Best Places to See Manatees in Orlando & Central Florida

These gentle giants love the warm waters at Blue Springs in Central Florida. Photo by the author
These gentle giants love the warm waters at Blue Springs in Central Florida. Photo by the author
1/19/24 - By Charlotte B

Winter months are the best times to see manatees in Florida, specifically Orlando and the central region. When the weather is cold and water temperatures drop below 68 degrees, these warm-blooded mammals congregate in freshwater springs, which remain at a constant 72 degrees year-round. Mid-November through March are ideal months to spot manatees, so read on for the best places to see gentle manatees within a few hours of Orlando.


Looking for more ideas for seasonal fun? Check out our Orlando Winter Activities Guide. For additional opportunities to spot Florida wildlife, see our list of local drive-thru safaris and wildlife drives.

Best Places to See Manatees Near Orlando
These gentle giants love the warm waters of Central Florida. Photo by David Schrichte/Save the Manatee Club

Best Places to View Manatees Near Orlando  

Blue Spring State Park—Orange City

Located north of Orlando, Blue Spring State Park is one of the largest winter safe havens for manatees in the state and a designated manatee refuge. Visitors can view manatees from a boardwalk that runs one-third of a mile from the St. Johns River to the headspring. The manatee count has grown significantly over the years, with upwards of 600 manatees at peak times. Visitors can also enjoy a guided riverboat cruise, a hike along Pine Island Trail, or rent a canoe or kayak. There is also a playground, picnic facilities, a gift shop, and concession area. The park often reaches capacity quickly during the winter months, especially on the weekends, so plan to arrive early. Orange City hosts the Blue Springs Manatee Festival!

manatees Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park: Best Places to See Manatees Near Orlando
Kids will delight at the sight of these aquatic giants at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Photo by the author

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park​—Homosassa

This wildlife park makes for a great day trip from Orlando. Manatees can be viewed in the park’s underwater observatory or through a pavilion overlooking Blue Water. Daily programs educate visitors about manatees and the park’s role as a rehabilitation center for injured and orphaned manatees. Other animals that call the park home include the endangered Florida panther, red wolves, black bears, Key deer, bobcats, alligators, and more.

Hunter Springs Park—Crystal River

Located near Three Sisters Springs, this city park is easily accessible and includes a spring that feeds into Crystal River.  It is a great spot to see manatees in the colder months. There is a small circular boardwalk that allows for prime manatee viewing, as well as a small beach area, playground, kayak launch, and picnic areas. The trolley to and from Three Sisters Springs also provides access to Hunter Springs Park.

RELATED: Hit the Water with Paddleboard and Kayak Tours & Rentals in Orlando

Manatee Springs State Park: Best Places to See Manatees Near Orlando
The aptly named Manatee Springs State Park offers great viewing possibilities. Photo courtesy of Friends of Manatee Springs State Park

Manatee Springs State Park—Chiefland

This spring is a 2.5-hour drive from Orlando, with manatees traveling from Suwannee River into the spring during cold months. Manatee viewing is available along the boardwalk that runs from the spring to the river, and along some of the nature trails. The park also offers more than 8 miles of hiking trails. There is a playground, canoe and kayak rentals, bicycle rentals, and campsites.

Mary McLeod Bethune Beach Park—New Smyrna Beach

The intracoastal riverside area of this beachfront park offers a great opportunity to see manatees year round, as well as dolphins and pelicans. Other amenities at the park include tennis courts, basketball courts, a playground, and fishing pier. Visitors can also rent a kayak to see manatees up close.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge—Titusville

This popular wildlife refuge has a dedicated manatee observation deck that is handicap accessible. The refuge waters are a safe place for manatees year round and offer plenty of food for them.

TECO Manatee Viewing Center—Tampa

Tampa Electric Company created a manatee viewing center for public access after seeing how manatees would congregate in the warm waters of the Big Bend power station’s discharge canal. There is also an environmental education building to teach guests about manatees and their habitat, as well as a hurricane simulator and a habitat loop trail with an observation tower. There's also a touch tank with cownose rays.

Three Sisters Springs—Crystal River

Just north of Tampa and part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Three Sisters Springs is a favorite for manatees during winter. Admission fee to the park includes a trolley ride to and from the spring. A boardwalk circles the one-acre spring, allowing visitors great views of these gentle giants. Guests can also enjoy hiking trails, bicycling, and spot other wildlife such as birds and reptiles.

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