Visiting Florida's state parks and beyond in our Roadtrek. This is how we saw it all. Hopefully, the posts will give you some useful information. Questions and comments are welcome.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Return to Florida's Blue Spring State Park

Just outside of Orange City, this spring is home to as many as 350 West Indian manatees from November to March as its constant 72 degree temperature protects from the colder water temperature of the St. Johns River and ocean.  Recent improvements to the park include new bath houses at the campground and a great extension to the paved bike trail.  Alas, the old sign with the unique manatee has been replaced with one of simple design.

Our site this visit, #20, was not too level. But, after a little creative maneuvering, thanks to the small size of our Trek, and all our lego blocks, we managed.  The sites include water and 50/30/20 amp electric. The sites are full shade or partial, most level, and are sand and gravel mix. All are back-in sites.  The loop is paved.


The park has excellent day visitor and camper facilities. There are two park areas. One is about midway along the run and has a large open area with picnic tables, a few pavilions, bathhouse, camp store and a souvenir/rental store.

When we were here last it was November and the spring run was teeming with manatee and fish.  During the summer months with the temperatures in the high 90s, the manatee and fish have gone out to the St. Johns River or ocean, and the run is teeming with humans seeking relief and just plain fun.  Swimming, tubing, snorkeling and scuba are permitted during the summer.  The park closes to non-reservation campers about 10am each day and no one comes in until someone leaves.  Very strict control over the daily population. 

A boardwalk parallels the spring run from the spring head to the St. Johns River. This is a class A spring, meaning over 100,000 gallons bubble up from the Florida aquifer and flow into the St. Johns River each day.  The boardwalk has two entrances to the swimming area and several outtakes for sitting and observing the surroundings.

Despite the humans, we did see some gar fish, and

two manatees while walking the boardwalk toward the river.  The water is not as clear this visit.  Probably due to the swimming activity closer to the spring head. The Manatees come in about November and leave about late March depending on the Florida "winter".

Unknown spider along the boardwalk

A Southeastern five lined skink.

Located at the river end of the run is the Thursby house.  This was built in 1872 by Louis Thursby, who constructed one of the first steamboat landings on the St Johns River, Blue Springs Landing, and planted one of the first orange groves on the upper St. Johns River.

Also located here is the other day park.

Here one can take a guided Segway tour of the park, rent a kayak or canoe, huge yellow tube, go fishing off the pier or boardwalk, or,

take a 2 hour guided cruise on the St. Johns River.

A piece of history.  This shaft once turned the paddle wheel of the side wheeler steamship Fannie Dugan.  The railroad eventually took over the passenger and freight trade. After a short stint of service the Fannie Dugan was abandoned in a nearby creek.

Did I mention guided river cruise?  Well, we did a tourist thing and took the cruise.  A very interesting trip, thanks to narration and maneuvering for the photographers on board, by Captain Steve. The trip traversed parts of the original St. Johns River and the "modified" parts created by the Corp of Engineers for navigation.  It is the longest river in Florida (310 miles) and actually flows north.  

Things we saw along the river.

Saw this flower hanging out at the boat dock parking lot.  Giant Ironweed,maybe?


Snowy Egret 

Mama gator in hiding.  Up the river a bit we saw smaller gators in hiding among the reeds.  Per Capt. Smith these were the young'uns of Mama gator she had distributed along the bank to establish their own territory.  Made sense, and a good story.

Little Blue Heron

A yellow bellied turtle (left) and a red bellied turtle share a log.

Great White Heron

Little Blue Heron Juvenile (molting)


Male Anhinga. Got his eye on something in the water.

Red Shouldered Hawk

Female Anhinga

A pretty white flower.  Saw only one on the whole cruise. I believe it to be a Crazy White Star plant.

The river is lined in some areas with wild Pink Hibiscus.

One of several small tributaries along the river.  Heard some are great fishing holes. A lot of large Bass in the river.  Attested to by a huge annual pro bass fishing tournament held on the river in Palatka.

A good hiking trail through the hammock.  Easy hike, but long.  Four miles one way.  It is not a loop.  So, four miles back.

Part of the newish Blue Springs Annex Trail southbound from French Ave. About 2.7 miles one way.


In the bushes there you can see a small (200lb?) Black Bear.  Was napping along the Annex trail about 50 feet away.  When he/she lifted its head and one paw, I figured it was time to pedal on.  That night there was one reported in the campground.  This one?

 A rather nice concrete, aluminum and steel bridge on the Annex trail to safely get bikers to the other side of the railroad that the trail parallels. On the other side is a parking lot for bikers and hikers.

Blue Springs Trail northbound from French Ave. About 3.3 miles to Lake Beresford.  Again, one way.  There are conveniently placed benches along the way.

The two deer spotted on the northbound leg of the trail.

A railroad track parallels the Blue Spring Trail.  And, passes along the campground.  But, the trains are mostly Amtrak passenger trains and go by fast and quietly.  The one freight train per day also moves fast and they are short in length.  The bridge is French Ave, the entrance to the park.