How to Spot Manatees in North Central Florida

The St. Johns River and the crystal clear all-natural Florida freshwater springs are home to many species of marine life, including the Florida manatee, also known as the gentle sea cow. Follow these tips to find out how to spot manatees in North Central Florida.

how to spot manatees
Follow these tips to find out how to spot manatees like these near the St. Johns River.

How to Spot Manatees in the Water

Learning how to spot manatees in the water is your first step. Look for bubbles floating to the surface of the crystal clear water. The bubbles are the oxygen from manatees breathing and lurking beneath the water! They surface for air every five minutes, so be patient.

When to Spot Manatee in North Central Florida

The months of November through April are the best months to spot manatees in freshwater springs. Manatees are seeking refuge in the warmer inland waters during this time period and retreat back to the coastal waters in the Gulf and Atlantic Ocean during the summer months.

Listen for Manatees

You will likely hear a whoosh of air and water snorts at the same time. These are the sounds of the manatees surfacing for a large gasp of air that allows them to go back under water for up to five minutes before they resurface again.

Look For Manatees in the Vegetation

Manatees are herbivores that love to munch on vegetation. Look for manatees in and around freshwater plants, where they are likely grazing in flats and sea grasses enjoying a long snack.

Stay in Shallow Areas

Manatees do not like cold weather and cold water. You are likelier to find them in shallower water because it stays warmer and allows them to regulate their body temperatures better.

Search for Manatees in the St. Johns River

Manatees heading to the springs for the winter use the St. Johns River as their river highway to come inland. You will spot them swimming in the river to get to warmer spring water.

how to spot manatees
There are great spots along the St. Johns River in Astor, Florida to enjoy manatee sightseeing.

Get in the Water and Snorkel

If you are willing to brave the constant 72-degree temperatures of Florida freshwater springs in North Central Florida, snorkeling is the best way to get an up close and personal view of Florida manatees. They are docile creatures and will not harm you.

Follow these seven tips for swimming in freshwater springs and find out everything you need to know about wildlife near the St. Johns River.

Tips for Watching Manatees Safely

Manatees are gentle creatures but you can’t get too close to them. The general rule mandated by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is “you can look but don’t touch.”

You must also never:

  • Pursue or chase a manatee seeking to avoid you
  • Poke, prod or stab a manatee with your hands, feet or any object
  • Attempt to ride a manatee
  • Enter a “No Entry Manatee Refuge” location.

The manatee is protected under federal law by the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, making it illegal to harass, hunt or capture the species. Anyone violating federal or state manatee laws can face a $500 fine and/or up to 60 days in prison. Check out state-mandated viewing guidelines for more information.

how to spot manatees
Make your manatee experience  memorable by renting a boat to enjoy the St. Johns River.

Book Your Manatee Viewing Trip

North Central Florida’s freshwater springs and the manatees that are enjoying them are a sight to behold. There are great spots along the St. Johns River in Astor, Florida to enjoy sightseeing. Book your manatee viewing trip at Castaways on the River to spend some time along the river. Castaways on the River offers cozy cottages and motel rooms right along the St. Johns River near freshwater springs.

Rent a Boat

Make your manatee viewing experience even more memorable by renting a boat to enjoy the St. Johns River. Castaways on the River offers a variety of rental boat options. Our marina rental boat operators will provide you with the tips and navigation advice you need to spot manatees and find some good fishing spots. Call Castaways on the River today at (352) 759-3442 to book your boat rental, a fishing charter and lodging accommodations today.


Watching Wildlife in the Ocala National Forest and Along the St. Johns River

Watching wildlife in the Ocala National Forest and along the St. Johns River is a panoramic view of nature. The area is home to a large variety of wildlife from birds to fish which draws visitors from all walks of life to get a closer look.

Watching Wildlife in the Ocala National Forest and Along the St. Johns River
Manatees are popular sightings along the St. Johns River especially when temperatures dip.

