Hiking At Blue Spring State Park
The 3.6-mile Pine Island Trail passes through pine flatwoods and a marsh and an oak hammock with four primitive campsites. It follows the perimeter of the park. The nature trail has signage about the different habitats.
The first section passes through a beautiful live oak forest with lots of shade. Soon the trail enters a shade-less sandy scrub habitat, which is a good place to spot the Florida scrub jay, a bright blue bird found only in Florida. Scrub jays are known for being smart, curious and friendly.
Kayaking The Santa Fe River
The next morning we got up and decided to rent a couple of kayaks from the campground. We got some interesting hybrid kayaks that can also be used as a stand-up paddleboard.
The spring run was quite scenic and puts you out into the Santa Fe River. We decided to head upstream to make our journey easier on the way back.
Apparently, there are more than 700 freshwater springs in Florida. The Santa Fe River has several springs along its length. By going upstream, we had the option of 6 different springs.
Starting from Gilchrist, we would hit Rum Island, Mermaid Springs, Pickard Springs, Lily Springs, Poe Springs, and Alligator Springs.
Viewing Blue Spring And Manatees
When I visited Blue Spring, I thought it was actually green. But no matter its color, the clear water of the spring is magnificent. At 72 degrees year around, it is warm for manatees in the winter and cool for swimmers in the summer. About 100 million gallons of water flow from the spring into the St. Johns River every day, making it one of 33 first magnitude springs in Florida.
While manatees may swim in the spring any day of the year, they are most reliably seen from To see manatees, visit when the temperature is or has been cold. January is your best bet.
One thing that makes Blue Spring special is the half-mile-long boardwalk along the spring run, with its many overlooks that allow visitors to gaze into the water. Even without manatees, youll see huge gar, schools of fish, anhingas and cormorants and alligators along the spring run.
Blue Spring is home to one of the worlds most important manatee research programs. The U.S. Geological Survey Sirenia Project photographs and identifies manatees by their scar patterns to determine which manatees are returning to Blue Spring each year and construct manatee family trees.
The Save the Manatee Club non-profit operates webcams at the park and during manatee season, it posts updates on the number of manatees and the names of any manatees present who have been sponsored.
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Best Florida Springs With Camping You Should Visit
If youve loved swimming in their cool waters, why not extend your stay and explore Florida Springs with camping? Many of Floridas natural springs lie near or within campgrounds and lodging opportunities just waiting for you!
Thanks to the Sunshine States natural underground aquifer, about 800 billion gallons of water flow through limestone to bubble up to form more than 700 of the natural springs in Florida every single day. Thats the largest collection anywhere on earth!
The waters temperature never goes above a crisp, refreshing 72 degrees, and through that crystal clear water, you can see entire ecosystems thriving: aquatic plants, gorgeous rock formations, and wildlife like manatees and turtles.
Sometimes, just one day at any of these magical springs isnt enough. Turn your day trip into a weekend getaway and stay at one of the campgrounds at Florida springs! You can find everything from tent sites, RV hookups, cabins, and even cottages!
So the next time youre looking for a way to escape, remember that Floridas natural springs are just a short drive away. Not only are Florida springs with camping easy on the wallet, but their beauty and recreation are sure to create lifelong memories.
Blue Spring State Park Facilities And Concessions
There are few things I enjoy more while traveling than a picnic lunch.
Picnic tables and barbecue grills are sprinkled throughout the park and at three first-come, first-served covered pavilions.
One of the greatest benefits of visiting Blue Spring State Park is that you could show up totally unprepared and still find everything you need for a fun-filled day.
In addition to sunscreen, T-shirts, and other souvenirs, the Gift Locker offers rentals of lockers, tubes, goggles, and snorkels.
You can find a menu of hot and cold sandwiches, salads, sides, and beverages at the Blue Spring Canteen. Both concessions are centrally located in the park near the public swimming area.
The Manatee Outpost, situated closer to the river, sells sandwiches, ice cream, candy, chips, assorted snacks, and even adult beverages.
You will find canoe, kayak, and paddleboard rentals in the shade of a grandfather oak hammock near the rivers edge.
Recreational rentals, guided Segway and kayak tours, as well as a 2-hour St. Johns River Nature Cruise are best booked in advance at the Blue Spring Adventures website.
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Welcome To Blue Spring State Park
The refreshing 72-degree waters of Blue Spring greet visitors at this gem along the St. Johns River.
Conservation measures can produce astounding results. In 1970, two years before Blue Spring State Park was established, researchers tracked 14 manatees in the spring run. By 2005, after years of park improvements and manatee protection efforts, wintering manatee numbers exceeded 200, and by 2018 that number skyrocketed to a record 485.
Besides “sea cows,” fish abound in the spring run and attract a variety of wading birds, ospreys, eagles and kingfishers. To see the parks wonders, visitors can hike along the spring run or on the 4.5-mile Pine Island Trail.
Visitors can also launch a canoe or kayak or take a guided river boat cruise.
