Ultimate Guide to Manatee Springs State Park, Florida (Tours, Pricing, History, Map)
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The Manatee Springs State Park is in Florida near Chiefland. It is a first-degree magnitude spring that flows directly into the Suwannee River, and it is the longest spring run feeding the Suwannee River. There are also swamps and hardwood wetlands along with the river and sinkhole ponds. There is also a cave that goes 90 ft below the ground and connects to a popular destination known as catfish hotel.
The park has been so named because there are around 100 manatee sightings every year. The springs are a naturally ideal place for the manatees as they can feed and rest after their 23-mile travel from the Gulf. The manatees can be seen in the fall and winter months.
History of Manatee Springs State Park
Life at Manatee Springs can be traced back to 9000 years, and the first recorded residents were Timucuan Indians. The picnic area inside the park was once the site for the Timucuan Indian village. It was chosen for its prime location as it was situated along the Suwannee River and had good access to fresh water and transportation. However, the area’s cultural life underwent a huge transformation after the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1500s. William Bartram visited the Manatee Springs in 1774, and he named the Springs Manatee Springs after witnessing a manatee carcass on the shores of the spring.
Major General Andrew Jackson carried out an attack near the Manatee Springs during the Seminole Wars. It killed many Seminole Indians and forced the rest of the population out of Florida. The area was thus open to the settlers and the farmers who moved to Manatee Springs to harvest timber and grow cotton.
In 1954 the Manatee Springs became the first spring to become a Florida State Park. Various excavations at the Manatee Spring Park have revealed that the Indian village was densely populated throughout history. Many articles have been found at the village site, such as arrowheads, bone awls, saltwater shells, and pottery. All these things have led historians to speculate that the natives of Manatee Spring State Park used the Suwannee River to travel to the Gulf of Mexico.
Geological Cave Formations in Manatee Springs State Park
Manatee Springs is one of the 33 first-magnitude springs. It is also one of the largest springs in Florida and regularly releases an average of 443,00 cubic meters of water. There are more than 8000 m of mapped cave tunnels making it one of the longest underwater cave systems in the US. Even if you are not a certified cave diver, it is a great place to swim and snorkel.
Wildlife in Manatee Springs State Park
Various forms of wildlife are found at Manatee Springs State Park, which includes mammals, insects, scaled and feathered species. One would come across species like the American alligator, different varieties of turtles, and at least three different kinds of snakes that can be found in the area.
In the winter months, you will come across the manatees, warm-blooded mammals. If you are lucky and make minimum noise, then you will be able to hear the sound of the manatees’ nose emerging in the water surface to take in the fresh air.
The spring also attracts a sizeable population of American black vultures who come here during winter. It is a beautiful spectacle during that time as the moss-draped cypress trees are filled with these large birds. These birds are not afraid of the visitors, but they are not aggressive.
Is Manatee Springs State Park Haunted?
Manatee Springs is one of the best spots for swimming in the state, but it is also known for the dangerously swift undercurrents. But there is no need to think that everything here is normal. The locals believe that underwater the visitors can feel the swirling ghosts of the family who drowned in the springs several years ago.
A few years back, a young woman who was an expert swimmer recalled that she felt the touch of ice-cold hands which tried to drag her underwater. She did her best to get away from the situation, but she bumped her head on the rocks and roots. She did re-surface but vowed never to come back to this place again.
How Big is Manatee Springs State Park?
The spring at the Manatee Springs State Park is a quarter of a mile in length.
Manatee Springs State Park Tours
At one point in time, the Manatee Springs Cave system was the longest cave globally, with more than 20,000 explored and documented caves. There are four main cavern openings within the State Park: Headspring, Sue Sink, Catfish Hotel, and Friedman’s Sink. Swimming is forbidden in the Headspring in winter as there will be manatees there. The catfish sinkhole near the mainspring remains open throughout the year and provides ready access to the caverns.
