Florida Explore: Manatee Springs

June 13th 2023 in Explore
Florida Explore: Manatee Springs

Manatee Springs

Chiefland, Florida

In this balmy Florida springtime, manatees are the snowbird visitors.

Naturalist William Bartram dubbed a swath of land in Northwest Florida "Manatee Springs" after discovering a manatee carcass along the Suwannee River. Manatee Springs, now a state park, lives up to its name but with live manatees rather than dead ones.

During the winter, manatees swim into the Gulf of Mexico and Florida's many springs in search of warmer waters. The water in the springs stays at 72o F all year, making it ideal for manatees to spend the winter. The river bottom is covered in grassy kelp, a favourite food of manatees. Other native species include largemouth bass, speckled perch, and the rare alligator.

In 1971, the Springs were classified as a state park. Swimming is permitted in the summer but restricted in the winter to provide the manatee's space and refuge. However, kayaking is allowed all year, and manatees, who are notoriously un-shy, have been known to swim up to the boats and enable kayakers to pet them. During the calving season, lucky visitors may even sight a baby manatee or two, as the warm waters function as a nursery.

Take State Route 320 off US Highway 98. Six miles west of Chiefland sits the park. Bring plenty of insect repellent.