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Blue Spring State Park Guide — Camping, Manatees, and More

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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802 Published Articles

Countries Visited: 63U.S. States Visited: 9

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

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With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now editor-in-chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

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Blue Spring State Park, located in Orange City, Florida, is a magnificent park boasting one of the most stunning springs in the entire state. The water, which remains at a comfortable 72 degrees year-round, attracts manatees during winter, allowing visitors to witness these gentle giants up close.

The crystal-clear turquoise waters of the spring offer visitors the chance to swim, tube, snorkel, and scuba dive throughout the rest of the year. In addition to its natural beauty, the park has a rich cultural and natural history, making it an excellent vacation destination.

How To Get to Blue Spring State Park

Blue Spring State Park is located in Orange City, Florida. The closest major cities are Daytona Beach, Florida, and Orlando, Florida, which are approximately 30 to 45 minutes away. 

Opening Hours and Seasons

This state park is open year-round from 8 a.m. to sundown each day. There are times when particular activities are not available due to manatee season. If there is a specific activity you wish to participate in, it is best to call the park before visiting to make sure everything you want to do is available. 

Nearest Airports

The closest airport to Blue Spring State Park is Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB), which is 23 miles away. 

This airport serves many U.S. cities, including Albany, Austin, Chicago, Cincinnati, Las Vegas, and Nashville. Popular airlines serviced here include Allegiant, Flair, and Sun Country.

Once you arrive at this airport, you are just a hop, skip, and jump from the park. Rental car kiosks and customer service representatives are available to help you arrange the final leg of your journey. 

Driving to Blue Spring State Park

For those driving to this state park, follow Interstate 4 East from Orlando to exit 114. Take S.R. 472 until you get to U.S. 17/92 South. Once on U.S. 17/92 South, continue to Orange City. Turn right onto West French Avenue and follow this road until you get to the end, where the park entrance is located. 

Taking the Train

There is no direct train service to this state park, but SunRail has service to the nearby town of DeBary, Florida. From this station, you are less than 20 minutes from the park.

Another option by rail is Amtrak, which offers daily service to Deland, just 8 miles from the park. Each station offers assistance in arranging a way to the park with several ride-share services. 

Taking the Bus

There is no bus service directly to Blue Spring State Park.

Getting Around Blue Spring State Park

The best way to get around this park is on foot. There are parking areas where you can leave your vehicle and then explore the various sights and attractions. Another fantastic way to tour the park is by boat.

There are various opportunities to enjoy the park from the water, whether you want to paddle in a canoe or kayak or take a guided riverboat tour. The park offers maps on its website to help you plan your itinerary.

What To See and Do

There is no shortage of activities and sights at this state park. Whether you enjoy participating in a guided tour or hiking, scuba diving, or wildlife viewing, there’s something for everyone at this park.

Birding

Blue Spring State Park is a paradise for birdwatchers. Over 140 different species of birds live here, including the chestnut-sided warbler, merlin, Mississippi kite, and Blackburnian warbler.

One of the most unique birds found in the park is the Florida scrub jay, which is only found in Florida and can be seen here year-round. Sadly, the federal government listed this bird as a threatened species in 1987, and its population had decreased by almost 90% by 1993. You can find these bluebirds in the low oak scrub and scrubby flatwoods or in open sandy areas along the edges of the scrub.

The Pine Island Trail is the perfect place to spot these birds and others like the hairy woodpecker and Bachman’s sparrow, especially during the spring and fall seasons when songbird migrants are most active.

Hot Tip:

Don’t forget to bring your binoculars and camera for the best views!

Guided Tours

Blue Spring Adventures
Image Credit: Blue Spring Adventures

Blue Spring Adventures offers a range of exciting tours that allow visitors to explore and learn about Blue Spring State Park’s rich history and diverse wildlife. The company offers guided kayak tours on the St. Johns River, guided segue tours through the park’s backcountry, river cruises, and private boat charters.

During these tours, tourists can witness alligators, manatees, a variety of wading birds, and the beautiful flora and fauna of the Blue Spring area. These tours are perfect for sightseeing, photography, birdwatching, and adventure enthusiasts.

Hiking

The park offers visitors more than 6 miles of hiking trails through forests, prairies, and wetlands. The Pine Island Trail is the most popular one, stretching for 3.6 miles and showcasing various habitats such as sand pine scrub, pine flatwoods, hammock, upland mixed forest, and floodplain forest. The trail provides stunning views of the park’s wildlife.

The Sand Pine Scrub Trail, a quarter-mile loop between the main office and campground, is another wonderful trail the park offers. Visitors can explore the park’s beautiful landscapes and wildlife by hiking the trails regardless of age and ability.

River Boat Cruise

Exploring the St. Johns River by cruise boat is an incredible experience that you won’t want to miss. It’s an excellent way to spend the day in nature while learning about the park’s biodiversity.

St. John River Cruises and Tours offer river boat tours daily at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. During the 2-hour cruise, you will enjoy the river’s beauty and observe and learn about the diverse wildlife, plant life, and forests from the water. The tour is narrated by a knowledgeable guide who will share facts and stories about the river’s history and wildlife.

