Located in sunny Orange City, less than an hour north of Orlando, is the natural warm spring in Blue Spring State Park. The spring stays a comfortable 72 degrees Fahrenheit year-round and has a ton of amenities for visitors.
Perhaps the plethora of things to do is why the park regularly reaches maximum capacity both during the week and on weekends. Seasoned guests recommend arriving before 11:00 am or after 3:00 pm if you don’t want to stand in a long line while waiting to be admitted.
The Spring and its Manatees
Why is the park so consistently busy? It has a lot to do with the manatees who winter there and make this warm springs the largest manatee gathering spot in Florida. When the manatee population started to dwindle (once only fourteen manatees managed to make it to the haven of Blue Spring), conservation efforts were put in place and Blue Spring State Park became an official sanctuary for the animals.
Now, it’s common in winter for more than 500 manatees to call this safe haven their winter home. The spring being dependably warm is very important to the aquatic mammals. Though they seem to have plenty of natural padding, manatees have less than an inch of insulating fat on their bodies and wildly slow metabolism. All this boils down to them not being able to get cold since it could be fatal.
You can bathe in the spring, but only sometimes. Since the spring is a protected area for wintering manatees, it’s closed to swimmers and snorkelers from November to May. Even during the open months, scuba divers must present their certification to the park office and dive with a partner.
Interacting with the manatees in the water is strictly forbidden. If simply seeing the animals is your goal, there’s a walkway that extends from one end of the spring to the other, allowing for plenty of manatee-watching.
Long before the spring was a refuge for manatees, its banks were home to Timucuan native people. The spring made fishing and hunting the animals that drank from it a sustainable lifestyle for hundreds of years. The native people ate so many snails, discarding their shells on the land, that massive shell mounds eventually built up.
It was on one of these mounds that the first private owners of the land built their plantation-style home. This first family established the Orange City post office and profited from steamboat traffic and orange growing. Their home is still open to visitors who visit Blue Spring State Park.
Campground and Food
There is a campground at Blue Spring State Park, though its 51 sites are often booked far in advance. The sites are equipped with a picnic table, hookups for water and electricity, and a grill. There’s a community dump station at the park. Two recently renovated bathhouses are located in the campground.
There is a camp store and concessions at the park. It sells such foodstuffs as hot dogs, deli sandwiches, and ice cream. Nearby is Riverwalk Pizzeria and Brew Pub, if you’re feeling like you’d enjoy a sit-down meal. If you’re on the hunt for groceries, Bravo Supermarkets isn’t far from the campground.
Address: 2100 West French Ave, Orange City Florida 32763
Season: Year-round (swimming in spring is closed November to May)