at your site and take the small walk to the water hole - the excitement is just starting.
There is so much to take in and enjoy at Blue Spring State Park that you won't want the fun to end after just one day. Thank goodness you don't have to...
With 51 sites available to RVs, tents, and trailers, the campground accommodates a vast assortment of visitors. These sand pine scrub sites are spacious, somewhat private, and easy to settle into. Most of the sites here will accommodate RVs and tow-behinds that are about 30-35 feet in length, though, some will allow for rigs extending to 40 feet. All sites come with a picnic table, hookups for electricity and water, and also provide a grill. RVs can use a dump station located in the park.
The whole family can join in, including your dog. Just be sure to adhere to all park pet policies. Expect to share two newer bathhouses, each offering fully accessible showers and bathroom stalls. Blue Springs State Park has worked hard to make the park accessible to all guests of all abilities, and the facilities show it.
It's smart to get your reservations for this destination in play as soon as possible, as this place fills up quick - even in the "off" season. Reservations can be made online up to 11 months in advance. While reservations are not technically required, you may have a hard time finding space if you're out on a whim. Not only is the landscape serene, beautiful, and inviting to newcomers, but the local residents also bring in quite a crowd. If you're visiting the park from November and through March, you will have a greater chance of seeing the park's residents - the humble manatees.
To avoid the crowds, anticipate a trip during winter seasons and into spring, and come on a weekday. Weekends (especially holiday weekends) tend to get quite busy. If you're arriving in summer, be prepared to start your days early to help avoid the day-use crowds.
The park also hosts six cabins that will hold up to six people. Each cabin comes equipped with a gas fireplace (for use throughout November through March), central air conditioning and heat, a bathroom, two bedrooms, a sleeper sofa, full kitchen, screened porches, outdoor grill and a picnic table.
For those looking to set up camp outside of the park, a few other options rest just east of Blue Spring. Guests can choose to utilize the RV facilities within Orange City if the park has filled to capacity. To ensure your stay within the park, you'll want to get those reservations booked - and as soon as possible.
Flowing through Blue Springs State Park is St. Johns River. Along with the river, St. Johns River Cruises and Tours powers through boat tours daily. The tours typically last around two hours and include a narrated cruise that reflects on the natural and ecological aspects of the park, as well as its history. This is one popular eco-tour you'll be glad you joined in on.
Guests are welcome to bring along their paddling boats. St. Johns River makes for a wonderful aquatic outing; a perfect setting for those looking to canoe or kayak. Haven't brought your own? St. Johns River Cruises provides all sorts of equipment for rent, so you don't have to fret if it wasn't on the packing list. During winter, visitors must forgo from this sport to make way for the humble manatees. As such, from November through March, the spring and spring run are closed to all water-related activities in order to provide safe haven for these creatures.
This state park is one of few that provides access to SCUBA diving. This unique aquatic activity is only open to certified divers. For the safety of all divers and other visitors, divers must show all proof of certification before diving and leave certifications visible on the dashboard of vehicles, have a diving buddy to stay with for every dive, stay within a 50 foot depth in open water, and not dive after 5 p.m. There are a few more rules and regulations that are best to take up with park staff to ensure your SCUBA diving experience is just as fun as it is safe.
While SCUBA diving requires certification, snorkeling certainly doesn't. This is a great way to experience the waters of the state park in a whole new way. Blue Springs' crystal clear spring run is where you'll want to go for this one. Unfortunately, swimming with the manatees is not permitted with your adventures. It's best to leave these beloved creatures alone. Snorkeling equipment is available through the camp store, making it easy to dive on in.
Inner tubing is simply one of "those things" that tends to tickle anyone. Guests, young and old, are welcome to float on through Blue Springs State Park's waters. You don't even have to bring your own tube, as rentals are made available through the park's concession store. The float run extends for about an eighth of a mile, starting with an upper entry to the water and a swim to the spring boil.
Within the Blue Springs State Park, visitors will come across the historic house of Louis Thursby. Built in 1872, the adequately named Thursby House was a popular hub for those venturing along the St. Johns River. Steamboat passengers were often hosted here during their travels up and down the river. Today, the house stands as a testament to days of old.
The Thursby House is not only a testament to history, but also to education, as many of the park's interpretive exhibits are held here. Other exhibits can be found along self-guided kiosks along the fully accessible Spring Run boardwalk. During manatee seasons, which extend from November through the beginning of March, programs are offered daily that provide an in-depth view of these fantastic creatures. Many of the park's guests come around this time of year for this very reason.
A favorite stop for many of the park's visitors, the Gift Shop is a setting where you can find the perfect accessory to help you remember such a fun excursion. Just off of the boardwalk, the park's Gift Shop is right in the heart of the park. Offering equipment for rent, along with the gift you've been seeking for that manatee-lover in your life, the Gift Shop is one sure stop you'll want to make.
There are two separate picnic areas located in the park, as well as fully accessible covered pavilions. The pavilions can be reserved for larger groups, however, all are first-come, first-serve. One even has a large, covered barbecue grill. Throughout the park, guests will find picnic tables and grills that are situated in prime locations to help get your family together for a nice lunch before continuing with the day's fun.
Hiking the Pine Island Trail is a popular 3.6 mile (one way) trek that active guests can thoroughly enjoy. Visitors will meander through varying plant communities and landscape changes. For those looking to complete this one, you'll likely want to devote the day, as there is much to see. For guests that aren't up for such an excursion, an accessible boardwalk is available to take in a leisurely walk. Along the way, you can even enjoy the self-guided interpretive exhibits.