Wondering where to see manatees in Florida? These are the 15 best spots

Manatees are the gentle giants of the Floridian waterways, bobbing up and down to breathe, munching on sea grass and curiously nudging their way over to unsuspecting paddle boarders for a back scratch. 

Often described as sea cows, these docile creatures have long fascinated humans. Although they are no longer mistaken for mermaids as they once were by early explorers, manatees still delight adults and children alike whenever they are spotted in their natural habitat. 

If you are wondering where to see manatees in Florida then the good news is that there are lots of great places to choose from. Here we share the best spots for viewing these unique creatures.

Just remember that these slow-moving aquatic mammals are a threatened species in the wild with threats including boat collisions, hunting and habitat destruction. Measures are being taken to help preserved these unique creatures and you can play your part by following all FWC viewing guidelines

Guest post by Philippa Langrish. Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. I have been or could be if you click on a link in this post compensated via a cash payment, gift or something else of value for writing this post. See our full disclosure policy for more details.

Where to see manatees in Florida
There are lots of places where you can see manatees in Florida.

The best places to see manatees in Florida

There are lots of places where you can see manatees in Florida.

The manatee season in Florida runs from November through to April. These are the months when the manatees seek warm water temperatures with numbers peaking during the winter months between December and February. There are some manatee parks, however, where manatees can be seen year-round. 

The following are the best places where you can see manatees and where you can learn about their habitat and educate yourselves on environmental issues that these gentle giants face. Take a look at the map below to work out the best location for you. 

Where to see manatees in Florida
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge 

Located less than two hours from Tampa and Orlando, the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge is the only national wildlife refuge in the United States created specifically for the protection of the Florida Manatee

Covering 177 acres, including a number of islands in and around Kings Bay, access to the refuge is at Three Sisters Springs Centre where you can buy tickets and take the trolley bus to the spring.

You can also explore the crystal-clear waters by boat and kayak (if you have your own) and access points can be found around Kings Bay. Be aware, however, that access might be limited during winter months when large numbers of manatees may be present. 

Otherwise there’s a boardwalk that partially circles the spring allowing you unobstructed views of Florida’s favourite aquatic mammal. 

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park 

Wakulla Springs is a great place to go. This state park, located 30 miles south of Tallahassee, boasts one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. A historic Spanish lodge stands in the heart of the park alongside ancient cypress swamps. It’s home to lots of wildlife including, of course, manatees.

You must book a river tour in order to see the manatees here and the two-mile boat ride is a wonderful way to see this atmospheric park. Keep an eye out for alligators along the way as well as the dozens of bird species that call this region home. 

Glass-bottom boat tours are occasionally available over the spring basin however these are not guaranteed owing to decreased visibility over the years. If you’re interested in a glass bottom boat tour, contact the park in advance of travelling. 

where to see manatees in Florida
Kayaking with manatees

Fort Myers

Fort Myers is located on the other side of the everglades to Miami. Driving alongside the “River of Grass” look out for alligators, interesting bird species and maybe even Florida panthers!

When you arrive at Fort Myers there are two popular places to see manatees:

Lee County Manatee Park Fort Myers is a 17-acre oasis of shallow waters where wild manatees bask freely in their natural environment. Optimum viewing months are late December, January and February. The park offers guided walks and educational activities. It also has a charming butterfly garden and a picnic area.

Lovers Key State Park, Fort Myers is a 1,600 acre nature paradise located near the popular resort of Sanibel Island. Made up of four islands, the park is fringed with unspoilt beaches where you can also spot tortoises and dolphins. The manatees can be found in the mangrove waterways hunting their favourite greens.

Manatee Lagoon, Palm Beach

North of West Palm Beach is Manatee Lagoon, an education center where people can learn about manatees and take tours to see these docile creatures munching on mangroves. The centre has children’s programs as well as sailing, kayak or paddle board tours.

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

About an hour north of Tampa is the quirky and endearingly popular Weeki Wachee Springs State Park. The freshwater spring is famous for its underwater mermaid shows and the beautiful waters of the Weeki Wachee River are home to the area’s original mermaids, the endangered West Indian manatee.

Get Up and Go Kayaking offers guided eco-tours in a clear kayak on the Weeki Wachee River where you can learn everything there is to know about manatees. The manatees that swim in these waters are wild and so manatee sightings are not guaranteed but the trained guides will do their best to ensure you return home with at least one photo

Where to see manatees in Florida
Look out for manatee snouts and whiskers poking through the water

Manatee Viewing Centre, Apollo Beach

South of Tampa is Apollo Beach and the Manatee Viewing Centre – Tampa Electric. This is a designated manatee sanctuary, situated alongside a power plant at Apollo Beach.

