Exploring Florida State Parks and Attractions

Paddling on the Crystal River

One of the things we wanted to do in Florida was see the manatees up close and personal.  We decided on a kayak trip to Crystal River Springs to view the manatees. It was a chilly morning and we rented kayaks and headed out from Hunter Springs Park. Upon starting out, there were a large number of manatees in a mating pod in the protected springs area. There were people on the shore watching. We were given a map and some directions on how to paddle to the Crystal River Springs, which was about a 20 minute paddle from Hunter Springs.

Boats, People and Manatees, Oh My!

We paddled into the King’s Bay area and then up the river to Three Sister’s Springs refuge, which is a protected area and was full of manatees. Along the river is a boardwalk and people were viewing from the shore as well. What most surprised us was the number of people “swimming” with the manatees.

There were several tour boats that had brought numerous people to swim with the manatees. They were all decked out in wet suits and had pool noodles to keep their feet floating.

There were so many swimmers, it was hard to maneuver our kayaks! There was only one other kayak that we saw. We were always told that it was illegal to touch the manatees and Kathy resisted touching a baby manatee that came right up to her kayak, stuck out it’s head and greeted her.

All around us the swimmers were caressing and touching the manatees.

The manatees were curious and seemed to enjoy the human interactions as well.

The boat operators were observing and at times pointing out the manatee’s whereabouts.

Later we read the literature and it was carefully worded “do not touch a resting manatee or initiate contact” and I guess that’s how they get around allowing the tourist to have up-close encounters. We enjoyed the experience of seeing the manatees swim around and bumping our kayaks. However, Kathy said watching the people touch the manatees was like watching someone eating ice cream on a hot summer day! We were envious but didn’t really want to participate in such a crowded event.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

This park is an educational park that provides viewing of native Florida wildlife in a very well cared for natural setting. There is also a first-magnitude freshwater spring where the temperature is 72 degrees and there are manatees in the colder season.

This park also rehabilitates manatees and we went to a program and learned a lot about them and got to see the feeding of the manatees that were there for rehab.

There were numerous areas with wildlife ranging from bears, black panther, red wolves, eagles, lots of Florida birds, alligators and river otters.

Most of the birds and animals living here cannot survive in the wild.

The park provides these animals with a habitat and diet that is as natural as possible.

There is only one animal that is not a Florida native at the park. That is Lu the hippopotamus. Lu has been at the park since 1964. He was a television and movie star and wintered at the park when it was in private ownership. In 1989 when the state got involved and transitioned the park to Florida native animals, public outcry for the support of Lu, led the state to grant him special Florida citizenship in 1981. Lu recently turned 58 and is the oldest hippo in captivity.

Weeki Wachee Spring State Park

The mermaids at this park are one of the main attractions and have been performing since 1947.  This park is one of Florida’s oldest roadside attractions. The mermaids swim in a first magnitude spring that has a 400 seat submerged theater for watching the show. The mermaids swim in formations and patterns and use an air hose to get air as they need it. They even demonstrated eating an apple underwater! There are auditions to become a mermaid and the training takes almost a year!

We took a riverboat cruise down the Weeki Wachee River and it was unbelievably clear. We could see fish and we saw an anhinga swimming under the water going after a fish. The river was beautiful. We attended a nature talk about snakes and alligators. This alligator is about 3 years old!

All through the park there was paved sidewalks and trails that were attractively landscaped with natural habitat. As we took a stroll we came upon a flock of peacocks. This pretty guy was as curious about us a we were with him and came out onto the sidewalk to greet us.

It was as if he was saying “Take my picture”!

We have enjoyed seeing Florida and will continue to share our experiences with you.  Thanks for reading!

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10 Responses to Exploring Florida State Parks and Attractions

  1. Amy McCamey says:

    I love reading about your travels! We went to Weeki Wachee when I was a kid and my dad was picked out of the audience to talk to a mermaid! Have safe travels. I look forward to reading about your adventures.

    • lkhearts says:

      I’m sure that was a special memory for you. The picture doesn’t do the mermaids justice. They make it look easy but they are good swimmers performing under the spring’s current. Glad you are enjoying our blog.

  2. Nancy says:

    What amazing experiences but I was rather sad to see people touching the manatees!!! I want them to be wild and free. Hats off to you both for resisting!!!
    Great parks you are finding!!! Great blog to follow you along!!!

    • lkhearts says:

      Unfortunately these manatees are use to the tourist and don’t seem to mind being touched. We watched some of them swim right under people and initiate contact. The babies were very playful and very social with the people.

  3. Barbara Mathews says:

    Wow you hit manatee jackpot! I never saw so many at once!

    • lkhearts says:

      The water in the Gulf was still pretty chilly so the manatees were hanging around the warm springs. The tour guide said they needed to go out soon because they were very hungry. We did enjoy seeing so many of them!

  4. Gordon Sedgwick says:

    Your epic journey continues…but this year you don’t have to drive as much. There ae 27 first-magnitude springs in Florida…I bet you will see more of them. I am thinking of bringing our Class ‘C” RV down from Erie next winter to explore Florida…your blog will be useful.
    Lida arrived in the Philippines last week…visiting there for the next month or so.

    • lkhearts says:

      We love exploring and discovering new places. Florida has some lovely parks. What a great idea to bring your RV down next year. You’ll have a great time. Think about making some reservations though. We are finding it very challenging to make reservations in March, especially at the state parks.

  5. Laura Hawkins says:

    Hi Kathy and Linda! I’m envious of your weather as I look outside at the snow….at least the sun is shining here.
    So impressive to see so many manatees! I’m enjoying your blog very much.

    • lkhearts says:

      Hi Laura! It’s good hearing from you! The last couple of weekks the weather has been in the upper 80’s – not that we’re complaining.
      It has been pretty nice! We haven’t been swimming in the Gulf yet, but it’s absolutely beautiful. We’re hoping to get out to the beach one day this week.

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