Whether you are a nature lover, a history enthusiast, or just looking for a relaxing day on the water, this cruise is perfect. It’s an unforgettable way to experience the park and its famous river.

Scuba Diving

One of the most popular activities at Blue Spring State Park is scuba diving, as the refreshing 72-degree water is available year-round. This is an incredible way to explore the park’s wildlife and water. Scuba diving is allowed from April to the end of October, but the presence of manatees may affect the season’s opening or closing.

While divers can explore independently, it is recommended that they have a buddy or participate in a guided diving tour. Florida Dive Company offers a variety of diving options within the park.

During your scuba diving experience, you will have the opportunity to see various types of fish and other marine life. If you encounter a manatee, you must always keep a distance of 50 feet.

Thursby House

Thursby House
Image Credit: Florida State Parks

The Thursby House is a major attraction at Blue Spring State Park due to its incredible history and age of nearly 150 years. Louis Thursby, one of the first European settlers in the area, originally owned the house and came to live here in 1857. He hoped to become wealthy by being close to the river. He built an orange grove and pier for passing steamships, which helped his business.

Today, the house has been preserved to look exactly as it did at the turn of the 19th century, making it a wonderful place to visit and learn about history. It now serves as a museum and interpretive center, which can be a great educational experience for visitors to the park.

Tubing and Swimming

Tubing and swimming on the river are exciting summer activities. Visitors can begin their tubing adventure at the upper entry, swim to the spring boil, and return to the main swim dock by floating down the river.

Hot Tip:

The float run is an eighth of a mile, and you can do as many runs as you like.

Wildlife Viewing

Blue Spring State Park Birding
Image Credit: Florida State Parks

Blue Spring State Park has a variety of wildlife. Many visitors are excited to see the park’s official mascot, the manatee. There are also turtles, alligators, fish, and birds like eagles, osprey, and the Florida scrub jay.

Some of the best ways to get a view of the park’s wildlife are to hike the trails, paddle the waters, or participate in a guided underwater experience where you can explore wildlife below the surface. 

Best Times To Visit Blue Spring State Park

Blue Spring State Park is an incredible destination to explore, regardless of the time of year. However, if you want to attend a specific event or engage in certain activities, certain times of the year might suit you.

Best Time To Visit for Ideal Weather

Weather can make or break a trip, so planning around typical weather patterns is wise. The best month to visit this park for ideal weather is April. The temperatures range from the mid-50s to the low 80s, and there are an average of only 4 days of rain during this month. 

Best Time To Visit To Avoid the Crowds

If you prefer to explore the park without crowds, then having the ability to do it at your own pace is ideal. Consider visiting the park in November, when there are fewer visitors. This is the best time to explore the park without worrying about heavy traffic or crowded areas.

Best Time To Visit To See Manatees

Blue Spring State Park Manatees
Image Credit: Florida State Parks

Blue Spring State Park allows visitors to witness one of the most sought-after attractions- the manatees. If you plan to catch a glimpse of these gentle creatures, January is the best time to do so.

During the winter, manatees tend to congregate in the waters of Blue Spring. In the past, up to 400 manatees have been spotted in a single day. Be sure you bring your camera and prepare to be amazed by these magnificent creatures.

Cheapest Time To Visit

Traveling can be expensive, but saving money is possible with some research and planning. The best time to visit this park on a budget is mid- to late August. During this time, flight and accommodation prices are at their lowest throughout the year, allowing you to travel and save hundreds of dollars at the same time.

Annual Events

Blue Spring State Park regularly offers a range of programs throughout the year, including guided hiking tours, wildlife walks, and visits to historic landmarks. Additionally, several annual events are held at the park.

Night of Lights

Every year in March, Blue Spring State Park hosts Nights of Lights, a magical event where visitors gather to witness thousands of fireflies lighting up the park.

This is the firefly season, and during this special night, the woods are illuminated, creating the impression of countless fairies fluttering through the forest. This unique experience is perfect for couples, families, and friends to enjoy together.

Manatee Festival

For almost 40 years, the Manatee Festival has been held at the park every January. This 2-day event offers entertainment for the whole family, including an arts and crafts show, live music, dancing, children’s shows, games, environmental conservation exhibits, manatee watching, and more.

Bottom Line:

All proceeds from the festival support the Friends of Blue Spring State Park. Both locals and tourists enjoy this popular event.

Where To Stay in Blue Spring State Park

The first step in planning any trip is to secure accommodations. Luckily, numerous options are available in and around Blue Spring State Park.

Inside the Park

If you’re planning a visit to the park, you have 2 options for lodging: camping under the stars or staying in a rustic cabin. Regardless of which option you choose, you can expect a fantastic experience.

Camping

This state park has 51 campsites available for camping enthusiasts. These campsites are designed to accommodate both tents and RVs and are located on the sand pine scrub, within walking distance of the spring.

Each site has essential amenities such as picnic tables, electricity, running water, and grills. Camping at this park is a popular activity, so it is recommended to make reservations in advance to secure a spot.

