Affectionately known as sea cows, or floaty potatoes, manatees are the gentle giants of the Florida waterways. They can be found in Springs, Rivers and in the open Gulf waters. Every year, people flock to our State Parks, and natural springs to see the manatees. But how can you ensure you are getting the best experience to see the manatees in Florida? We’ve got some tips for you.
Generally speaking, manatee season in Florida is November through April, with the peak of the season in December and February. But manatees are wild animals, so they don’t follow our rules. You will have the best luck seeing manatees when the weather is cold.
There are a couple of popular places to see manatees throughout the state, but they all have a common denominator, warm water. Throughout the winter months, although our winters are quite mild, the temperature in the gulf dips down to below the manatees preferred comfort level, and they go in search of warmer waters.
Because the springs in Florida maintain a constant temperature, generally 70-72 degrees, the springs become a refuge for the manatees. Sometimes over 100s of manatees pack themselves into the springs. There are also a few power plants throughout the state which have become a beacon for manatees, due to the warm (clean) water the plant discharges into the bodies of water around them.
Throughout the season it is very common to see at least a few manatees enjoying the springs, especially new moms who stay with the babies for up to a year in the same area. But the numbers really ramp up on cold days. Planning a trip to hang out with the manatees can be a spur of the moment thing based on the weather forecast for that day. Sometimes you can get lucky Later in the Season after a few cold days, but come March and April, sighting can be sparse.
There are also many popular options for snorkeling with the manatees. This is certainly something on our bucket list. The only place to legally snorkel with them is in Crystal River. A couple of things to keep in mind when snorkeling, manatees are highly protected, so you can not touch them, or get in their way. Basically your goal is to observe them without them even knowing you are there. We highly recommend going with a tour group, so they can help you navigate the waters, and respect the rules.
Here are a few of our favorite places to see manatees:
Three Sisters Springs
Located in Crystal River, Florida Three Sisters Springs is a must do for anyone looking for manatees. Throughout the winter, the spring becomes packed with manatees, and the boardwalk is packed with humans hoping to see them. You have two options to get there, you can walk in from the main gate, but you will have to park off site. Or you can park at City Hall and take the trolley over. We recommend the trolley because they drop you off right at the boardwalk.
Address: 601 Three Sisters Springs Trail, Crystal River, FL 34429, Parking and shuttle bus leaves from Crystal River City Hall, 123 NW US-19, Crystal River, FL 34428
Admission: $12.50 per person in the summer, $20.00 per person in the winter
Big Bend Power Station
Throughout the years, manatees have gathered in the warm waters of the Big Bend Power Station. The area is now a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary. So Teco Energy has created the Manatee Viewing Center to allow guests to get a good look. The area also hosts a touch tank for stingrays from the Florida Aquarium, and has a system of trails leading to the wildlife observation tower.
Address: 6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach, FL 33572
Admission: Free admission and parking, Donations accepted for the manatees care
Blue Spring State Park
Located about an hour north of Orlando, Blue Spring State Park is the best manatee viewing from the East Coast of Florida. This past year they reached an all time record high of 663 manatees in one day. Blue Springs State Park is worth visiting at 2 different times of year. In the winter the waterway is closed to allow the manatees to roam freely. And then in the summer the spring is open for snorkeling and diving.
Address: 2100 W French Ave, Orange City, FL 32763
Admission: $6 per vehicle, free with Florida State Park Pass
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
At Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park you get to see more than just manatees. This park houses species from all over Florida, which have been deemed unable to be reintroduced into the wild. This includes a manatee hospital for rehabilitation and long term care. The unique thing about the park is that wild manatees are still drawn to the spring in the winter, so the manatees who are here year round get the opportunity to interact with the manatees who come to visit.
Address: 4150 S Suncoast Blvd, Homosassa, FL 34446
Admission: $13 per person, free with Florida State Park Pass
There are plenty of other places to observe manatees throughout the state, including multiple state parks. If you can find a Spring in the state with access to a big body of water like the Gulf or Mexico, or the St. John’s River, you are bound to see them on a cold day. So grab your scarf and gloves, and lets enjoy one of Florida’s few cold days with a trip to see the manatees.