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The Best Places to see Manatees near Orlando

For much of the year, manatees are widely dispersed in Florida's waterways, but during the colder winter months, manatees head for warm freshwater springs.

Central Florida Manatee Viewing Guide

Manatees roam the waters of Florida from April through October -- but when things get a bit chilly, they head to places like freshwater Florida Springs, where the temperatures remain constant throughout the year.

It may not seem warm when you jump into a freshwater spring, but the water temperatures remain around 70 degrees, which is perfect for manatees in Florida who need that kind of warmth to survive.

Manatees depend on the warm water for survival, as they cannot tolerate water temperatures colder than 68 degrees for long periods of time. Although manatees look “fat” or “blubbery,” they only have about an inch of fat and a very slow metabolism, meaning they cannot easily stay warm. This biology makes Florida pbrings vital for their survival.

What is the best way to observe a wild Florida manatee?

To help protect Florida's wildlife, FWC encourages you to watch wildlife from a distance and use binoculars or zoom lenses to extend your view. Florida's manatee population needs the wildlife sanctuaries, springs and warm water sites to survive during the winter months. If you visit any of the wild manatee viewing areas, please give the manatees the space they need and do not disturb them if they are resting. 

Ready to see manatees? Here are several great places to check out:

Blue Spring State Park

Blue Spring State Park
2100 W French Avenue, Orange City (1 hr from Orlando)

Blue Spring State Park is home to a first-magnitude spring that is one of the largest winter gathering sites for manatees in Florida. Visitors can see hundreds of manatees enjoying the constant 72-degree spring water in the colder winter months.

Blue Spring State Park is unique because visitors can view manatees in the crystal-clear spring water from the boardwalk, which stretches 1/3 of a mile from the St. Johns River to the headspring. The boardwalk provides a wonderful opportunity for safely observing the manatees. Visitors can see manatees socializing and mothers nursing their small calves, without influencing the manatees’ natural behavior or bothering them.

The number of manatees visiting the park has grown significantly, from about 36 animals when research began in the 1970s to over 700 animals in 2023. Although there are still many threats to manatees — habitat loss, pollution, algae blooms and collision with watercraft — Blue Spring State Park serves as a safe haven for these gentle creatures.

The park is also an ideal location to release manatees back into the wild after they have been rehabilitated from sickness or injury. Because they can easily be monitored at the spring and the surrounding waters, researchers are able to make sure they adapt to life back in the wild.

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
1502 SE Kings Bay Dr, Crystal River (2 hr from Orlando)

Crystal River is home to the only national wildlife refuge in the United States specifically created to protect habitats for Florida’s beloved official marine mammal, the Florida manatee.

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1983, is the only refuge created specifically for the protection of the threatened Florida manatee, a subspecies of the West Indian manatee.  This unique refuge preserves Three Sisters Springs, the last unspoiled and undeveloped spring habitat in Kings Bay.

The Refuge is maintained by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The headquarters and visitor center for the Refuge are located at 1502 SE King Bay Drive in Crystal River.

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
4150 S. Suncoast Blvd. Homosassa (2 hr from Orlando)

Just a few miles south of Crystal River, Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a rehabilitation center for injured West Indian manatees. It’s one of the only places in the world where you can see manatees 365 days a year, thanks to a floating underwater observatory and over a mile of paved and boardwalk trails surrounding the area’s natural springs. You can also learn more about these gentle giants during twice-daily tours or via a guided expedition.

Silver Springs State Park
5656 E Silver Springs Blvd, Silver Springs (1 hr 30 min from Orlando)

A classic Florida attraction since the 1870s, Silver Springs State Park is one of the largest natural springs in the country. Explore the nearly-5,000-acre springs on a clear paddleboard or kayak tour from Epic Paddle Adventures, or take an iconic glass bottom boat tour, where you might see manatees, turtles, tortoises and more.

Three Sister Springs
123 NW US Highway 19, City of Crystal River (1 hr 30 min from Orlando)

World famous, the Three Sister Springs is a preferred refuge of wintering manatees during Manatee Season (November 15 to March 31) with a record 528 manatees recorded on December 27, 2014. A boardwalk circling this one-acre springs complex allows for incredible views.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
1987 Scrub Jay Way, Titusville (1 hr from Orlando)

The Haulover Canal at Merritt Island connects Mosquito Lagoon and the Indian River, and on the east side of the bridge is a manatee observation area. Viewing platforms, interpretive signs, a boat ramp, and a polarized viewer are located at the observation area.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
6131 Commercial Way, Spring Hill 1 hr 45 min from Orlando)

Visiting Weeki Wachee Springs State Park offers a unique opportunity to witness the gentle giants of the sea, the manatees, in their natural habitat a little outside of Tampa Bay. As you navigate the crystal-clear waters, the serene ambiance and lush surroundings create an ideal setting for spotting these graceful creatures. The park's underwater observatory provides an intimate view, allowing visitor

TECO Manatee Viewing Center
6990 Dickman Rd, Apollo Beach (2 hr from Orlando)

Tampa Electric's Manatee Viewing Center is a designated manatee sanctuary to which large numbers of manatees in Florida return annually to the warm discharge waters of the Big Bend Power Station. Viewing platforms, tidal walkways, and an environmental education center are located at this 50-acre facility.


The Best Places to see Manatees near Orlando

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