Mar 07, 2024


Florida is home to manatees all year long. During the summer, these gentle giants can be seen swimming off the coast. From November to April, Florida’s springs will begin overflowing with manatees as they seek refuge from the colder waters of the ocean and gulf. These herbivorous charmers, affectionately nicknamed "sea cows," migrate to warm springs and power plants as the cooler waters arrive. The best places to see manatees in Florida during this time are at the many natural springs found throughout the state.


Check out the 6 best places to see manatees in Florida!

1. Crystal River.

Nestled along the Gulf Coast, Crystal River is synonymous with manatee encounters. The crown jewel is Three Sisters Springs, a place where crystal-clear waters embrace hundreds of manatees. Kayak tours glide through the spring runs, offering breathtaking underwater views of these gentle giants grazing on seagrass.

Feeling more adventurous? Snorkeling with manatees is a truly immersive experience, allowing you to witness their grace and playful personalities up close. Remember, responsible observation is key - maintain a respectful distance and avoid disturbing their natural behavior.


2. Blue Spring State Park.

Imagine a beautiful blue spring filled with hundreds of manatees seeking warmth in the winter. Blue Spring State Park offers just that! The crystal-clear waters provide excellent visibility, making it perfect for observing manatees from the observation deck or while paddling the scenic "lazy river." Hike along the nature trails to immerse yourself in the lush Florida landscape, and remember, manatees often gather near the springhead, offering a glimpse into their fascinating underwater world.

Make sure to visit this popular location early in the morning. The manatees will head out into the St. Johns River to feed as the day warms up. There will also be less of a crowd the earlier you arrive.


3. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Step into a world where manatees share the spotlight with other fascinating creatures at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. This park offers a unique opportunity to observe rescued manatees receiving care, alongside playful otters, majestic bald eagles, and even the oldest hippopotamus in captivity! Witness manatees in the spring's warm waters, and learn about the park's conservation efforts to protect these gentle giants.


4. Weeki Wachee Springs State Park.

Weeki Wachee Springs is another fantastic place to see manatees in Florida. Known for its beautiful paddling route that takes you through a lush forest with plenty of wildlife. But the real stars are the manatees! Kayak tours allow you to explore the spring's hidden wonders, while boat tours offer a scenic journey through the Weeki Wachee River, where manatee sightings are frequent. Don't forget to snap a picture near the iconic mermaid statue – it's a Florida must-have!

It’s very important to book ahead. The state park limits the number of boats on the water so plan your adventure early.


5. Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center.

Tampa Bay is known for manatee sightings throughout the year. When the winter months arrive and the cold weather sets in, the manatees make their way to the warmer waters of many of the natural springs in the area. Look no further than the Tampa Electric Manatee Viewing Center. This free facility offers a front-row seat to observe manatees seeking warm water discharged from the power plant.

The water discharge used initially to cool the power plant began to flow into a nearby canal. This warm water attracted nearby manatees to seek refuge when the temperatures in bay dropped below 68 degrees.

Shortly after the manatees began to frequent these waters, the Manatee Viewing Center was established. Guests can visit the education center to learn everything there is to know about manatees and what is being done to protect them.


6. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Florida's east coast holds another gem for manatee enthusiasts - the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. This sprawling refuge encompasses diverse habitats, including the Banana River Lagoon, a winter haven for manatees.

Kayak tours offer a unique perspective as you paddle through the calm waters, spotting manatees grazing on the abundant seagrass beds. Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins, otters, and even the elusive West Indian manatee, a smaller subspecies found in these waters. The refuge also boasts informative exhibits about manatees and other local wildlife, making it a perfect blend of adventure and education.


Beyond the Sighting: Responsible Manatee Encounters

Remember, observing manatees responsibly is crucial to their well-being. Here are some key points to remember:

  • Maintain a safe distance: Keep at least 100 feet away from manatees on land and 300 feet away in the water.
  • No touching or feeding: This disrupts their natural behavior and can have harmful consequences.
  • Respect their habitat: Avoid loud noises and sudden movements that could startle them.
  • Support conservation efforts: Donate to organizations dedicated to manatee protection and research.

By following these guidelines, you can ensure a memorable encounter that benefits both you and these gentle giants.

Winter in Florida is not just about escaping the cold; it's about embracing the magic of nature. So grab your camera, choose your adventure, and embark on an unforgettable journey to witness the majestic manatees in their natural habitat.


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