Lafayette Blue Springs State Park
Closed To Swimming
Effective March 22: Lafayette Blue Springs State Park is closed to swimming due to a spring brownout caused by rising river levels. The park remains open for day use, and all other amenities are available to visitors. This notice will be removed when the spring is clear.
8 a.m. to sundown, 365 days a year
799 N.W. Blue Spring Road Mayo FL 32066
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Are There Alligators In Blue Springs State Park
Yes, there are alligators in Blue Spring technically but their sightings are rare.
We didnt see an alligator.
If you are interested in seeing an alligator in Florida, I would highly recommend a visit to Everglades National Park. The Anhinga Trail or Shark Valley Trail if you like to bike is best for alligator spotting.
Ruth B Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park
Know Before You Go
Effective April 1, 2022: The dump station at Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Spring State Park is out of service. A dump station is available at O’Leno State Park. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Know Before You Go
Effective March 4, 2022: Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs State Park has very high visitation on weekends and holidays and will close when capacity is reached. When this occurs, only registered campers will be allowed to enter. Cash and credit cards are accepted for entrance fee.
8 a.m. to sundown, 365 days a year
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I Would Love To Hear From You
I enjoy dialogue with Backroad Planet readers, especially when they share off-the-beaten-path destinations and useful travel tips. Have you camped at any of Floridas State Parks? If so, I would love to hear about your experience. I invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and I always respond!
Swimming Tubing Diving At The Beautiful Spring
During the summer months, humans converge on Blue Spring en masse to enjoy the cool spring and its chilly, quarter-mile run to the river.
A fabulous swimming hole with multiple access points from a boardwalk that also allows you to hike through the woods along the run to the spring itself.
You can rent tubes or get a snack at the concession stand along the boardwalk.
Swimmers carry their tubes up the boardwalk to an entry point just below the spring. The takeout is a quarter-mile downstream.
Scuba divers must register at the entrance to the park and provide proof of up-to-date certification, and you must have a partner.
Get there early during summer or you could get locked out, especially on weekends. Saturdays and Sundays on hot, sunny days often see capacity crowds.
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Blue Spring State Park Campground
The Sand Pine Scrub campground at Blue Spring State Park has 51 tent and RV campsites equipped with water, electricity, a picnic table, and a fire ring. A dump station is also available.
You will find descriptions and photos for both dirt and paved campsites when booking online.
Two new bathhouses with accessible showers and stalls are well maintained by campground volunteer hosts.
A paved trail conveniently connects the campground to the spring and other locations inside the park.
For a longer immersive outdoor experience, park visitors may choose to hike the 3.6-mile Pine Island nature trail.
Guests may also book a stay at one of six fully-furnished cabins. The two-bedroom cabins accommodate six persons in climate-controlled comfort. Linens and cooking utensils are provided, as well.
How Many Manatees Are At Blue Springs Park Today
Yes, one of the biggest drawcards of Blue Spring is the manatees.
Manatees visit Blue Springs in the winter for the warm water of the springs. A local told us they dont really come in great numbers until February.
There are fabulous viewing platforms at Blue Spring where you can clearly see manatees if they are preset. There is a restricted area for manatee protection that is roped off.
If you want to see manatees in Florida the best place to see them in our opinion is crystal river. For all places you can see manatees in Florida see our Florida manatee guide.
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Manatees At Blue Spring State Park
Blue Spring State Park is home to a first-magnitude spring that is one of the largest winter gathering sites for manatees in Florida. Visitors can see hundreds of manatees enjoying the constant 72-degree spring water in the colder winter months.
Manatees depend on the warm water for survival, as they cannot tolerate water temperatures colder than 68 degrees for long periods of time. Although manatees look fat or blubbery, they only have about an inch of fat and a very slow metabolism, meaning they cannot easily stay warm. This biology makes sanctuaries such as Blue Spring vital for their survival.
During the winter months, manatees are prone to cold stress syndrome, which is comparable to hypothermia, pneumonia or frostbite in humans and can make them very sick. If a cold-stressed manatee is spotted at Blue Spring, park staff along with other agencies will keep a close eye on the manatee to get it the help it needs.
Blue Spring State Park is unique because visitors can view manatees in the crystal-clear spring water from the boardwalk, which stretches 1/3 of a mile from the St. Johns River to the headspring. The boardwalk provides a wonderful opportunity for safely observing the manatees. Visitors can see manatees socializing and mothers nursing their small calves, without influencing the manatees natural behavior or bothering them.
Blue Springs State Park Picnic
Having a picnic or a BBQ is another very popular activity in the State Park.
There are many shaded picnic tables in Blue Spring complete with BBQs & water.
Most people brought with them a full BBQ lunch. If you dont want to bring food with you there is a canteen where you can buy food.
Chocolate coated bananas are a speciality at Blue Spring.
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Blue Spring State Park Camping
We loved camping in Blue Spring State Park and would highly recommend it.
You can walk straight to the springs from the camping area.
Camp sites in the State Park include a grill, water, electricity and a picnic table.