Whether visitors are on a casual outing or an enthusiast viewing a particular species, it won’t take long for the show of wildlife to delight spectators. Few can say they saw a manatee, an alligator or a bear all in the same day. Oh my! In this area of Florida, it’s just another day.

Manatee Watching on the St. John’s River

While manatees are known as gentle giants, you have to be purposeful and patient to see them in their natural habitat. They are shy and will gracefully avoid boats, other vessels and noise in the wild. If you turn your boat motor off and sit for a bit, you may catch a quick glimpse as they surface for a fresh breath of air. A manatee won’t come close to investigate so have your camera ready and stay quiet.

A diverse group of wildlife can be found in the Ocala National Forest and along the St. Johns River.

Wild Gators on the St. John’s River Shores

Seeing alligators catching a little sun along the shoreline of the St. Johns River is commonplace. Remember this is their natural habitat so observe at a distance and be careful. Alligators are swift swimmers and prefer marshy areas or open water. The slow moving river flowing through the Ocala National Forest is ideal to see an alligator while enjoying a day of boating.

Watch out for Bears

While there are no lions or tigers in the region, there are bears in the wild. The black bear population is mostly concentrated in this region, hence the name of the scenic Florida Black Bear Highway. The 60-mile route is the best place to sight a bear in the area.

Birds on the Wild Side

We’re not talking about snowbirds here. The Ocala National Forest is home to approximately 200 species of birds; especially a large concentration of American Eagles. The area is considered somewhat of a paradise for bird watching enthusiasts. If you are staying with us, be sure to meet the pelicans. Don’t worry they won’t let you ignore them for long along the dock, they keep a close eye on newcomers and old alike.

Watching out for Wildlife on the St. John’s River

Largemouth Bass, Black Crappie and Blue Crab are plentiful in the region attracting both sport and casual anglers. Get advice from the veterans to learn the best spots to snag your catch. While all have their prime seasons, it’s best to check ahead to see what’s biting and where to plan your strategy for the day on the water.

Watching Wildlife – Entertainment at its Finest

Did you know there are several groups of wildlife comedians? Yes, they would be the squirrels who can be seen whizzing around in a rush everywhere and checking things out. And don’t leave out the cute turtles peaking from their shells to see who is stopping by for a visit. These are cute pictures for sure to remember your trip.

Check with the Castaways On The River staff to learn the best spots to watch wildlife in the area. We’ll be glad to accommodate your stay for a bird watching expedition or for those boating or fishing trips. Contact us via Facebook or Twitter, through our website or call us at (352) 759-3422.

Manatee Awareness: Florida’s Gentle Giants

The waters of the St. Johns River and nearby springs are popular to spot manatees here in Florida. And as the air temperature begins to dip, manatee stay close to springs seeking warm water. The month of November is designated as Manatee Awareness Month in hope of better protecting these gentle giants.

Manatee endangered
Manatee Fact: Manatees are an endangered species.

Manatees are considered endangered and are protected by law. Boaters will find signs along waterways where manatees are known to swim reminding them to shift to idle speed in these zones.

A Gentle Giant

As a distant relative of elephants, manatees are often referred to as gentle giants because of their bulk, slow moving and non-aggressive nature. Manatees can swim up about 5 miles per hour and travel a distance of 15 miles in short bursts. They use their powerful tail to propel them through the water while using their front flippers to steer.

Manatee breathe
Manatee Fact: Manatees breathe air but never leave the water.

Manatee Habitat

There’s a lot to know about manatees and their habits. For starters, did you know that while they must breathe air manatees never leave the water. A quick scan of the water’s surface can usually find a nose or two sticking up for a breath. They can hold their breath underwater in excess of 15 minutes.

Manatees can go between freshwater and saltwater and can be found along the eastern U.S. from Florida and south to Brazil in South America along the Amazon River and also on the west coast of Africa. Can you say international?

The manatees found in Florida are known as the West Indian Manatee.

manatee eat
Manatee Fact: Manatees are big eaters.

