Back to Nature in Orange City, Florida

Blue Spring State ParkOn the drive between Orlando and Daytona Beach, you will find the small town of Orange City, Florida.  The town is just a few miles off of Interstate 4 and if you blink, you might miss the exit. It would be a shame if you did miss it because Orange City is home to one of the most picturesque sights in Central Florida… Blue Springs State Park.

Blue Spring State Park is known for its 2,600 acres of natural Florida woodland, but the spring is the main attraction. Blue Spring is the largest spring in the St. Johns River, discharging 104 million gallons of water every day. The circular translucent water hole percolates with tiny bubbles rising to the surface, also known as a boil –but it is not hot. Like other Florida springs, it has a consistent cool temperature of around 72 degrees. The spring is popular with swimmers, snorkelers and scuba divers, especially for the underwater cave system.

With an entrance fee of just $6 per car, Blue Spring State Park is probably the most affordable day of family fun in the Central Florida area. The park offers canoe/kayak rentals, scenic boat tours, tubing, snorkeling, and more. The Thursby House, a historic home located in the park by the river, was constructed in 1872 by Louis P. Thursby and still stands today. Visitors are welcome to take a self-guided tour through the home. Camping and picnicking facilities are also available.

There are several ways to view the spring.  A half-mile boardwalk along the bank of the Blue Spring Run begins at the bubbling spring and ends at the St. Johns River.  The boardwalk has several designated overlooks filled with panoramic views of picturesque “old Florida” and interpretive displays provide history about the park. Moss-draped oaks lining the river and fallen trees along the banks are ideal elements for composing prize-winning photographs.

BoardwalkIn the warmer months, the best way to see the spring is to kayak or tube through the spring run. Tube rentals are available through the park’s concessionaire for a nominal fee, but you can also bring your own! They’ll even fill up your tube with air if you can’t fit it in the car. They do charge a minimum of 50 cents to fill it up with air. After a short walk down the boardwalk through the woodlands, you’ll enter the water in the main swimming/tubing area. The float run lasts about an eighth of a mile, and it takes around 15-20 minutes to float down to the main swim dock.

During the winter months, Blue Spring is a popular gathering area for manatees and one of the best places for viewing these gentle giants. It’s next to impossible to not spot one of the 200 + manatees that call Blue Spring home, but it’s a little rarer in the summer.  Besides manatees, fish abound in the spring run, and these attract a variety of wading birds, ospreys, eagles and kingfishers. To see the park’s wonders, visitors can hike along the spring run or on the 3.6-mile Pine Island Trail. One can also take a guided river boat cruise through St. Johns River Cruises and Tours.

St. John River CruisesSt. Johns River Cruises and Tours operates ecological boat tours daily at 10:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. On this two-hour tour, your Captain provides interactive narration of local and river history along with illustrated accounts of the numerous bird species, alligators, and other wild critters that call this area home. The quiet and smooth operation of the boat allows you to hear the sounds of nature as they surround the trip. With an average cruising speed of 6 mph, nothing passes by too fast. Frequent stops are made for photographs, intimate encounters, and a thorough look at this most fragile ecosystem.

St. Johns River Cruises has successfully completed the Florida Society for Ethical Ecotourism’s rigorous certification program and was awarded the prestigious Platinum Level Certification for meeting over 90% of the bonus criteria on the Society’s checklist. Wheelchair access is provided with a wheelchair lift into the vessel. Please reference any accessibility needs when making a reservation. For fees and reservations, please call (386) 917-0724 or visit https://www.sjrivercruises.com

Blue SpringAt the end of the day, you can indulge in some ice cream or pick up a souvenir from the gift shop. We stayed at Blue Spring State Park for about 4 hours and it was a wonderful, relaxing, fun-filled day. If you’re visiting the Orlando area, do something different and take in some nature! It might not feature parades, shows, and wild rides of the theme parks, but no doubt you’ll be ready for some nature and Blue Spring State Park is just perfect for that.

My number one tip in the summertime is to arrive early! Blue Spring State Park opens every day at 8:00 a.m., but often reaches capacity on the weekends in the summer. For more information, visit www.floridastateparks.org.

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