For starters, lines start before the park even opens! My husband and a friend tagged along for a celebratory birthday weekend kayaking trip. We headed out from our home in Orlando at 7:15am (of course feeding my addiction of Starbucks Matcha Tea on the way). Even arriving at 8:00am the lines already started to form. If you’ve never been kayaking before, you are in for a treat at Blue Springs!
Parked in the parking lot and armed with supplies we headed out. To the right there is a wooden board walk with short over looks of the Manatee Spring, follow the board walk all the way to the right and you will find a row of small souvenir shops and cafes. Perched on top of a hill is the historic Thursby House that is free and open to the public to tour. The Thursby House was built in 1872 and greeted steam boat h on the St. John’s River. It is definitely a site worth seeing, but it does get busy later in the day.
(They have this cute manatee counter at the State Park check in booth – BRING ON THE SEA COWS)
Follow the board walk further to the left and you will start seeing kayaks and canoes parked along the water. Further still, you will see the wooden shack filled to the brim with young college kids that will help you get set up with your rental. My husband and I have learned from past mistakes that canoeing is not even worth your time; spend the extra money rent a kayak.
Here’s my soap box – Canoes are UNCOMFORTABLE, sitting on a wooden bench, hunched over with one paddle. Just be ready for the arguments with your spouse!! (PADDLE LEFT. RIGHT. LEFT. RIGHT) Again, just spend the extra money rent a kayak, you’ll thank me later!
For the Blue Springs Kayak Rentals you are looking at about $16-$20 an hour. Check out their site here!
Side note – They do not allow paddling directly into the spring for the protection of the newly born baby manatees (you heard me right, this time of year it is easy to spot a little baby cow floating around in the spring!)
Sitting comfortably, lay back in the lounger and stocked with Starbucks; the college kids pushed us out onto the water. The college kids armed us with a poorly drawn paper map of the area, marked with hot spots for wildlife. We started off paddling to the right and headed out onto the large river (UP STREAM MIND YOU). Then we took a sharp left into a canal. Breath taking, sweeping views of marsh surrounded our kayak. Giant blue heron swooped over our heads while smaller birds called out to each other. Just pause here and take it all in.
Continuing on, we paddled for a short while and made it to the “Snake Bend.” The canal was so narrow that you could reach and touch both sides of the canal. Elegant trees shade the canal, while Spanish moss swayed silently above our heads. We paddled here for a short while and ended up turning around, taking the entire Snake Bend to the end is a three hour trek.
We turned around and headed back out the Snake Bend, then making a left onto the large water way. (Watch out for boats here!) We continued down this large water way and to our surprise, manatees were leaving the spring and swimming along both sides of our kayaks! Leaving our kayaks behind, we started our short trek down the wooden board walk towards the Thursby House. Down the wooden board walk you will pass several small outlooks over the Manatee Spring (look out for the little babies!) Make sure you stop by and take a photo with this cutie:
Further down still you will reach the small cafe and gift shop. Here you will find every kind of manatee trinket you can dream of! Even further still, there is a short one mile hiking trail behind the gift shop, certainly worth a look! By 12:00pm the crowds really started to form! The one thing that I would have changed was to remember to pack a picnic lunch for my husband and me! It was a perfect afternoon to spread out under a shady tree and enjoy this beautiful Florida weather. Please comment below if you have any questions about this trip! Kayaking with the Florida Manatees was an experience I will never forget!
(FYI – Boat shoes are a must ($5 at Walmart). You will thank me later. Bonus points if you and your spouse match!)