One of the earliest records of what would become Blue Spring State Park comes from John Bartram, a botanist who visited the area in 1766 and marveled at the abundant beauty of the area. Today, visitors flock to this popular Florida park in every season to enjoy the many activities and amenities it offers. However, the unique nature of this gem sometimes requires some special planning.
Blue Spring State Park gets its name from one of the largest springs on the Saint John's River, which runs through the park. This spring was the reason for the park's creation, as it serves as a critical manatee habitat. About 165 million gallons of water flow from Blue Spring to the Saint John's river each day, and it remains a balmy 73 degrees Fahrenheit all year. While spring is the main attraction, the park also offers many other activities to enjoy.
The manatees are definitely the main attraction at Blue Spring State Park, but they're not there all year. The warm waters of the spring attract them during the colder winter months, so if you want to see them, be sure to plan your visit between the months of November and March. Touching, feeding or otherwise interacting with the manatees is strictly forbidden, but the boardwalks around the spring typically provide excellent views of the more than 300 manatees that visit each year.
Many other species also call Blue Spring State Park their home, so keep your eyes peeled while you're visiting. Alligators, raccoons, and bears are some of the larger inhabitants, along with plenty of birds. Watch for birds of prey like ospreys and eagles, along with wading birds like storks and herons. Remember to enjoy the wildlife from a distance, however, feeding or harassing wild animals is illegal.
Numerous trails run through Blue Spring State Park, but the most popular is the boardwalk running along the springs. This easy, accessible hike includes interpretive exhibits to help you learn about the park ecosystem.
If you prefer to get off the beaten path, try Pine Island Trail. This trail is approximately 3.6 miles long and is not a loop, so be prepared to double that if you hike the entire distance. It offers excellent views of a variety of habitats, including hardwood hammocks, scrub forests and a hidden lagoon.
During the summer months, visitors can swim, snorkel and scuba dive in the warm waters of Blue Spring. Divers are required to register with the park rangers. Have a dive buddy with you and be prepared to show a current certification or you will not be permitted to dive. If you prefer to stay a little above water, you can also rent a tube and float along Blue Spring. These activities are not allowed between November 15 and March 15 due to the presence of manatees.
There's more to Blue Spring State Park than just wildlife. It's home to a rich archaeological history, including evidence of Native American activity dating back thousands of years. Many of these are in the form of midden heaps, where local tribes piled shells, broken tools, and other artifacts.
On top of one of these midden heaps is the historic Thursby house, which was built in the mid-1800s. Today, it is preserved much as it would have been kept during that time, and visitors are welcome to explore it to learn more about what life was like in the area back then.
Canoeing and kayaking are popular activities in Blue Spring State Park. During the summer, Blue Spring itself is open for paddling. However, it is closed to these activities during the winter. The St. John's River, parts of which are also located in the park, is open for paddling all year. If you're feeling adventurous, you can paddle to nearby Hontoon Island State Park or explore some of the creeks branching off from the river. Kayaks are available for rent in the park.
If you want to explore by boat but don't know where to start, visit St. John's River Tours. This company works with the park to provide top-notch guided nature tours to visitors. The most popular option is the group cruise, which lets you relax on a specially designed boat while a skilled guide points out hidden wildlife and other points of interest. If you feel like getting a little closer, try a guided kayak tour. These require you to do your own paddling but offer quite an adventure. All kayaking equipment is provided, so you only have to bring your water and sun protection.
Many people just visit for the day, but if you prefer to stay overnight, Blue Spring State Park has plenty of options. It offers a total of 51 campsites, all of which have water and electricity. There are also six cabins available, which can fit up to six people each. Pets are allowed at the campground but not in the cabins. All sites tend to book up quickly, so plan to make reservations well in advance if you want to ensure you can stay in the park.
Blue Spring State Park offers numerous amenities, including concession areas that sell snacks, sunscreen, and other essentials. However, remember that this is still a wild area and does contain hazards. Be sure to bring plenty of food and water with you when you hike, and stay away from wildlife, which can be dangerous at times. Follow the rules and stay on marked paths to ensure your safety. Check the weather report before setting out to be aware of any dangerous conditions that might arise, and contact the rangers if you have any questions or need assistance.