7 Top Places To See Manatees Near Orlando - Your Guide To Meeting Them

 7 Top Places To See Manatees Near Orlando

Can you see manatees in Florida? Absolutely – as long as you know where to look. These gentle giants prefer warm waters, so this is the ideal climate for them.

Since Orlando is located in the central portion of the state, you might not realize that manatee viewing is a possibility here. But it is, and we’re here to help you check this item off your bucket list. 

In this article, we’ll clue you in on where to see manatees near Orlando.

1) Explore Manatees At Blue Spring State Park

Just north of Orlando, you’ll find a designated manatee refuge that’s one of the largest winter safe havens for these gentle creatures. The boardwalk, which runs for 1/3 mile from the St. Johns River to the headspring, is one of the best places to view manatees in Florida.

Today, more than 500 manatees make their home in the crystal clear waters of Blue Spring State Park. While manatee viewing is the main attraction here, there are plenty of other reasons to visit the spot. The Pine Island Trail offers excellent hiking, and canoe and kayak rentals are available. If you’re traveling with little ones, there’s also a playground and gift shop.

Book our Manatee Discovery Tour in advance and try to arrive early, especially if you’re visiting on a weekend during manatee season. The park is popular and fills up quickly.

2) Stop By Homosassa Wildlife State Park

You’ll need to drive 90 minutes or so to reach Homosassa, but it’s well worth the trip. Anyone who wants to see manatees in Florida should definitely consider making this state park one of their stops.

Step into the “fishbowl” observatory to check out the manatees’ underwater behavior, or watch them from the pavilion overlooking Blue Water. The park also serves as a rehabilitation center for orphaned and injured manatees. If you’re interested, there are a number of educational programs offered daily.

3) Visit Hunter Springs Park In Crystal River

Just north of Homosassa Springs, you’ll find this sweet city park. The titular spring feeds into Crystal River, making it a great place to spot manatees in Florida.

After walking along the circular boardwalk – the prime manatee viewing area – have a picnic on the little beach, or launch a kayak into the crystal clear waters. Note that the trolley that provides access to Three Sisters Springs can also be used to reach Hunter Springs Park.

4) Drop By Three Sisters Springs In Crystal River

This attraction is part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge and is a great spot to view manatees. After a short trolley ride, you’ll reach the spring, which is encircled by a boardwalk offering prime viewing spots.

In addition to manatees, you can expect to see a plethora of native birds – and perhaps a few reptiles. Here are some bird species to encounter:

  • Cormorants and darters

  • Herons and bitterns

  • Hawks and falcons

5) Drive The Indian River Lagoon Scenic Byway

This gorgeous coastal road trip offers amazing views of the Atlantic, as well as the opportunity to spot loads of native wildlife. Stretching for 156 miles along Florida’s east coast, this is an experience to savor.

To traverse the Indian River Lagoon National Scenic Byway, you can start at the Ponce de Leon Inlet in Volusia County for a north-to-south trip. If you’d prefer to start at the southern end, head to Jupiter first, then make your way up the coast.

Along the way, you’ll see charming coastal villages, peaceful natural landscapes, and wildlife such as manatees, pelicans, and dolphins. The best time to take the drive is between November and May when the animals will be more active.

6) Take A Trip To Canaveral National Seashore

Many families work a trip to Canaveral National Seashore into their Florida itinerary. If you’re among them, you may have the opportunity to spot manatees at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

The observation deck can be found where the Kennedy Parkway crosses the Haulover Canal. While you’re waiting for the animals to appear, check out some of the information panels to learn more about their habits. Be aware that if the weather is too cold, the manatees will abandon this spot in search of a warmer habitat.

7) Find Out If Manatee Springs State Park Lives Up To Its Name

To reach this state park from Orlando, you’ll have to drive a little over 2 hours. But if you’re in Florida to visit with the manatees, how can you pass it up?

The water is cool and refreshing – perfect for swimming, although you’ll want to be careful not to get too close to the manatees if you spot any. Be aware that they’re only around during the colder winter months, so if you visit in the summer, it might not be worth the trip.

