This week we visited two Florida State Parks that feature natural springs. Did you know Florida has over 700 springs, the largest collection on earth? Wekiwa Springs State Park and Blue Spring State Park both feature well-appointed campgrounds, which were a great base from which to explore Florida’s natural side.
Wekiwa Springs State Park, about 16 miles north of Orlando, features crystal clear water that stays a refreshing 72 degrees year-round. We were there on some cool days, so we skipped the dip.
However, we did enjoy the hiking trails, and I got in my longest hike since last year’s foot surgeries—almost 3.5 miles!
One afternoon we rented a canoe and paddled down the Wekiwa River. Along the way we saw all kinds of birds, turtles, and a few alligators.
Our destination was Wekiva Island, otherwise known as “Beer Island.” The riverside bar has seating right along the water where we relaxed and watched other paddlers float along. We could imagine that on a warm holiday weekend the place would be packed. On the day we visited, we had the place almost to ourselves as it was still a little chilly.
We are usually kayakers, but the canoe sounded like a good idea…until we had to get back into it after our stop. Well, there are no photos, but we did get wet and it wasn’t Steve’s fault. It was a wet paddle back up the river. Next time we’ll stick with the kayak.
From Wekiwa we travelled about 30 miles north to Blue Spring State Park for a two night stay. Blue Spring is the winter home of the manatee. These gentle giants come in from the St. Johns River when the temperature drops. Manatee are cold-sensitive and in the spring the temperature is a constant 72 degrees. The spring ensures their survival when the weather turns.
In 1970 researchers tracked 14 manatees in the spring. After conservation efforts, wintering manatee numbers have increased substantially. We were lucky enough to be there on a record-breaking day. There were 624 manatee counted the day we were there!
Blue Spring State Park is so popular it reaches capacity most days. We felt lucky to be able to be on the inside and able to walk down to the viewing platform at any time, even before the public was allowed to enter. Having the boardwalk to ourselves early in the morning and watching 100s of manatee wake up and begin their day was beyond special.
We took the socially distanced cruise along the St. Johns River to learn more about the area and its wildlife. The St. Johns is Florida’s longest river at 310 miles and is one of the few rivers in the U.S. that flows northward. Both fishing boats and pleasure boats ply along throughout the day.
Along our two hour journey we saw manatee feeding on the vegetation alongside alligators and birds galore. It was a pleasant way to learn about the area and spend a cloudy afternoon. Luckily the rain held off until we were off the river and back home.
Both parks are filled with wildlife. From our campsites we saw wild turkey, brightly colored birds, tons of squirrels, and deer. Steve even met an armadillo on one of his trail runs.
If you ever have a chance to visit one of Florida’s springs, we highly recommend it!