Time to Eat

Manatees like to eat! And they eat a lot! These vegetarians eat grass and other plants found along the shoreline and in the water. If they are not sleeping or swimming, manatees are eating! Manatees are big…usually weighing an average of 1,500 to1,800 pounds as an adult.

In the wild, manatees live an average of 30 to 60 years. Seeing a manatee for the first time in the water or after many times is remains a priceless experience for many. The Blue Springs Park Manatee Refuge is a short boat ride away. Visit us here at Castaways on the River, bring your boat or rent one of ours to see manatees up close. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for updates about the area, check out our website or give us a call at (352) 759-3422.

Florida Springs off the St. Johns River

The St. Johns River offers boaters access to some of Florida’s most beautiful freshwater springs along the Ocala National Forest.

Recreational Activities and Wildlife Exploration

Popular among tourists and locals alike, the Florida Springs provides unique opportunities for recreational activity and wildlife exploration. 

Visitors can enjoy swimming in the crystal clear spring water, which remains at a refreshing average temperature of 70 degrees year round.

The springs are also home to a large bird population and many species of marine wildlife, including manatees.

Benefits of Boating to the Florida Springs

Although you can drive to almost all of the Florida Springs, boating offers a scenic experience we encourage you to try. There are also many great fishing spots along the way.

If you do not own a boat, we have rentals! Start planning your next boating adventure on the St. Johns River to some of Florida’s most breathtaking springs. However, please note that not all springs are accessible from Castaways On The River, so be sure to inquire about available routes and destinations to ensure a delightful and safe journey.

Salt Springs

Salt Springs, on the northern edge of Lake George off the St. Johns River along Salt Springs Run, is a popular spring within the Ocala National Forest.

Visitors can swim and snorkel in the spring. While the spring is home to a variety of turtles, Blue Crabs and bass, fishing and motorized boats are not permitted.

Since Salt Springs is in the Ocala National Forest, the area is managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The spring can also be accessed via U.S 19.

Silver Glen Springs

Also off the St. Johns River is Silver Glen Springs at the end of Silver Glen Springs Run off Lake George. The area is another popular spot for tourists. During the cooler winter months, manatee sightings are frequent as they seek warmer water than that of the river.

Silver Glen Springs also sits within the Ocala National Forest. The crystal clear water gives way to swimming, snorkeling, fishing, kayaking and canoeing. Did you know that the spring’s two vents produce an average of 65 million gallons of water daily?

Juniper Springs

A leisurely boat ride along Juniper Creek off the St. Johns River or by land traveling along S.R. 40 will lead to Juniper Springs. The surrounding complex dates to the 1930s making it one of the oldest in the region.

Like other springs in the area where swimmers can enjoy the pristine waters, the spring is also an access point to the Florida Trail/Florida National Scenic Trail in the Ocala National Forest.

The St. Johns River offers boaters access to some of Florida’s most beautiful freshwater springs.

The Land of Springs

Several other springs to consider for day trips include Alexander Springs, De Leon Springs and Blue Spring. You can take the St. Johns River or a feeder creek to reach any of these springs.

The First Magnitude Spring

Considered a first magnitude spring, Alexander Spring in Altoona on C.R. 455 is an 8-mile boat ride east of the St. Johns River.

De Leon Spring’s Rich History

De Leon Springs, east of the river, is steeped in history dating back to when the native Mayaca inhabited the area for 6,000 years and the 1500s when the Spanish began building missions in the region.

Manatees at Blue Spring

If you are looking to spot manatees during the winter months, then head to Blue Spring. It’s the largest spring on the St. Johns River and is known as the winter home of manatees in this part of the state. The spring discharges 165 million gallons of water daily.

Boat Rental and Contact Information

Checking out any of the springs in the area is a great way to spend a few hours or make it an all-day outing to enjoy the unique bodies of water. There is really no better way to access many of these sites than by boat. Hop in one of our boat rentals at Castaways on the River.

For St. Johns River news, updates and more, follow us on Facebook, visit our website or give us a call at (352)759-3422.