Just off I-4 between Orlando and Daytona, Florida’s Blue Spring State Park is a refreshing place to beat the heat and just chillax. The constant 72-degree water offers a chilly respite from the Florida summer heat for humans and enticing warmth for manatees in the fall and winter months. So, whether you are here to beat the heat or marvel at the manatees, Blue Spring State Park offers a yearround welcome just far enough into the woods to feel a world away from two of Florida’s most popular tourist destinations.
Arrive early. The place fills up fast. We arrived just after lunch. If you intend to find a spot to spread your blanket on the beach down by the spring, don’t do that.
“Blue” spring is a misnomer. The water here is more jade than azure, but it was every bit as clear and cool as advertised.
Our little guy bounded down the steps to the river waving water-winged arms. He hit the first submerged step, froze and looked up at Daddy. “WHOOOOH!” Easily the most accurate weather report I’ve ever witnessed. The water was indeed chilly (for a Floridian) but heavenly. And, though most folks rent tubes to float down from the headspring, the current is weak enough to swim without being carried away. My toddler had no trouble…but he is part fish.
Even if there are no manatees around, expect to share the spring with the local wildlife. You may see an alligator sunning on the far bank and you will definitely see some spectacular river fish. We saw gar, bass, bluegill and mullet; but tarpon, catfish and bowfish also roam this run. My son caught a turtle as he swam by. I don’t necessarily recommend this. If you latch onto a snapper he may decide to keep your fingers. Otherwise this is a terrific opportunity to, literally, immerse yourself in the “Real Florida.”
HISTORY & CULTURE
In the mid 1800’s, steamships were the preferred method of transport on the St. Johns. Rich tourists came south while cattle and citrus went north. Louis Thursby, gold rush prospector turned citrus grower, saw an opportunity to get a piece of the river trade. He purchased the land around Blue Springs in 1856, and, in the next decades, built a river landing and a two-story house that quickly became a key stop along the river. Even when the railroads began to replace the river as the transportation conduit of choice, the Thursby homestead remained important. Today park visitors may tour the house, view artifacts and learn the facts of life in 19th-century Florida.
WHAT TO DO @ BLUE SPRING
Swim, snorkel or tube – There are two entrances to the spring run for swimmers or tubers. One is right by the gift shop and beach, the other a short hike down the boardwalk.
Beach swimming gets deep quick, chest high just a few feet from the steps and over six feet shortly thereafter. More popular with rowdy teens, there’s a good bit of loud laughter, splashing and hormonally influenced decision-making here.
Boardwalk swimming is shallower and a bit more secluded and relaxing. If you want less noise or have small children this is probably where you want to be.
Hike the Blue Spring Trail – An easy 10-minute walk beside the river leads to the top of the headspring. The boardwalk trail is completely bordered by broadleaf hammocks.
St. Johns River Cruises (www.sjrivercruises.com) – Secure a spot on a riverboat or guided kayak tour or rent a kayak and venture off by yourself. Ask about sunset cruises or private tours. Ticket booth and dock are inside the park. For reservations call 407.330.1612.
Thursby House Tour – Self-guided trip back in time. View photos and artifacts that delve into the lives of the first family of Blue Springs and life along the St. Johns in the 1800s.
NEED TO KNOW
Picnic & Play – The park offers several covered picnic areas and a playground for kids. These are on the opposite side of the park from the springs, and, on our visit, were quiet even during the busiest time of day.
Grab Lunch – Adjacent to the gift shop is the campground store that offers sandwiches, snacks and drinks. Eat at nearby café tables or spread out on the grass for a picnic.
What are you waiting for? Dive in to Blue Spring!
Get all the facts at www.floridastateparks.org/bluespring. Located at 2100 W. French Ave. Orange City, FL 32763. GPS: 28.952182, -81.333592. Admission is currently $6 per car (up to 8 persons). Call 386.775.3663 for more information.