The best places to see manatees in Florida

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 they are peaceful creatures with chubby faces, puppy dog eyes and strong tails.

These fascinating creatures are a delight to children and there are lots of places where you can see manatees in Florida. They can be spotted from bridges crossing the highway, tucked away in lagoons and gently bobbing along in designated eco visitors centres.

Guest post by Philippa Langrish. Updated 2021

 

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

 

In Florida there is a manatee season, which lasts from around 15th November until 31st March; these are the months when the manatees seek out the warmer waters. However, is is possible to see manatees year-round in some specific manatee parks.

The following are the best places where you can see manatees as well as destinations where you can swim and snorkel with them.

 

Related posts:

The best things to do in Miami with kids 

Our favourite family-friendly beaches in Miami 

Off the beaten path attractions in Orlando 

Things to do on Captiva Island 

A road trip from Washington DC to the Florida Keys 

 

Places to see manatees in Florida

Where to see manatees in Florida
Weeki Wachee Springs State Park

 

There are several places to spot manatees throughout Florida. The following are some of the best places to learn about their habitat, educate your kids on environmental issues and get the best manatee sightings.

If you are looking for a manatee kayak experience and are coming from Miami then I would recommend taking the 2.5 hour road trip through the everglades in order to spot a few more creatures on route.

Many places do not permit you to swim with manatees since they are an endangered species. However if you are happy to watch from a viewing deck then the following places are great spots which offer information on the history of the species.

 

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park 

Wakulla Springs boasts the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. Located 30 miles south of Tallahassee, this state park boasts a historic Spanish lodge, ancient cypress swamps and plenty of wildlife including, of course, manatees.

You must book a river tour in order to see the manatees of Tallahassee, Florida. The three-mile boat ride ambles gently along the river and 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 rides are also available (water conditions permitting) that allow you to glide over beautiful Wakulla Spring itself.

 

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 a Florida panther!

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 manatees bask freely in their natural environment . 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.

 

Palm Beach

North of West Palm Beach is Manatee Lagoon, an educational centre 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.

 

Spring Hill

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, the beautiful waters of the Weeki Wachee River and the area’s original mermaids, the endangered West Indies manatee.

Take a look at this video of a herd of manatees swimming past some paddleboarders, it’s quite something!

 

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

 

Apollo Beach

South of Tampa is Apollo Beach and the Manatee Viewing Center – Tampa Electric. This is a designated manatee sanctuary, situated within a solar power plant at Apollo Beach. There is an education centre, a 50-foot viewing tower, mangrove exhibit, butterfly garden, and a gift shop.

 

Fort Pierce

The Manatee Observation and Educational Center, Fort Pierce is located on Florida’s east coast and is home to a rich array of wildlife, including the Florida manatee. Boat tours are offered to spot some of the local residents including bottlenose dolphins, brown pelicans and, of course, manatees.

 

Orange City

Located north of Orlando, Blue Spring 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.

 

Titusville

East of Orlando is Titusville, home to the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge and is a good place to see manatees in Florida year-round.

Covering 140,000 acres, the refuge is located on the Atlantic coast of Florida’s largest barrier island, which is also where you’ll find NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

The refuge Manatee Observation Deck is located at Haulover Canal where manatees can be seen throughout the year but particularly during the spring and autumn. Meet at the refuge’s Visitor Center and join one of the Manatee Programs that head to the deck during the spring and summer seasons.

 

Where to see Manatees in Miami

Where to see manatees in Florida
Spotting a manatee in Miami

Our favourite way to hang out with the manatees in Miami is to paddle-board alongside them in the water. The best time to do this is early in the morning when there is not a soul around. Other places in Miami where you can spot manatees are:

 

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. I popped both my children on the front of the board and slowly glided across the flat waters where we spotted the grey shadows lurking in the shallow waters alongside us. We were then close enough to hear the manatees breathing and soon they were coming up to the board trying to work out what we were doing!

 

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. They often come to the canals to seek a warm water refuge when it is chilly and the Coral Gables Waterway is one a few refuges where manatees seek sanctuary during a cold snap.

However, Miami manatees can be unpredictable so you will be taking your chances here. There have also been sightings of manatees in BG 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
Paddleboarding is a great way to see manatees without disturbing them.

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. The tour is three hours long and begins in a classroom type setting where you receive tips on passive interaction to make sure that the animals enjoy the experience as much as you do! The centre provides masks, snorkels and wetsuits as well as a photo package.

Manatee Springs State Park, Chiefland. This is a really popular spot for snorkelling, scuba diving and kayaking. There is also a children’s playground and BBQ area so you can pitch up and spend the afternoon here with friends and family.

3 thoughts on “The best places to see manatees in Florida”

      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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