14 Best Places To See Manatees In Florida

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Florida is known for its stunning beaches, crystal clear waters, and diverse wildlife. Among the many species that call the Sunshine State home, the gentle manatees are a beloved favorite. Weighing in at anywhere from 1000 pounds to over 3000 pounds, they are Florida’s largest marine mammal.

The manatees, also called sea cows, are very slow and peaceful animals. They spend their time slowly chomping at the seagrass in the waterways and the ocean floor. Although, the manatees may seem to always be slow-moving, if necessary, manatees can swim up to 20 miles per hour in short bursts. Generally though, they find a lot of swimming unnecessary since they dedicate at least eight hours per day to feeding and have a lower metabolic rate which means they need to conserve their energy.

If you’re planning a trip to Florida and wondering where the best places to see manatees in Florida are, there are several places where you can catch a glimpse of these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat. Manatees like to stay warm so all the way from the panhandle area to the Keys, you have a chance to see one of these mammals in warm water.

Guidelines For Seeing Manatees In Florida

While the Florida manatees have been reclassified from endangered to a threatened species under the federal Endangered Species Act, there are important guidelines for viewing the manatees. They are a protected species with efforts to preserve their habitats and grow their population.

Depending on the time of year, you might only see just a few manatees or you might see hundreds of them around you. Be sure to maintain a distance between you and the manatees. It is illegal to feed, harass, pursue or wound the manatees in any way.

Touching the manatees is prohibited as well so just view them from afar and avoid approaching them. If a manatee does come up to you, since they are quite curious creatures sometimes, just let it touch you and move on after which you should move away to a greater distance. Manatees are very gentle and will not cause any harm but be sure to always practice safe viewing when dealing with wildlife.

Kayaks won’t do harm to manatees but if you are on a motorized boat and are in an area where manatees are probable be sure to practice caution. Boat propellers are one of the top things that injure these gentle giants. Avoid traveling over resting manatees since they could easily be startled.

Crystal River

Crystal River is by far the best place to see manatees in Florida. There, you can swim, snorkel and dive with manatees in the water. It is one of the top spots to see manatees up close in Florida and actually be able to swim with them.

In the winter, manatees congregate in Kings Bay in search of warm water in the colder months. during these months, you will see hundreds of manatees surrounding you in this area. Winter months are the best time to see manatees in the springs but in Crystal River you can see some manatees year-round. Many mothers stay with their littles in the protective waters so even in the warmer months you will be able to spot a few of these gentle giants.

One of the best ways to swim with manatees is to take a tour where a tour guide will take you out to Three Sisters Springs to see the manatees. The tour gives you a wet suit and goggles to be able to comfortably snorkel in the chilly water. Swimming here with manatees is one of the top bucket list things to do in Florida. After your swim with manatees, be sure to check out the best restaurants in Crystal River for delicious seafood.

Weeki Wachee

Weeki Wachee is home to some of the most beautiful crystal clear blue water in Florida. As you paddle through the mesmerizing water, you have a very good chance of seeing manatees. The water is clear and shallow in many places so it is easy to spot a manatee. You can rent a kayak or boat in the area or bring your own.

Beyond the manatees, Weeki Wachee is a popular destination for the underwater mermaid shows that have been an attraction for many years. Visitors can watch the mermaids performing two shows a day in the natural springs. Another thrilling adventure in Weeki Wachee is the Buccaneer Bay Water Park. The water park is a family-friendly destination that allows you to enjoy the natural springs with water slides, lazy river and tube rides.

Manatee Springs State Park

As the name implies, Manatee Springs State Park is a great place to see some manatees in the wild. This park is home to one of the largest freshwater springs in Florida. As a first-magnitude spring, it releases around 100 gallons of water daily.

There are over eight miles of trails running through the park which makes it a great place for walking, running and bicycling. The boardwalk is an excellent viewpoint of the water to see manatees. Or, take your own kayaks out on the water to be able to enjoy the springs to the fullest.

For a longer stay while visiting, the park has campground facilities with water, electricity, picnic tables, and grills. With a choice of camping, glamping or renting a cabin, it is a prime location for a Florida getaway. A day admission to the park is $6 per vehicle.

Blue Springs State Park

Blue Springs State Park is a gold mine for seeing manatees. On a good day, there are hundreds of manatees finding refuge in the warm springs on a cold winter day. This is because of conservation work, park improvements, and manatee protection efforts. Over the years with these efforts the number of manatees seen in this park have increased tremendously.

Like the other springs, the temperature of the water remains 72 degrees year-round. Since you aren’t able to swim with the manatees in this spring, there is a half-mile boardwalk that runs along the spring. It gives a good overview of the water allowing visitors to view the manatee filled water.

