Blue Spring State Park, Florida isn’t just another spring. During winter, its 72-degree waters convert from a swimmers paradise to a manatee sanctuary that’s vital to the lives of nearly 500 gentle-giant herbivores that call it home.
During the summer, it offers 1/3 of a mile of crystal-clear spring water that’s perfect for swimming, snorkeling, diving and tubing. Its headwaters bubble through the limestone caves in its core, feeding directly to the St. John’s River for pristine kayaking and canoeing.
Blue Spring State Park is a sanctuary. It’s a freshwater paradise. And even better? It’s only 45 minutes from downtown Orlando, 40 minutes from Daytona Beach, 1.75 hours from Jacksonville and two hours from Gainesville, placing it in the middle of a perfect triangulated location of some of Central and North Florida’s most populous cities.
Blue Spring Manatees
One of the most unique things about Blue Spring State Park is its undying piece of the puzzle to manatees’ survival. Every winter, the 72-degree spring waters play home to one of the largest populations of manatees in the entire state.
That’s because manatees, dubbed gentle giants of the sea, have extremely slow metabolic makeups and just about 1 inch of body fat on their exterior, making them prone to cold stress syndrome in waters lower than 68 degrees.
Around 500 manatees, which are herbivores feeding off of marine plants, seek sanctuary from the cold winter waters of the Florida sea in the crystal-clear 72-degree spring waters of Blue Spring State Park — and it makes for an amazing sight to see.
As you walk down the path to the water’s edge, you catch a glimpse of what looks like large grey rocks hovering near the surface waters. At closer glance, you begin to see the manatees slowly staying steady and slowly cruising with their young calves in tow, keeping them warm with their own body heat as they graze along the shores.
Although swimming with the gentle manatees is forbidden due to the conservation efforts and protective status with the federal government, seeing these creatures swim in the spring — frolicking in the same waters you do in the summertime — is a significant sight to see.
Blue Spring State Park Swimming, Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Aside from the manatees (which you can absolutely not swim with at the park — no matter who tells you otherwise), Blue Spring State Park offers a unique variant to its spring waters that other Florida springs simply can’t claim.
The headspring, where the bubbles rise and the water flows from deep down in the earth, is about 1/3 of a mile from the St. John’s River and offers crystal-clear 72-degree water the entire way. This makes for some decent tubing and small-rafting down the naturally flowing spring.
Additionally, it offers the pristine caves, which are met with limestone and water to jut deep into the ground. Scuba divers must have a dive buddy and must be open water certified to 50 feet.
Everyone who’s swimming, snorkeling and diving must use extreme caution because there are no lifeguards on duty. The spring tends to fill to capacity by noon during the summer and nearly every weekend, so it’s best to get there early.
Campers are allowed to go to the spring during their entire stay and don’t have to worry about the capacity rule, so that’s just another reason to take a long weekend to Blue Spring State Park and get your camping fix in.
Take note that swimming in the spring is prohibited during manatee season, which is every winter but doesn’t really have a start date and end date due to this huge thing called global warming.
Blue Spring Kayak & Canoe Rentals
Although the Blue Spring Run is only about 1/3 of a mile, the complete run, which extends to the St. John’s River, runs for 3.5 miles to Hontoon Island. It’s a very wide run, so you can easily paddle back upstream (with some effort) and make the entire Blue Spring Run total 7 miles.
You may bring your own kayak or canoe and simply pay the entrance fee or they can be rented from nearby St. John’s River Cruises by the hour or day.
- Blue Spring Kayak Rental: $20 for 1 hour; $33 for 4 hours; $44 for a full day
- Blue Spring Canoe Rental: $17 for 2 hours; $29 for 4 hours; $36 for a full day
Blue Spring Tubing
Blue Spring tubing is a nice way to enjoy the naturally flowing spring while taking a dip in the water from time to time. While it’s nothing like the tubing at nearby Rainbow Spring State Park, it does offer about 1/8 of a mile of tubing through aqua-tinted waters.
The concessionaire at the park rents tubes by the hour or day, but you can also bring your own as long as it doesn’t exceed 6 feet in height or width.
Hiking in Blue Spring State Park
Since it’s Florida, there isn’t much hiking to do in the park, but there are two scenic trails that lead you through sand pine scrub and along the banks of the 0.3-mile long spring.
During winter months, the Blue Spring Campground Trail, a handicap-accessible pathway that’s mostly laid with wooden planks, is where you can stroll along the edge of the water and catch a glimpse of the highly coveted manatees slowly navigating the spring waters.
Blue Spring Campground Trail
- Distance: 1.6 miles out and back
- Difficulty: Easy
- Elevation Gain: 65 feet
- Amount of Time Needed: 40 minutes
- Trailhead Coordinates: Magnolia Avenue Entrance
Pine Island Trail
- Distance: 5 miles out and back
- Difficulty: Moderate
- Elevation Gain: 144 feet
- Amount of Time Needed: 1.75 hours
- Trailhead Coordinates: Near Blue Spring Visitor Center
Blue Spring State Park Camping & Cabins
The Blue Springs Campground is home to 44 campsites and six cabins, with some campsites accommodating up to a maximum 40-foot RVs and trailers and each two-bedroom cabin accommodating up to six people.
Each campsite at the Blue Springs Campground includes water, electricity, a fire ring and picnic table. There are also a few restrooms and bathhouses on the premises that are kept clean and offer hot showers, a necessity after a long day in the 72-degree spring water. There’s also a dump station on the property for all you RVers!
Camping reservations may be made up to 11 months in advance using the online Reserve America platform, which comes with an additional $6.50 fee on top of the nightly price.
- Blue Springs Campground Price: $24 per night
- Blue Springs State Park Cabins Price: $95 per night
Blue Spring Hours and Entrance Fee
Since Blue Spring State Park is part of the Florida park system, there’s a $6 entry fee per vehicle, which is good for two to eight people, or a $4 fee for single-occupant vehicles. Pedestrians and bicyclists are also charged $2 per person to get in.
Blue Spring State Park is open from 8 a.m. to sundown every day of the year, including major holidays. But campers can arrive after sundown with a simple phone call to the park.
- Blue Spring State Park Daily Fee: $6 per person, per day