I’ve spent many idyllic days swimming in springs and tubing down spring-fed crystal clear rivers. There’s nothing better on a hot and humid Florida summer day than cooling off in a spring.
Last week, we spent a couple of nights at Manatee Springs State Park. The water temperature is 72 degrees year round, and the color is a shattering turquoise green. Hundreds of gentle manatees make the namesake springs their winter home, but that doesn’t typically happen until November when they migrate from the Suwannee River up into the springs.
We kayaked both days we were there, meandering from the crystalline blue-green waters of the spring into the wide expanse of the coffee-colored Suwannee (tannins from swamp vegetation that turn the water dark). Great blue herons, a roost of great egrets, several pileated woodpeckers, a couple of red-shouldered hawks, dozens and dozens of turtles, and one lone alligator accompanied us on our journey.
A 500-foot tipsy boardwalk winds through the cypress swamp, along the spring and out into the Suwannee. The trees are festooned with swags of Spanish moss, and hundreds of black vultures gather at dusk to roost for the night. In the twilight, it’s a spooky Halloween-esque experience.
We took a side trip of just a few miles down the road to Fanning Springs, a place of which I have many fond memories. Other than the park ranger, we were the only people there. Evidently, the water is too chilly at this time of year for Floridians, who swim in the springs only in the summer. Apparently, I no longer qualify as a Floridian, because at 72 degrees, the water felt just right on an 80-degree afternoon.