Florida is known for its clear water and white-sand beaches, but it’s also a place with the perfect climate for manatees. If you know the right places to go, you can also see manatees while you SUP in Florida.
Manatees are large, slow-moving aquatic animals known as sea cows. They are herbivores and have a curious nature. Since manatees are wild animals, it’s difficult to know exactly where they are, but below are the top ten places where you are most likely to find manatees while paddleboarding.
- Crystal River
Crystal River is located an hour north of Tampa, on the Gulf Coast. It is well known for its population of manatees. This is the perfect place to see manatees because of the shallow saltwater and freshwater abundant with plants that manatees eat.
You can paddle up the calm river with blue, crystal-clear water. The clear water makes it easy to spot the manatees. Additionally, the river isn’t too deep, so it’s hard to miss the sea cows when you come upon them.
Some parts of the river are shaded by trees that hang over the river, this makes the river a great place to SUP on a bright, sunny day.
- Blue Spring State Park
Just 45 minutes away from Orlando sits Blue Spring State Park. Blue Spring is one of the best places to see manatees on a SUP, especially in the winter. The inland rivers and springs keep the water warm, which is essential for the manatee’s survival. The water at Blue Spring is almost always calm, so it’s great for a relaxing paddle as you search for manatees.
The Ocean&Blue board is a great choice for paddling at Blue Spring. The board has extra stability because of its size, which will help paddlers search for manatees without worrying about their balance.
- Three Sisters Springs (Kings Bay)
On the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, this is the largest winter refuge for manatees. It is also one of the most popular places manatees are known to frequent. There are so many manatees in Kings Bay, occasionally it closes because there are so many in the water.
Summer is the best time to paddleboard, and there are still many manatees around. Paddle through the clean water and watch for manatees gliding below.
There are also many islands dotted throughout Kings Bay to explore and appreciate while paddling.
- Homosassa River
Homosassa Springs is located a few minutes south of Crystal River. The river begins at Homosassa Springs and flows for 8 miles, where it eventually leads to the Gulf of Mexico. The spring water is consistently 72 degrees throughout the year, this means manatees hang around here year-round. Additionally, water has a mineral makeup similar to saltwater, so plants that manatees grow and thrive.
Stand-up paddleboarding on this river is best where the water originates. The closer the river gets to the Gulf of Mexico, the murkier it gets and the more motorboats there are. If experienced paddlers do want to travel most or all of the 8 miles looking for manatees, an advanced board would be a fun way to explore the river.
- Tarpon Springs
Tarpon Springs is less than an hour away from Tampa. The spring creates the Kreamer Bayou and eventually turns into the Anclote River. The river eventually empties into the Gulf of Mexico. Manatees frequently make their way up this river as they seek warm water and food in the winter months in Florida. Throughout the winter, the water says warm and there’s plenty of food for them to eat.
The benefits of SUPing in this river include seeing manatees and other wildlife known to live in this area including, dolphins, stingrays, and tarpon.
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
Merrit Island became a national wildlife refuge in 1963. It is owned by NASA and since they designated it as a wildlife refuge, it has been a habitat where manatees and other animals have thrived. There are multiple places to paddle around—from lagoons to rivers.
Before you SUP at Merritt Island, make sure to check the weather to ensure it won’t be too windy. When it gets windy here, it makes tricky and difficult paddling situations.
They have manatee observation decks at some places in the refuge, but the view of manatees is always better from a paddleboard in the water. Manatees are naturally curious creatures and since they are protected at Merritt Island, they might approach your paddleboard. If they do, make sure not to hit them with your board or paddle and try to give them plenty of space.
- Manatee Springs State Park
Perhaps the most obvious place to see manatees, Manatee Springs State Park, is a warm-water oasis for manatees in colder months. In the winter months, manatees swim up the Suwanee River the warm springs.
The water near the springs is always clear as the spring produces 100 million gallons of fresh clear water each day. If you want to enjoy a full day of fun on the water, check out SurfStar SUP’s all-purpose paddleboard, which has storage in the front and back of the board where paddlers can keep food, camera gear, and more.
- Wakulla Springs State Park
This spring is on the coast of the Florida Panhandle, about 30 minutes from Tallahassee. This spring is one of the deepest in the world. Manatees are often seen enjoying the waters of Wakulla Spring in the winter months.
Wakulla Spring is also a popular place to swim. If you want to have the option to see manatees, swim, hike, and SUP, this is the place for you.
- Lovers Key State Park
This 1,600-acre state park is close to the southern tip of Florida, on the Gulf of Mexico side. In these warmer waters, manatees are found year-round. Paddleboarding can be done along the mangrove-lined water, often shaded in the heat of the day.
After seeing manatees by the springs you can head to the 2.5-mile beach and paddleboard along the coast with ease on a windless day.
- Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
One hour north of Tampa, on what is known as Florida’s adventure coast, Weeki Wachee Springs serves as a gathering place where endangered West Indies manatees typically gather. The springs, some of which are extinct and form deep calm areas, feed the Weeki Wachee River.
This river is smaller than many on this list, so the waters are much calmer. The calm waters are perfect for paddleboarding on a smaller, more maneuverable board because it’s easier to navigate the narrower parts of the river.
Paddling with Manatees in Florida
Coming across these gentle giants of the water while SUPing is a special and exciting experience. Florida is one of the best places to explore waterways and see manatees while you paddling. The places above are sure to help you find manatees in their natural habitats.