Cabins

If you’re looking for a comfortable stay with a roof over your head, you can choose from the 6 cabins available in Blue Spring State Park. These cabins have 2 bedrooms, a stocked kitchen, a furnished living area, and a full bathroom. They can accommodate up to 6 guests. Moreover, they have screened-in porches with rocking chairs, picnic tables, fire pits, and grills.

Towns Nearby

If you’re planning to visit Blue Spring State Park and looking for a place to stay nearby, several nearby towns can serve as a great base camp. Whether looking for a bustling city with many activities or a peaceful location to unwind, there’s a perfect solution for everyone.

Daytona Beach, Florida

Blue Spring State Park is located approximately 40 minutes away from Daytona Beach. This coastal city is perfect for visitors who enjoy the excitement of a bustling city. 

Daytona Beach has a variety of accommodations available, including luxurious hotels, charming beach resorts, economical motels, and private rentals. The dining options in Daytona Beach are a food lover’s delight, with numerous restaurants serving local cuisine, cultural dishes, and fresh seafood.

Visitors can enjoy a range of activities such as hiking, cycling, exploring parks, relaxing on the beach, and visiting museums and art galleries for entertainment and recreation.

Bottom Line:

Daytona Beach has an abundance of activities to enjoy, restaurants to try, and places to stay.

Orange City, Florida

Blue Spring State Park is located in Orange City. Staying in Orange City is a great option if you plan to visit the park. 

The city offers various accommodations, from modern hotels to cozy inns and private rentals to campgrounds. You can also find various restaurants serving comfort food, authentic cultural cuisines, and delicious barbecue. 

Orange City is an ideal place to stay during your visit to the park. It is close to the park and offers ample outdoor adventures. Look no further than this fantastic city for a perfect home base during your trip to the park.

Where To Eat in Blue Spring State Park

When visiting Blue Spring State Park, you’ll find various dining options. You can dine within the park or explore countless possibilities within a short drive.

Blue Spring Canteen

Blue Spring Canteen
Image Credit: Blue Spring State Park Adventures

Visitors have only 1 option for dining within the park, the Blue Spring Canteen. This restaurant is open daily from 9 a.m. until sunset and serves a variety of quick meal options, including sandwiches, sides, drinks, and desserts. The menu features burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, sub sandwiches, hotdogs, and favorite side items like macaroni and cheese, nachos, and soft pretzels.

If you feel hungry during your time at Blue Spring State Park, drop by this restaurant for a delicious meal before continuing your adventures.

Swamp House Riverfront Grill

Swamp House Riverfront Grill is a restaurant that is perfect for families. It is situated on the St. Johns River, which is only 9 miles away from the park. This restaurant offers a wide range of delicious meals and drinks and features live local music. 

Its diverse menu includes seafood specialties, high-quality steaks, sandwiches, tacos, and salads. Customers have praised the fried gator, Louisiana-style crab cakes, Cajun pasta, Maji tacos, and the Big Swamp House Burger. 

If you want to have a great time and enjoy some fantastic food, make sure to dine at Swamp House Riverfront Grill.

Blue Spring State Park Facts

1. A New Park Established

This park was established in 1972 after the property was sold to the Florida State Parks system. 

2. Original Inhabitants of the Park

The first people to settle in this area of Florida were the Timacuan Indians. Their life was centered around the spring, river, swamps, and uplands. They were able to find food, shelter, clothing, and materials to make tools and weapons.

3. Adopt a Manatee

Friends of Blue Spring State Park partners with Save the Manatee Club to provide opportunities to adopt a manatee. This symbolic adoption allows manatee lovers to choose a manatee from the park and keep up with their life journey. The fee for this is $25 a year, and all proceeds support efforts made to protect these gentle giants. 

4. Lights, Camera, Action!

In 1971, an episode of “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau” called “The Forgotten Mermaids” was filmed at this park. This brought attention to manatees and how Blue Spring was a haven for them during the winter. It ultimately significantly influenced the state’s purchase of the land. 

5. Shell Mound

Snails were one of the main foods of the Timacuan Indians. They would eat the snails and throw their shells into a large mound. Today, near the Thursby House, visitors can see the shells scattered all around. 

Final Thoughts

Discover your next adventure at Blue Spring State Park. With so much to see and do, it’s the perfect destination for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. From hiking and historical landmarks to manatee viewing and riverboat tours, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

Don’t miss the opportunity to experience the stunning beauty, diverse wildlife, and unique attractions that make this Florida park so special. Book your trip today and see what Blue Spring State Park has to offer.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit Blue Spring State Park?

Admission to the park costs $6 per vehicle holding 2 to 8 people. Single-occupant vehicles will pay $4.

Can I swim with the manatees at Blue Spring State Park?

Swimming with manatees is strictly prohibited at Blue Spring State Park. If you encounter one while swimming, boating, or tubing, you must stay 50 feet away.

Can I purchase souvenirs at Blue Spring State Park?

Souvenirs can be purchased at the Manatee Gift Shop.

How long should I plan to visit Blue Spring State Park?

Spending a minimum of a full day at this park is recommended, but 2 to 3 days is ideal for a relaxing visit.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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