The second weekend in August and Florida is hot. Hot and humid. There is no better way to beat the Florida summer than a visit to one of the natural springs in Florida. So with that in mind, we headed up to Chiefland, Florida and Manatee Springs State Park. The park is located at the end of State Road 320 about six miles west of US 19/27/98 on the Suwannee River. With a constant water temperature of 72 degrees, its the perfect way to cool off from the summer heat.
The campground is organized into two main loops, along with two small fingers that stick up off one loop, and has 100 sites with water and electricity. A number of the sites are tent only, and another group are for smaller rigs. Details of the campground, along with links to pictures of the larger sites can be found here. The road through the Magnolia camping area is pretty tight, nothing that is not negotiable, but you will definitely be looking to make sure you’ve left enough room on both sides of the rig for trees. It would probable be a little more unnerving pulling a trailer or fifth-wheel, as you have to remember that the trailer can turn inside you. The sites are true to their sizing on map, and it was fairly easy to back the motorhome in and park.
It is just a short walk from the campground to the spring head where you can swim, or just sit in the cool water and enjoy the coolness. From the spring head there is a short run to the river, but you can not swim out into the river. There is a boardwalk that runs along the springs run, with a dock in the Suwannee from which you can fish at the end. The water is extremely clear in the spring and the run, making it possible to look all the way to the depth of springs, and see fish and turtles along the run. During the winter months there is no swimming, and the manatees make their way up the river and hang out in the springs. There is a good bit of scuba diving going on at the spring head, and at Catfish Hole.
Only scuba divers are allowed in Catfish Hole, and it servers as the access to a large underwater cave system. Catfish Hole is kind of cool as it is entirely covered (or at least was when we were there) by what appears to be a green slime. It is actually all the seeds and droppings from the trees that surround the sink, and they float on the top of the water. As divers breathe and exhale under the water (where you can’t see them), their bubbles rise and break the surface, and create little holes in the green covering of the water. Eventually, as the divers surface, the bubbles rise more quickly and open the water up where the divers then surface, looking like the creature from the “green” lagoon. A pull through site in the Hickory camping loop overlooks this sink, and we think that is the site we are going to try and get on the next trip.
In addition to hanging around Manatee Springs, we headed up the road a few miles to Fanning Springs State Park. In addition to trying to visit as many state parks as possible, we had heard that there was a dive platform at Fanning Springs so we wanted to try it out. Fanning Springs has some cabins, but no camping and is a fairly nice spring that is located very close to the Suwannee. Boaters pull up to the dock that surrounds the swimming area from the river and tie up and take a dip. The dive platform was OK, but no where near as high (or as much fun) as the one we found at Madison Blue Springs last summer when we camped at Suwannee River State Park.
Overall it was a great weekend, with cool water, in a great park. We’ve put Manatee Springs on our go back to list. We will probably try and make the next trip during the winter so that we can see the manatees. Pictures of our time at Manatee Springs State Park are here, and Fanning Springs pictures are here.