Manatee Springs State Park is a great destination for nature lovers. True to its name, manatees swim into the spring run to warm up during December, January, and February. This state park has hiking trails, campgrounds, and a waterfront area for swimming and kayaking. It’s also a popular destination for scuba diving, snorkeling, and fishing.
I loved my visit to Manatee Springs State Park in February. Here are some helpful tips from my stay.
Manatee Springs State Park things to know
Here are a few helpful things to know before you visit.
- The ranger station is at the front of the park. It’s small and mainly for registering scuba divers or checking in to the campgrounds. There’s a concessions stand at the waterfront that is open seasonally.
- Cell service is almost non-existent in the park. Plan to keep your phone on airplane mode to keep the battery from running down as the phone attempts to find a signal. Your best chance for sending text messages is near the concessions stand in the day-use area.
- Walmart, Tractor Supply, and gas stations are only fifteen minutes from camp. I took a trip into town to buy more ice and used it for catching up on texts and emails on my phone before heading back to camp.
All of the park staff were friendly and very active around the campground. It was easy to find answers whenever I had a question. Brochures were available at the ranger station for trail maps and things like that. I also got a bird list there.
What to bring to Manatee Springs State Park
Your usual spring/summer camping gear should be fine at Manatee Springs State Park. I brought a three-season tent when I stayed in February and used that during the day but slept in my car at night (which I usually do on solo trips). However, there are a few things you should definitely remember to bring:
- Bug spray. Ticks, mosquitoes, biting gnats, and red bugs are year-round residents at this state park. Even with bug spray, I still had a few red bug bites. Wearing pants and long sleeves helped when watching the sunset.
- Headlamp. The sunset off the end of the boardwalk was one of my favorite things at this park. I always pack a headlamp in my hiking pack and was happy to have it for the walk back to camp. However, I also recommend you stop, turn off your light, and enjoy the fireflies on the boardwalk!
- Water shoes. You can swim barefoot at the springs, but the metal stairs are a little painful. Having water shoes is nice.
Things to do in Manatee Springs
My top recommendations for things to do in Manatee Springs State Park are exploring the boardwalk, enjoying the waterfront, and hiking. It’s also a wonderful park for birding.
- This state park has an 800-foot boardwalk leading from the spring to the Suwanee River. It takes you through a beautiful cypress forest, with benches along the way to sit and enjoy wildlife viewing. This is a great area to watch birds and look for manatees.
- The waterfront has lots of options. You can swim in the springs or go scuba diving. There’s an area for open-water diving and cave diving called the Catfish Hotel. No lifeguard is on duty at the springs, so be safe and bring a friend if you go swimming. Kayaking and canoeing are also popular. There’s a boat launch near the concession stand, and kayak rentals are available seasonally.
- There are also 8.5 miles of hiking trails available. The Sink Loop trail (.6mi) is across from the Hickory Loop campgrounds, and the North Trail is near the front of the park.
On the park website, you can find a list of all the amenities and activities available at Manatee Springs State Park.
Spotting manatees at the park
I visited this state park specifically to see manatees. It’s a reasonable drive from Atlanta (5-6 hours, depending on which side of Atlanta, plus a little extra for traffic). Winter (Dec-February) is the best time to see them. I also wanted a quiet experience. Some other springs nearby can see hundreds of manatees at a time and draw large crowds of visitors.
Manatee Springs State Park can get crowded, too, especially on the weekend. However, early mornings on weekdays were very peaceful. Mornings are one of the best times to spot manatees. They swim in from the river to warm up in the spring run. To spot them, look for light gray shapes in shallow areas. You can often hear them breathe when they come up to the surface; listen for a blowing sound and watch for their noses to poke up from the water.
There was a group of four manatees when I visited, but other campers said they saw as many as eight at a time.
Is Manatee Springs State Park dog friendly?
I boarded Chaucer during my visit because dogs aren’t allowed on the boardwalk or in the springs. The boardwalk and springs were the main reason I wanted to visit, but I traveled solo and didn’t have anyone to watch him while I explored.
However, dogs are allowed in the campground, trails, and day-use area. And there were lots of dogs around when I visited! It made me miss Chaucer, for sure. If you are traveling with family or friends and want to bring your dog, it would be workable and dogs are welcome.
Just check the park website before you go to get updates on where they are allowed and any other details you might need to know about bringing your dog.
Manatee Springs State Park vlogs
I enjoyed my stay and hope I can go back soon. Spotting manatees in a quiet setting was so much fun, and watching the sunset in the evenings with other campers was a fun social aspect of the visit I didn’t expect. If you like the small state park vibe, this one is not to be missed.
Want to see more? Enjoy my vlogs from my visit!