Blue Spring’s consistent 72-degree springs make the state park a swimmer’s paradise year-round — depending on the species.
The 2,600-acre park in Orange City is a summertime haven for Central Florida swimmers with its cool waters and a wintertime oasis that makes it a world-class manatee watching destination.
And it’s less than an hour’s drive from downtown Orlando.
From November to March the tributary spring of the St. Johns River is crowded with the blubbery manatees who seek refuge there as other bodies of water get chilly.
During the summer months, it’s packed with swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers using that spring as a reprieve from Central Florida’s sweltering heat.
The spring starts at a limestone cave, and certified divers can navigate the 120-foot-deep crevice.
Those on the surface can innertube the 1/8-mile stretch between docks, climb out of the spring water and hike upstream for another go.
Water-fun season is at its height in September, when a 10-mile canoe, kayak and paddleboard race called the St. Johns River Paddle Battle is held at the park.
The winter months culminate with the Orange City Blue Spring Manatee Festival, a celebration of the sea cow.
“It’s known as one of the best places anywhere to see manatees,” said Larry Fooks.
Watchers crowd with cameras to view the manatees and their young wait out the winter season in spring-fed comfort.
Park staff have been known to count more than 500 manatees in the small body of water at times.
Manatee season tends to run from November to February and the park is closed to swimmers then. The best times for watching manatees are in January when the air is coldest and the river is swarming with the gray mammals.
It’s also then that the park’s spacious fields, playground and concessions make it an ideal place for a winter-time picnic.
January is when the state park is the most crowded too. Lines at the entrance can stretch hours when the park hits capacity, Fooks said.
The park also features six cabins, a campground, hiking and a historic homestead from the Thursby family, who first used the land in 1872 during the steamboat era to ship citrus fruit.