Unlike Kelly Park we did not have to reserve in advance.
Camping costs $24 per night, plus tax.
History Of Blue Spring State Park Region
Blue Spring was an important steamboat landing along the St. Johns River, dating back to the mid-19th Century. The boats would load agricultural goods and tourists at the landing for transport down the St. Johns to Jacksonville and beyond.
You can see evidence at the historic Thursby House, built at the height of the steamboat era in 1872 by settler Louis B. Thursby, who also built the landing.
The state didnt take it over until the late 1960s, and faced a daunting task to clean up after visitors had abused the spring, driving their cars and parking on the banks, littering and dumping garbage in the woods.
Opportunities for touring the house are limited to groups and special events.
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Camping And Cabins At Blue Spring State Park
There are only six two-bedroom cabins at the state park, so plan head to reserve. At $95 a night, the cabins are terrific, nestled in a shady grove of oaks. One bedroom has a double bed and the other has twin singles. There is also a sleeper sofa in the living room that converts to a double bed.
Each cabin has central air, a gas fireplace for use only in winter, a bathroom, a kitchen, a screened porch and outdoor grill with a picnic table.
The campground gets positive but mixed reviews. Located in a scrub oak/palmetto forest, there are not extensive shade trees. The vegetation provides good screening between campsites, however, providing privacy.
There are 51 campsites, $24 per night, and six two-bedroom cabins, which rent for $95 per night. A $6.70 reservation fee applies to each booking.
Each of the 51 campsites has water and electric hookups, a picnic table and a grill. There are no sewer hookups, although there is a dump station available to campers in the park. Pets are allowed in the camping area. Maximum RV length is 40 feet.
The campground is near the spring, and a path that will take you there.
For Blue Springs State Park Reservations:
Camping reservations can be made up to 11 months in advance online at reserve.floridastateparks.org or by calling 800-326-3521 or TDD 888-433-0287. For day of arrival bookings, call the ranger station directly at 904-794-0997.
Pets: Not allowed in state park cabins or cabin areas. They are allowed in campgrounds.
Biking At Blue Spring State Park
Thanks to a completed 5.5 mile segment of the Spring to Spring rail trail, Blue Spring State Park is now a great place to bring your bicycles. The 11-mile round-trip route is a gem no intersections to cross and a paved shaded pathway through beautiful woods all the way to Lake Beresford Park, where youll find restrooms, picnic tables and hiking trails. It would make a great day if youre visiting the Blue Springs area.
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Camping At Blue Spring State Park
For an affordable vacation that doesn’t skimp on fun, nothing beats camping. Try Blue Springs State Park for your next family or budget getaway.
What would you pay for a trip back in time? What price would you place on a visit to old Florida when scrub forests flourished and not a strip mall could be found for miles?
How does six dollars sound? That tiny fee gets a carload of travelers into Blue Spring State Park a veritable portal back to the real Florida. Pay a little more and you can camp overnight at this rustic natural wonderland.
Whether youre in need of an adventurous family outing or a romantic weekend this park has the cure.
Back to Nature
Blue Spring State Park camping is the stuff of dreams not just for nature lovers but any weary traveler looking for a real escape on a reasonable budget.
For centuries the Blue Spring area was home to Native Americans and some shell middens remain as evidence. In 1857 it was settled by the Thursby family whose ancestral home remains open on site as a museum.
A well-maintained boardwalk meanders for miles through the parks flood plain forest along the spring road. At its heart is Blue Spring the largest freshwater spring on the St. Johns River. Douse hot days with a dip into its crystal-clear waters which maintain a constant year-round temperature of 72 degrees more invigorating than any air conditioner ever invented.
Setting Up Camp
Canoes And Kayaks At Blue Springs State Park
Blue Spring Run and the St. Johns River provide an outstanding wilderness environment for paddling.
You can rent kayaks, canoes and SUPs from the park concessionaire, Blue Spring Adventures.
Blue Spring Adventures has strict rules about where you can paddle. We had hoped to rent kayaks to paddle up the very scenic and wildlife-filled Snake Creek, a St. Johns tributary close to Blue Spring State Park where we had paddled in the past.
We were told, however, that we could only paddle 15 minutes up Snake Creek because the concessionaire keeps all boats close enough for rescues.
We adapted and instead paddled close to the park for about three hours, along both the St. Johns and one of its oxbow islands and up Snake Creek a short a distance. The wildlife and scenery was splendid.
The highlight: The loud growling bellow of alligators in a marshy area around the oxbow island, a sign that spring mating season had begun.
For a longer paddle, we do recommend Snake Creek and if you dont bring your own kayak, you can arrange to rent kayaks from other outfitters in the area. We didnt use them, but see that FL Kayak Tours Blue Springs, 386-400-3950, provides rentals at going rates. They operate out of a boat launch called French Landing adjacent to Blue Springs State Park but outside the gates.
To reach French Landing, where the road turns left to reach the park entrance, go straight on French Avenue, a shell rock road that dead-ends at a boat ramp on the St. Johns River.
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