While this may sounds like an odd place for manatees to flock it’s a hugely popular place for them to gather thanks to the area’s warm waters. Tampa Electric’s Big Bend Power Station circulates water from Tampa Bay for cooling and then sends clean, warm water back into the bay at temperatures that manatees simply love.

Tampa Electric have created a Manatee Viewing Centre that is entirely free to visitors and has an education centre, a 50-foot viewing tower, mangrove exhibit, butterfly garden, and a gift shop.

Manatee Observation and Education Centre, Fort Pierce

Located on Florida’s east coast is the Manatee Observation and Educational Centre in downtown Fort Pierce. Its location straddles the Indian River Lagoon, a saltwater estuary and the freshwater tributary, Moore’s Creek.

Manatees have long congregated here and it’s a great spot for potentially seeing these gentle creatures in the wild. Learn all you need to know about manatees and the other wildlife that live in Florida’s diverse habitats in the education centre. Boat tours are offered to spot some of the local residents including bottlenose dolphins, brown pelicans and, of course, manatees.

Blue Spring State Park

Located north of Orlando, Blue Springs State Park in Orange City covers more than 2,600 acres and is a designated manatee refuge from November to March.

A half-mile boardwalk allows visitors to watch these sea cows roam the waters. Interpretive displays help you make sense of it all sharing information on wildlife and ecology of the area.

Kayak and canoe rentals are available or you can join a guided boat tour. You can also swim in the waters here and swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving are all available. This is a particularly popular park and often reaches capacity during peak times so plan your trip accordingly. 

where to see manatees in Florida
Manatees swimming in Blue Spring State Park

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Titusville

East of Orlando is Titusville, home to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge located in the Indian River Lagoon. The average depth of the lagoon is only 4 feet, which means that waters are more easily heated in the sun resulting in the kind of warm waters that manatees simply love.

One of the best ways to see these creatures is on a kayak tour and Get Up and Go Kayaking run manatee tours in clear kayaks – if you’re lucky one of the curious sea cows just might swim up to your boat to say hello. 

In addition to manatees, the area is home to incredible wildlife including 358 species of bird. 

Where to see Manatees in Miami

Where to see manatees in Florida
Spotting a manatee in Miami

If you’re visiting Miami with kids then add ‘spotting a manatee’ to your list of things to do (alongside spending time at the beach!). This southern city is a great place to see manatees; one of our favourite ways to hang out with them is to paddle-board near them in the water. The best time to do this is early morning when there is not a soul around.

Try one of the following places: 

Jimbos Creek, Virginia Key

The best place to see manatees in Miami is Jimbo’s Creek in Virginia Key, where there is an outdoor centre that hires out paddle boards and kayaks. If you have your own board you can launch from the same place where the outdoor centre keep their kayaks. The creek is a quiet little haven to pelicans, iguanas, sea birds and manatees. When we visited there were dozens of manatees swimming around my board, some with their cubs and one huge male manatee.

Waterways of Coral Gables

If you don’t want to get your feet wet, you can sometimes see manatees from the bridges that pass over the waterways within Coral Gables. These waterways intersect the University of Miami and residential areas. The manatees often come to the canals to seek a warm water refuge when it is chilly and the Coral Gables Waterway is one of the best places for spotting them although there’s no guarantee that you will see them. 

Oleta River State Park

There have also been sightings of manatees in Oleta River State Park, which is the largest urban park in Miami. Here, you can hire kayaks, paddle boards and canoes from the outdoor centre. The manatees are partial to the warm waters here which run into the clear shallow ocean at Biscayne Bay.

Black Point Marina

Another popular place to see manatees in Miami is from Black Point Park & Marina near Biscayne National Park. Look for their snouts poking out of the water!

Swim with manatees in Florida 

where to see manatees in Florida
A baby manatee

A lot of people want to swim with manatees in Florida. One of the best places to make this happen is Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River. This is a huge refuge for manatees in the winter and visitors can swim, kayak and canoe with the manatees on a scheduled tour. There are, understandably, strict rules on how you can interact with the manatees.

True to its name, Crystal Springs has clear blue waters perfect for watching these cumbersome mermaids slowly making their way along through shafts of sunlight. Invest in an underwater camera and test your wildlife photography skills.

During the swimming tour a Coast Guard Certified Master Captain is in the water to chaperone visitors, educate and take pictures for you.

Photos courtesy of Depositphotos.com

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3 thoughts on “Wondering where to see manatees in Florida? These are the 15 best spots”

      1. On Discovery Channel only 🙂 it must be unforgettable experience to swim with them. They are in Canadian waters, hope to see them on your blog sometime 🙂

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