Swimming and snorkeling are not allowed here and are discouraged as there is a layer of duckweed over the water. Sue Sink is an emergency exit only for the cave divers, and Friedman’s Sink acts as an entrance to the certified cave divers.
The certified open water divers can dive into the head spring with lights, and certified cavern divers can dive into the catfish hotel cavern with lights, but they cannot explore beyond the daylight zone. The divers should show extreme caution at the siphon side of the catfish hotel as the flow is massive.
Manatee Springs State Park Tour Prices and Discounts
The admission fees for the park are USD 6 per vehicle. For camping, you need to pay USD 20 plus tax every night, and one can rent the pavilion for USD 35 plus tax.
Is Manatee Springs State Park Cold?
The Springs have a constant water temperature of 72 degrees F making it a preferred winter habitat for the manatees.
What to Wear?
Dress comfortably for your visit to Manatee Springs State Park but wear a pair of comfortable walking shoes. You can carry an insect repellant with you if you plan to picnic there.
Manatee Springs State Park Hours
The park remains open from 8 am till sundown.
What to Do at Manatee Springs State Park (Beside Tours)
Manatee Springs is a hub of a diverse range of activities. These include
Bicycles are welcome on all the roads in the park. There are 8 miles of wooded off-trails within the park which the mountain bikers can enjoy.
The motorboats can be tied at the floating dock. There is a 300-yard boardwalk that can be accessed to get into the springs area.
Suwannee River Boardwalk
The quarter-mile roundtrip boardwalk at the Manatee Springs is the most popular trail. There is a reason behind it. You can view a plethora of forest creatures going through the forest when it remains dry and also plenty of wildlife along the edges when it becomes wet. Some overlooks let you see the manatees that come upstream during winter. The trail ends at the Suwannee River dock, where the motorboats are tied, and this is yet another area where you can see a lot more manatees.
Freshwater fishing is a popular activity here that can be done in the Suwannee River. If you are adept at angling, you can catch fishes like catfish, largemouth bass, and mullet.
Canoeing is available throughout the year on the famous Suwannee River.
The picnic tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Scuba Diving is allowed on a first-come, first-served basis. Open water diving is permitted in the Manatee Springs mainspring and the Catfish Hotel.
One can enjoy swimming activities in the beautiful spring, but you must be cautious as the current is swift.
One can continue upstream to the Manatee Springs from the end of the Suwannee River Boardwalk. A network of paved paths, boardwalks, and footpaths connect different areas of interest in the springs. The trail will take you through the cypress forest into the cove, a popular destination for families with kids as the water is very shallow here. However, remember that alligators and water snakes are very common since it is a wild shoreline.
Best Time to Visit Manatee Springs State Parks
During the winter months, the manatees travel up the Suwannee River. So, the best time to come here would be between November and April.
How to Get to Manatee Springs State Park
Manatee Springs State Park is located near Old Town in Trenton. From US 19 in Chiefland, you need to take CR 320 to get into the park.
Hotels near Manatee Springs State Park
The State Park has an 82-site campground with facilities like water and electricity for each site. Almost 70 of these sites are available for RV or tent use. There are comfort stations at the campsites with hot showers, sink, and toilets. There are hotels too in the vicinity of the Manatee Springs State Park like Quality Inn & Days Inn by Wyndham Chiefland.
Manatee Springs State Park Fun Facts
- The spring releases an average of 443,000 cubic meters of water every day.
- The spring has a depth of 8 meters at the deepest point.
- There are around 8000 meters of mapped cave tunnels.
- There is a cave 90 ft below the ground that is connected to the hugely popular Catfish Hotel.
Manatee Springs State Park Details
- Length: The spring is a quarter of a mile in length.
- Time Recommended: 2 to 3 hours
- Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
- Kid-friendly: Yes
- Dog-friendly: Well-behaved dogs are welcome here
- Fees: USD 6 per vehicle
- Hours: 8 am till sundown
Visiting Manatee Springs State Park
Do you need more information before visiting Manatee Springs State Park? Call (352) 493-6072 for an information packet.
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