Where to See Manatees in Florida – Top 10 Picks

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While Florida is mainly recognized for having some of the most famous party beaches in the USA, its other natural wonders go unnoticed by partygoers.

The state is the Manatee Capital of the World due to its large population of West Indian manatees.

Before getting to your next flight home, make a trip to these top spots in Florida and get to see these gentle giants.

#10. Lovers Key State Park

Initially planned for development into high-rise condominiums, this secluded island was transformed into Lovers Key State Park, a sanctuary for manatees.

There are daily tours led by park rangers that offer insights into their behavior as you witness them playfully frolicking in the clear waters.

You can also rent a kayak or paddleboard to get closer to the manatees.

#9. Crystal River/ Three sisters spring

Crystal River is perhaps the most popular destination for viewing manatees.

A mere 90-minute drive from Tampa, this destination attracts hundreds of manatees during winter. You can take a guided tour or rent a kayak and swim alongside them.

However, before swimming with the manatees, you must complete a course on appropriate conduct around these creatures.

#8. Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

This wildlife park, located on Florida’s Nature Coast, is home to several manatees that cannot be released back into the wild owing to injuries or illness.

Here, you can observe manatees up close and learn about their rehabilitation efforts.

Although swimming with manatees is not allowed in the park, various educational programs and other animal encounters are available.

#7. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Spanning over 140,000 acres on the east coast of Florida, Merritt Island is not only a haven for wildlife (a great place for bird watching) but also offers opportunities to spot manatees.

For a fee of $10 per car, you can access the refuge and observe manatees from a specially designated observation deck.

The spring and fall seasons are prime times for manatee sightings at this location.

#6. Fort Myers

If you are cool in just viewing, Manatee Park in Fort Myers is an excellent destination to consider.

Many tour operators offer guided boat tours along the Caloosahatchee River and the surrounding mangrove forests, where manatees frequently gather.

Access to the park is free, but there is a $2 hourly parking fee. While on tour, you might also encounter dolphins, ospreys, and other wildlife.

#5. Blue Springs State Park

Blue Springs State Park, located in Orange City, Florida, is a designated Manatee Refuge during the winter.  

Swimming with manatees is not allowed in the park. However, you can witness these creatures from a boardwalk or observation deck along the St. Johns River to the headspring.

There are also guided riverboat cruises for visitors to have an up-close and educational view of the manatees. 

#4. Manatee Springs State Park

Manatee Springs in Chiefland, West of Gainesville, is among the few places to see these sea cows in natural Florida springs!

With an impressive year-round population, this park allows visitors to observe up to 20 manatees at once.

There is an 800-foot boardwalk with excellent views of manatees and other wildlife. The admission fee is $8 per vehicle, and additional fees apply for activities such as snorkeling tours.

#3. Lee County Manatee Park

Fort Meyers’ Lee County Manatee Park offers a unique opportunity to observe wild manatees in their non-captive environment.

You can observe these gentle creatures from several viewing decks along the Orange River.

There are also designated canoe and kayak launch areas for a closer encounter. Swimming is allowed but only in designated areas. Admission is free, but there is a parking fee of $2 per hour.

#2. Manatee Lagoon

Manatee Lagoon is situated in the Lake Worth Lagoon in West Palm Beach, right next to some of the most comfortable accommodations in Florida.

This center allows visitors to view manatees from an elevated observation deck. Interactive exhibits, presentations, and educational programs are also available.

Winter is the best season to visit the Manatee Lagoon, which is reportedly to attract up to 800 manatees.

#1. Manatee Viewing Center

Take a break from your itinerary to visit this Apollo Beach center just south of Tampa to witness manatees swimming in clean Tampa Bay waters.

You can observe manatees from a 50-foot view tower and learn about these sea cows at the education center.

Explore the property’s butterfly garden, mangrove exhibit, and gift shop for a full-day experience.

Final Thoughts

Seeing manatees in these locations is a must-be bucket list activity for you, especially after finishing your tour at Kennedy Space Center. 

These locations provide unique opportunities to observe and learn about these gentle giants.

And for a worry-free experience, why don’t you consider obtaining travel insurance? Grab your binoculars and cameras and embark on this remarkable journey.

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