Family Travel: Exploring Blue Spring State Park near Orlando, Florida, Flickr: riverbk

The Blue Spring Boardwalk!

30 miles north of the bustling tourist city of Orlando lay a natural playground: Blue Spring State Park.  Sprawling over 2,600 acres, the park features numerous rivers, lakes, springs, grass, hills, and wildlife.  The park’s history dates back to early Native Americans, although it was first settled by Americans late in 1856.  Louis Thursby’s home, built in 1872, still remains in the park.  Interpretive exhibits share the history of the land. 

Animal loving kids have a special reason to love Blue Springs: the park is a designated manatee refuge.  Numerous West Indian manatees call the park home and they can often be seen dotting along the rivers and lakes in the park.  Kids can learn about the endangered species and efforts to help protect the gentle giants from unnecessary extinction by visiting the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), who track the manatees in and out of the park.  In manatee season, mid November-April, visitors can explore interpretative programs and special programs. 

A variety of fun water-based activities are available for families when the Manatees have left the areas.  The water in the spring is unbelievably clear and is an almost steady year-round 72 degrees, just perfect for little swimmers, fledgling snorkelers, and even brave scuba divers.  If you don’t feel like jumping in the water yourself, you can tour the St. Johns River by boat tour, canoe, kayak, and other small watercraft. 

If you want to make more than a day out of your excursion, you can take advantage of a full facility campground on the property.  Plan ahead and book one of the few large cabins in the park with multiple rooms, full kitchens, and plenty of space for family s’mores by the fire.  These cabins typically book up a year in advance, so careful planning is a must.  Park Rangers are a wealth of information for families and even offer a kid-friendly lending library for camping kiddos. 

In addition to water related activities, take advantage of the numerous hiking trails and picnic areas.  You can grab a quick bite to eat at the park’s restaurant, supplies, and gift store.
Tip: Arrive early for day use.  During weekends and peak visiting periods, the park can reach capacity very early.

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photo: riverbk

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