Florida Manatees 12 Best Natural Places for Viewing in the Winter Season

Want to see the famous Florida Sea Cow? We've got the best tips for when, where and how to see and interact with these gentle giants
By
FloridaJewel
Manatee Season in Florida
Photo Credits
Liquid Productions LLC / Shutterstock

Manatee season in Florida is officially October 15th thru March 31st, but varies slightly by region and in some areas, Manatees stay all year long. While the Manatee can seem scary at their huge size, they are very docile and gentle. Commonly known as the Sea Cow, Manatees are common in the coastal waters, rivers and springs around Florida. Click here for more information about the Florida Manatee

Viewing and Interacting with Manatees in Florida

Manatees need warm waters to survive which is why they inhabit the waterways around Florida and why they huddle into warmer areas in the winter months. If you want to be sure to spot a manatee, the wintertime is the best time to head out to their favorite warmer water locations. 

Manatees are gentle giants who are peaceful and calm. They are also protected by state and federal law so please follow the guidelines here before heading out to interact with Manatees. 

So where is the best place to see or interact with manatees around the state of Florida? 

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has a really good guide and map here. This informative map includes manatees in the wild and manatees in captivity/rehabilitation. 

Here's our recommendations for viewing and interacting with manatees in the wild during the winter season in Florida. Best viewing is typically December, January & February, particularly during a cold front that makes the water temperature drop and manatees grouping into the warmer areas. 

Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Kings Bay and Three Sisters Springs in Central West Florida

Manatees in Crystal River Florida
Image credit: IGER / @jborum321

Crystal River is one place in Florida where you can not only view the Manatees, but you can swim with them! This popular place for manatee interaction and viewing is in the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge which includes the 6 mile Crystal River, Kings Bay and Three Sisters Springs.

Manatees navigate and huddle together in Three Sisters Springs during the winter months where you are welcome to swim, snorkel and dive. No boats are allowed into the spring in the winter months so you have to ditch the boat at the entrance way and get in the water to swim into the spring.

Note that if you go directly to Three Sisters Springs, you will be able to view manatees from the boardwalk but you cannot swim from there. If you want to swim in Three Sisters Springs with the manatees, you have to access it from the refuge in Kings Bay. During the summer, kayaks and water crafts are permitted. In the winter months (mid-November thru March) the only way to get in is to navigate to the entrance by water and then swim into the spring. See Kings Bay Brochure here for access points and outfitters. 

If you want to swim with the manatees, Crystal River is the place to go. Most other places where manatees inhabit have stricter rules about swimming around the manatees. 

 

Blue Springs State Park
in Central Florida

Blue Springs Manatees
Image Credit: IGER: @burkead

Blue Springs State Park is a designated manatee refuge where the wintering manatee population has grown over the past few years and continues to be a safe location for migrating manatees. While swimming in the spring during manatee season if not permitted, visitors can view the manatees from the half-mile long boardwalk that provides an excellent place to watch and learn about these beautiful animals. Located in Orange City just north of Orlando. 

 

Manatee Springs State Park
in Gainesville Florida area

Manatee Springs State Park canoeing with the manatees
Image credit: floridastateparks.org

Manatee Springs State Park is a warm water refuge for manatees in the winter months swimming up the Suwannee River. View the manatees in the winter months from the boardwalk or kayak or canoe along the spring run for a closer encounter. Located in Chiefland Florida about an hour from Gainesville. 

 

Fanning Springs State Park
in Gainesville Florida area

Fannings Springs Manatees
Image credit: floridastateparks.org

Fanning Springs, located along the Suwannee River attracts manatees in the winter months where they can be viewed from the parks overlook or by boat from the Suwannee River. Just north of Manatee Springs within an hour of Gainesville.

 

Weeki Wachee Springs State Park
Spring Hill north of Tampa Florida

Weeki Wachee is famous for it's mermaid show and water park, but Weeki Wachee also is a natural habitat for wildlife including the Florida Manatee. Kayak or Canoe down the Weeki Wachee River where manatees migrate during the winter months and get a closer look and more personal encounters. 

 

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park
in Florida's Panhandle

Wakulla Springs State Park Boat Tour
Image Credit: FloridaStateParks.org

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park is the world's largest and deepest freshwater spring. Located in Florida's panhandle in the Tallahassee region. The park offers daily guided boat tours on the Wakulla River where you can spot manatees up close. 

 

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge
in Central East Florida region

Image Credit: Tiger / Team Member
Image Credit: Tiger

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge in Titusville Florida is one of the locations where you can spot a manatee year round. At the northern end of the Refuge is the manatee observation area where visitors can observe the manatees in their natural habitat. 

 

Manatee Park
in Southwest Florida region

Part of Lee County Parks & Recreation, Manatee Park is a non-captive warm water refuge for the Florida Manatee. Located across the street from a power company whose discharge warms the waters making it a popular refuge for the Manatee. View from the boardwalk and observation area or kayak/canoe the rivers for a closer encounter. 

 

Lovers Key, Fort Myers Beach
in Southwest Florida region

Lovers Key State Park with it's four barrier islands and surrounding natural shallow waterways provide warmer waters where manatees like to inhabit. This popular beach destination is also a great place to spot manatees as well as other wildlife. Rent a canoe or kayak for a closer encounter. 

 

Tampa Manatee Center

TECO Manatee Viewing Center
in Tampa Bay Area

TECO Tampa Electric opened the Big Bend Power Station in Apollo Beach in 1986. Since then, manatees have taken a liking to the warm waters from the discharge canal. Big Bend's discharge canal is now a state and federally designated manatee sanctuary to protect these gentle giants from the cold waters of Tampa Bay when water temperatures drop below 68 degrees. Manatee Season here officially starts November 1st. 

 

 

 

Manatee Observation & Educational Center
in Fort Pierce, Central East Florida

Manatee Education Center in Ft Pierce
Image by: manateeeducationcenter.org

Overlooking freshwater Moore's Creek that connects to the Indian River Lagoon, view manatees year round from the observation deck, go on a kayak adventure or take a boat tour. The educational center includes and exhibit hall to learn about the manatee and it's habitats. 

 

Manatee Lagoon an FPL Eco-Discovery Center 
in West Palm Beach, South Florida 

Manatee Lagoon in West Palm Beach Florida
Image by: visitmanateelagoon.com

Manatee Lagoon where the warm discharge from FP&L near Riviera Beach, offers manatees a winter eco-system and the opportunity for you to see manatees up close. FPLs Eco-Discovery Center features two levels of observation areas and hands on manatee learning. Manatee season at this south Florida location starts November 15th.