Where to See Manatees in Florida: A Guide to Witnessing these Gentle Giants
My home state of Florida is known for so much more than just its beautiful sandy white beaches. Florida is also known for its wildlife – and one of the most unique and well-loved animals in Florida is the manatee! You can see manatees in Florida at a lot of different places!
Manatees, also known as “sea cows”, are large aquatic mammals that are true gentle giants. They are like large grey floating rocks. Even the locals love watching the manatees! They are very friendly, incredibly slow-paced and are usually just floating along looking for the next thing to eat.
In this article, I’ll share with you some favorite local hotspots to see manatees in Florida as well as what to look for! Please do not disturb or feed the wildlife though. Manatees are fascinating creatures and we want to have them around for a long time!
When is the best time to see the manatees in Florida?
While you can see manatees at any time of year, the best time to see them is when they are congregating in the warmer waters of Florida during the winter months! The technical manatee viewing season is from November through April, but the absolute best times to see them in the largest amounts is December through February.
Where to See Manatees in Florida:
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge
The most famous place in the state of Florida to see manatees is most certainly the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge. And for good reason, this “Manatee Capital of the World” attracts up to 1000 manatees each year!
The Crystal River is a natural warm-water spring that maintains a pretty constant temperature year-round. The best time of year to visit the refuge for manatee viewing is November to March. It’s even so popular that there are designated areas that you can actually swim with these beautiful creatures!
See how you can swim with the manatees in Florida here!
Three Sisters Springs – Crystal River
Technically part of the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, I frequently see people mention Three Sisters Springs on social media as a place to see manatees in Florida so it’s certainly worth the additional mention. They have a boardwalk (handicap accessible) that you can take to look for manatees.
While there you may see kayakers in the water. If you are wanting to explore the springs via kayak, you need to know that there is NO water access from Three Sisters Springs. You would instead need to use the public kayak launch in Kings Bay and navigate your way to the springs.
Tampa Electric’s Manatee Viewing Center
Growing up my favorite place to see manatees was the Tampa Electric Manatee viewing center. It’s also where I took my kids as they were growing up to look for manatees! And it’s completely FREE! The viewing center is located alongside the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach – just outside of the Tampa Bay area.
As a kid it was literally just a boardwalk but they’ve since added an educational center and an observation tower, and from what I hear there’s even a stingray touch tank which was always my favorite experience as a kid!
The power station circulates the water from the bay, cleans it, and then sends the warm water back into the bay making it a great place for wildlife. If you’re searching for it on your GPS use the address 6990 Dickman Rd., Apollo Beach, FL. There’s not a ton out there but it’s worth the extra time to visit. You’ll want to plan your visit between November – April.
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Another one of my favorite places growing up was Homosassa Springs.
While you’re nearby you absolutely want to plan some time for the mermaids at Weeki Wachee Springs. It’s definitely a unique Florida experience that dates back to 1947!
Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a true gem for anyone seeking a close encounter with manatees without actually diving into the water. The park offers a unique underwater observatory where visitors can peer into the crystal-clear waters to view manatees in their natural habitat. Additionally, the park serves as a rehabilitation center for injured or orphaned manatees, providing an opportunity to learn more about the conservation efforts dedicated to preserving these gentle giants.
Blue Spring State Park
Located alongside the St. John River (the longest river in Florida!), Blue Spring State Park is another very popular tourist destination for those that love outdoor spaces! In the winter it’s especially popular for viewing manatees from their boardwalks and observation areas. Other fun things to do here include canoeing, SCUBA diving, kayaking, fishing, camping, hiking, wildlife watching, and swimming (but not swimming with the manatees).
Manatee Springs State Park – Chiefland
This state park on the west central side of Florida even has the word manatees in it so you know you’re bound to see some when visiting! Manatee Springs is a beautiful location to visit – walk the boardwalk through the cypress forest! There are over 8 miles of nature trails which connects to the 32 mile Nature Coast State Trail – so if you’re in for a good hike this is a great place to visit!
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – East of Orlando
Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge has multiple lagoons and rivers here – all of which bring an abundance of manatee and other wildlife. As with many of the popular destinations, you can take a guided boat tour. This is a great place to double up your Cape Canaveral NASA vacation! It has over 140,000 acres of protected area for migratory birds, 1500 species of plants and animals – including 15 federally listed species! It is one of the most productive estuaries in the country.
The above locations mentioned are certainly popular havens for manatees, but you CAN see manatees many other places in Florida. If you for sure want to see a manatee and you’ve visiting at the optimal time of year, I highly recommend starting at one of the above locations. However, since manatees are wild animals they go where they want!
Below are a few additional locations I have seen manatees on a lucky day:
Philipi Park – Safety Harbor (near Clearwater)
Philipi Park is a beautiful hidden gem just outside of Clearwater in Safety Harbor. Now far off of the causeway, it’s a great play to picnic for the day on the way to or from the beaches! There are 92 acres lining the bay with plenty of seawall to stand on to look for manatees. I’ve also had some pretty cool experiences with horseshoe crabs here too!
The large oak trees here are stunning with a ton of shade and you’ll also be able to walk by the Temple Mound – the largest one in the Tampa Bay area!
Winter Park has various waterways for kayaking and boating where you can spot a manatee if you’ve got a keen eye! I personally enjoyed this Scenic Boat Tour which is a real little gem, but there are plenty of boat launches and kayak tours if that is more your style.
Silver Springs State Park & Ocala National Forest
There are 3 places I recommend looking for manatees in the Ocala area.
- Silver Springs State Park – I highly recommend their affordable glass bottom boat tour!
- Salt Springs Recreation area – This is such a beautiful area of Florida! They also offer manatee viewing kayak tours as well!
- Silver Glen Springs
It’s funny looking back now but when I was a kid, I thought Silver Springs State Park was an old Florida theme park sort of like Weeki Wachee Springs! There is a historic village area, nature center, glass bottom boat tours, restaurants, and plenty of kayak and paddleboard options!
The general Ocala area is a great place to get back in touch with nature, step into an original Florida environment, and get lost outdoors in all the right ways.
Fort Lauderdale general area in Broward County
- Port Everglades
- New River – head to the Secret Woods park in Dania Beach
- Hugh Taylor Birch State Park
- Intracoastal Waterway near Harbour Isles / Las Olas Isles
- George English Park
- Biscayne Bay (outside of Fort Lauderdale)
There are two industrial power plant areas that are a hot spot for manatees in the Fort Myers area. Make sure to stop by the Franklin Locks and Dam as well as the Florida Power and Light Park if you’re looking for manatees! I haven’t been to the Franklin Locks but FPL (Florida Power & Light) is a great area!
Canaveral National Seashore – Titusville (outside of Orlando)
The Canaveral National Seashore is a vacation in itself! If you’re looking just for manatees, you’ll want to head to the observation area at the Haulover Canal SPA.
Crane Creek – Melbourne
Ichetucknee Springs State Park
Manatees are endangered and threatened due to boat collisions, pollution and habitat destruction. These gentle giants rely on us to be good stewards of their natural environment as well as responsible tourism. Look for them, especially in the winter months, in Florida’s warmer waterways and springs.