Since we are only weekenders for now until our house sells, we are concentrating on places near us. Manatee Springs was an easy choice for two reasons. One, it is close to my son who is at UF. Two, it has loads of deer, which I adore. I know this because we visited this park once before when we had a Travato.
There is so much to do here.
The campground itself:
If you prefer to just enjoy your natural surroundings, the campgrounds are surrounded by trees. This provides shade, as well as home to various local critters. Also, each campground has a picnic bench and a fire pit. The hook-ups available depend on the site. There are tent sites, there are full hook-up sites and there are water and electric sites. Luckily, all sites seem to be visited by the locals from time to time- the deer.
If hiking is your favorite activity, there are a few short trails and others that hook up with longer trails. I took the Sink Hole Trail, which was just a half mile loop, but with several sink holes, and signs explaining the natural flora and fauna. My preferred is not actually a hike, per say- the Boardwalk. Unfortunately, but understandably, dogs aren’t allowed, but it is worth it to leave the pups behind for a short visit. It goes through what can only be described as surreal scenery. I equate it to Dagobah from the Star Wars movies. There are little sections that jet out further into the spring so you can a better vantage point. The boardwalk ends at the boat ramp. However, if you walk it at night, with a flashlight, you never know what you might find- deer, raccoons, owls, snakes, oh my..
If you prefer a little more adventure, rent a canoe or kayak at the concession stand run by Anderson’s Outdoor Adventures- also food,a small store and better wi-fi – https://andersonsoutdooradventures.com/index.html . They will take care of everything: supply the life preservers, the canoe/kayak, directions and will even give you a gentle push. There are a few different packages depending on how much time you have- or how much strength you have. We took a two-hour tour because it was late in the day, it was still hot, and, well, we haven’t done this in a while. We went up the Suwanee River and back, seeing several types or birds and plants, as well as turtles and yes, you guessed it, gators. If you skim along the river close to the shore, you will see giant Lily pads and possibly find a hidden alcove. In these hidden little gems is where you will feel truly alone. .
Of course, the key feature is the springs themselves. Crystal clear water with swirls coming up from the depths. You can rent a tube and just- ah, relax. It truly is magical. And if you take a flashlight with you at night and visit the springs, you may catch a bat or two or… What a treat. There is also the section across from the main spring for diving the Catfish caves. No. That one wasn’t for me, but I did see divers come up from the “black lagoon” covered in green slime and a smile..
Relaxing by the campfire, hiking through the trails, rowing down the Suwanee River, enjoying the food and gifts at the concession stand – as well as connecting to their wi-fi- are all parts of this peaceful place in North Florida. Though we didn’t have young children there, plenty were also enjoying this park, especially the large playground and the amphitheater (a Halloween dog costume contest winners were shown there).
There is something for everyone at Manatee Springs State Park. If you want to see those amazing creatures the park is named after, visit in the colder months. Enjoy the Real Florida.
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