18th century naturalist William Bartram named a swath of land in Northwest Florida “Manatee Springs” because he spotted a manatee carcass along the shores of the Suwannee River. Now a state park, Manatee Springs lives up to its name, not with dead manatees, but with live ones.
Manatees swim into the Gulf of Mexico and into Florida’s many springs in search of warmer climes during the winter months. The water in the springs remains a warm 72º F, making them the perfect place for manatees to wait out the winter. The river bottom is covered in grassy kelp, a manatee’s favorite dish. Other native animals include the large mouth bass and speckled perch, as well as the odd alligator.
The Springs were designated a state park in 1971. Swimming is allowed during summer, but prohibited in winter to allow the manatees space and shelter. Kayaking is allowed year-round however, and manatees, who are notoriously un-shy, are known to swim up to the boats and allow kayakers to pet them. Lucky visitors may even spot a baby manatee or two, as the warm waters double as a nursery during calving months.