A Basic Primer On Florida Manatees

The Florida manatee is – you guessed it – native to the Sunshine State. They are a sub-species of the West Indian manatee, with leathery skin and two forelimb flippers that they use to guide themselves through the water. They also have powerful tails for propulsion and curved snouts that give them an endearing appearance.

We’ve already established that these gentle creatures prefer warm waters. So if you want to see manatees in Orlando, you’re in luck – the weather is generally warm year-round.

In the summer, you can sometimes find manatees as far north as Massachusetts. During the colder winter months, though, manatees migrate back to Florida. So if you need to time your visit around a school break, you should be able to observe manatees in the crystal clear springs of the Orlando region.

How To Observe Manatees

The golden rule of wildlife viewing is to let the animals exist in their natural habitat without disturbing them. Resist the urge to touch or feed the creatures, and enjoy viewing them from a distance.

Bear in mind that Florida manatees are an endangered species. If you attempt to feed them or interact with them in any way, you could be disrupting the balance of the ecosystem that sustains them. So take a good look and snap a few photos if you wish, but be as unobtrusive as possible.

Whenever you spot any dead or injured manatees, you should report it to Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation. If you’re on a guided riverboat cruise or another tour, be sure to tell the guide so they can report the find themselves.

Paddle Through Blue Spring State Park On A Thrilling Kayak Tour

Make sure to check out the details of our most adventurous kayaking tour, the Manatee Discovery Tour, to find out if this trip is right for your group. The slow paddle through the Blue Spring State Park area offers prime opportunities to see wild manatees in their natural habitat.

Viewing these gentle giants in the manatee capital of the world is an unforgettable experience. 

Make sure you hop aboard our Manatee Discovery Tour before you leave Florida – it’s sure to be one of the highlights of your visit.

1 hour
Group Size
1 to 2

Private Instruction

We offer private lessons for those that want to work on their skill development.

6 to 8 hours
Group Size
1 to 5

Aca Skills Assessment- Level 2

The ACA Skill Assessment course is designed to evaluate a participant’s ability to perform all of the fundamental skills along with demonstrating an appropriate level of knowledge. This assessment course provides the participant with the opportunity to receive documentation of having achieved ACA’s Level 2 of paddling ability.

6 days
Group Size
2 to 5

Kayaking Essential

The Kayaking Essentials program continues where the Introduction to Kayaking course left off. We will refine your skills while introducing a few new strokes and the concept of edging. This 6-week course also covers advanced rescue techniques and foundational skills needed to advance to rolling class.

Completion of the Introduction to Kayaking program is not required. However, this is not an introductory course and students must demonstrate the necessary prerequisite skills.

The course concludes with a day paddle at Cape Canaveral National Seashore where you can put all you have learned into practice.

4 hours
Group Size
2 to 5

Flatwater Kayak Safety & Rescue

Our Flatwater Kayak Safety & Rescue course introduces essential flatwater safety practices and rescue techniques that can be performed with a minimum of equipment – in the first few minutes of an emergency. The course covers key self-rescue skills for different mobility levels, and kayak types as well as assisted rescues, rope handling skills, and more. The focus is on fast, simple, low-risk rescue techniques to manage minor in-water incidents.

4 hours
Group Size
2 to 5

Kayak Paddle Strokes & Safety Primer

Our Kayak Paddle Stroke & Safety Primer is a fast-paced training course offering the paddler the opportunity to learn and refine some of the most used paddle strokes and maneuvers.

Some of the strokes we will work on are: low brace, forward stroke refinement, reverse stroke, forward and reverse sweep, stern rudder, and sculling draw. In addition we will also go over the most used rescues: assisted T-rescue, and cowboy/cowgirl self-rescue and paddle float self-rescue.

6 to 8 hours
Group Size
1 to 5

Aca Skills Assesment - Level 1

The ACA Skill Assessment course is designed to evaluate a participant’s ability to perform all of the fundamental skills along with demonstrating an appropriate level of knowledge. This assessment course provides the participant with the opportunity to receive documentation of having achieved a ACA’s Level 1 of paddling ability.