Looking for something straight out of a fairy tale where you can see manatees, paddle a kayak, and go swimming in crystalline waters? Blue Spring State Park, less than an hour from Orlando, is the ideal place. Here’s what happened when KAG contributor Kristina took her kids for an adventure there.
You know when you see a photo of someplace that is just so unbelievably gorgeous that you save it on Facebook or Instagram or put it on a list you have of places that you must go to? I have a list like that and Blue Spring State Park has been on it for a bit. I think I found it through a kayaking group and right away, I knew I had to go.
So when I found myself spending some time in Florida, Blue Spring State Park was at the top of my list and this beautiful oasis with clear, spring water ended up being one of my family’s most fun adventures in the state for lots of reasons.
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Florida’s Natural Springs
My grandparents and dad’s family all lived in Florida so I ended up spending a significant amount of time there as a kid and teenager but we never explored that much, spending most of our trips on the Orlando area or at the beach.
So I didn’t have any knowledge whatsoever of these perfect, clear springs that dot Florida’s hot and humid landscape. There are several in the central part of the state and most are located within Florida’s state parks system.
The water is so clear because it’s filtered underground through limestone and is abundant in minerals that keep it so pristine (thank you big park educational boards that explained all this). Here is a list of other freshwater springs throughout Florida.
On a previous trip to Florida eons ago, I vaguely remember my parents taking my brothers and I to see manatees. I thought they were pretty neat, having had grown up in the Northeast, where we don’t have the big sea cow around.
Manatees, I learned from watching a YouTube video about them while waiting to get into the park, don’t have a lot of body fat so they need fairly warm water to survive, above 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The natural springs are 72 degrees year round so they migrate there every fall and stay till early spring.
Conservation efforts by Florida’s parks have significantly increased the protection of these gentle giants and their populations have grown. Swimming with them is prohibited.
I didn’t think we would see any manatees while there since we were a little bit early in the fall but surprise, we saw a couple of them! One swam right by us while we were canoeing and then another slipped by us while were tubing down the spring.
Manatees are super protected by the parks. A woman in a kayak followed the manatees everywhere and told people to basically get out of the way and let the manatee swim wherever it wanted. Her kayak even said “manatee observer”. Legit job.
Paddle the Spring
I love kayaking and decided this had to happen there. I went through Blue Spring Adventures to rent a three-person canoe, which was super sturdy and spacious. I am much more comfortable in a kayak but the only three-person option, which was my situation with my two small kids, ages 9 and 6. We rented a canoe for an hour and it worked out perfectly since it was the ideal amount of time to paddle the spring and head back without having the kids get bored.
Blue Spring Adventures also has guided kayak and canoe tours. They are located right inside the park and I thought their prices were very reasonable (we paid around $25 for the hour canoe rental for three people).
If you are planning on paddling through the spring, be sure to take the first time in the morning since they close that area from 11 am on since more people are swimming and tubing. You are required to wear life jackets, which come with your rental.
When paddling the spring, you are not allowed to get out of your boat or off your paddleboard and go for a swim.
The spring flows into the St. John’s River, where bigger boat nature tours are offered. We didn’t do that but the reviews online were very good.
Swimming in the Spring
The water is a little chilly but it does feel great on a hot day, which are pretty prevalent in sunny Florida. And you can see straight to the bottom, which is around 18 to 20 feet. There are a few platforms that are easily accessible. Kids are welcome to wear puddle jumpers or life vests and you can bring a tube or flotation device as long as it’s not larger than six feet.
Snorkeling and scuba diving are also permitted. I definitely wanted to snorkel after taking our tubes down the spring a bunch of times. It’s not far at all from the furthest drop in point till where you get out. You can walk down a beautiful boardwalk trail to get to that furthest point where you can swim or put in your tube.
If you don’t have a tube, you can rent one for $6 for the first hour, $3 for each additional hour.
Snorkeling seemed really fun. There are huge alligator gar fish (totally harmless) and some smaller fish that you can view just from looking in the water. I can’t even imagine how cool it would be to see them through snorkeling or scuba diving.
What about Gators?
OK, not gonna lie: I Googled the heck out of this topic. In Florida, you have to assume that alligators are present in any freshwater or brackish water springs, lagoons, ponds, etc. So yes, there are alligators there. We saw one in the lily pads while canoeing.
The park has signs that there are possibly alligators there when you go swimming but gators usually prefer warmer water and in general, are pretty shy and avoid people. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have my eyes peeled the entire time we were in the water!
Also, the park rangers walk the boardwalk that overlooks the spring and they are on the lookout for alligators and will close the swimming area if any are spotted. The last time someone was killed by an alligator at the spring was in 2015.
Need to Know
Blue Spring State Park is a popular park so you need to get there early, like before they open at 8 am. They will close when they reach capacity, which happens soon after opening. We got there at 7:30 am on a Saturday morning when we had the canoe rental reservation for 8:30 am. We didn’t make it there until 8:40 am with the long line and getting inside the park.
The ranger told me they let in around 140 cars before they close it. We were probably number 30 or 40 in line. So get there early.
So many people brought tents and coolers and we even saw an air bed. You can easily spend the day here and apparently that’s what people do. You can bring in food but they also sell hamburgers and hot dogs and other concessions.
Be sure to bring lots of sunscreen and bug spray. It’s Florida so there will be bugs and sun. Be prepared.
You can either buy your admission online or just pay when you get there. It’s $6 per car so certainly an affordable trip for a family.
Blue Spring State Park is an easy day trip from Orlando, where it’s a short 45 minute drive. It’s the same distance from the Daytona Beach area as well. If you’re in the area, a trip to Blue Spring State Park is an amazing adventure that your family won’t forget!
Would you go swimming at Blue Spring State Park?
Blue Spring State Park
2100 W French Avenue, Orange City, FL