Manatees aren’t the only creatures you will see in this park. There are a wide variety of fish, birds and alligators that inhabit the park. To immerse yourself even more into the surrounding nature, you can hike the 4.5 mile Pine Island Trail.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a different take on viewing manatees in a Florida State Park. To enter, the fee is $13 for adults, $5 for children and children under 6 years old having free admission. The park started out as an entertainment venue for exotic animals but was later purchased by the state of Florida. Now, it is a rehabilitation center for animals who have been injured or ones that cannot return to the wild for different reasons.

In the manatee rehab section where you can learn all about the manatees. The Underwater Observatory also allows for good views of wild manatees and fish in the springs. This way, you can clearly see the manatees in their natural habitat without disturbing them.

The Wildlife Walk is where you will see many of the other animals. The park is home to alligators, Florida Key deer, black bear, red wolf, and flamingos. However, the most famous resident of them all is Florida’s oldest hippopotamus in captivity, Lu, who is over 60 years old.

Silver Springs

Another one of Florida’s beautiful springs, Silver Springs is located just east of Ocala. The crystal clear waters make it easier to spot some manatees in the wild. Taking an excursion on one of the glass bottom boats is one of the best ways to see the manatees as they graze on the grass below or come up to the surface for air.

As you’re on the boat, don’t only watch for manatees but look up in the trees too. This park is home to wild monkeys that can been seen in the swampy areas. The monkeys aren’t native to the area but were imported at some point.

You can also rent your own kayak and go searching for manatees at your own pace. Swimming is not permitted in the springs as of now, so the best options to explore this area is boating, kayaking or watching for manatees from land. If you’re visiting Orlando, it’s one of the best springs to visit for a day trip to see manatees.

Desoto Park, Satellite Beach

Desoto Park in Satellite Beach is actually a very small park but its known for the hundreds of manatees that gather into the small canal alongside the park each year. For a canal so small, there are hundreds of manatees that pile into the canal on a cold winter day.

You will see the manatees sleeping, swimming, and eating the plants on the sides of the canal. Since the canal is so shallow, the manatees are very visible from the park area.

Manatee Viewing Center, Apollo Beach

The TECO Manatee Viewing Center was created as a result of the Tampa Electric power station. The station circulates water from Tampa Bay for cooling and sends the warm water back into the bay which attracts the manatees during the winter months.

Since so many manatees were gathering, the Manatee Viewing Center was built to be able to see these gentle giants. The discharge, warm water canal is a state and federal designated area as a manatee sanctuary so the water is kept clean and safe for the manatees.

The viewing area has a pier-like structure that goes out on the water to be able to look out into the water. Since the manatees only seek out the warmer water in the colder months, the viewing center is open from November 1 to April 15th for the season. There are also interactive displays and exhibits to teach visitors about the manatees. So, if you’re visiting the area, this is one of the best things to do in Tampa and a free activity perfect for the whole family.

Manatee Lagoon, West Palm Beach

A visit to this Manatee Lagoon, an FPL Eco-Discovery Center, is a fun way to learn more about the manatees. Take a walk around all of their exhibits, from learning about Lake Worth Lagoon to learning about why manatees are an endangered species. The large exhibit space, interactive and observation areas are on two levels of the building with a lot to discover.

The center is open every day of the year during manatee season which begins on November 15th and runs through March 31st, except for holidays. During the off season, the center is closed on Mondays. The admission and parking are free including other amenities like the picnic area and shaded canopies. Make a stop by the gift shop where you can pick up a manatee souvenir and treat yourself to some ice cream.

This lagoon is similar to that of the TECO Manatee Viewing Center in that it attracts the manatees because of the warm water discharge from the Clean Energy Center. You can take a look if any manatees are enjoying the warm water of the area on their underwater manatee cam.

Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park

This peaceful, 6,000 acre wildlife sanctuary is located south of Tallahassee in Florida’s Big Bend. Watch for manatees, alligators, and a wide range of other diverse wildlife as you boat along. The springs stay around 70 degrees year round which makes the springs one of the best places to see manatees in Florida.

With a 20-foot diving platform sitting at the edge of the springs, it is one of the most popular spots in the springs park. Even if you don’t plan on diving, it is still worth a climb since it gives way to beautiful views of the springs and possible manatees.

One of the most unique parts of this state park is that it was part of the Tarzan films. Since then, it has stayed authentically preserved as a gem of natural beauty of the Florida springs.

If you choose to stay in the area, the Wakulla Springs Lodge is a historic Spanish hotel that is surrounded by the pristine beauty. Marvel at the craftsmanship from decades ago where the marble, granite and cypress wood were used to perfectly create a timeless and grand hotel.

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge

Along Florida’s Space Coast on the east coast of the Sunshine State, is the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. From the area where you can see the rockets, you can also see the manatees swimming.

The refuge is situated on the Indian River Lagoon which attracts a large amount of manatees. It stretches about 156 miles long between mainland Florida and a barrier island. Besides manatees, there are high chances of seeing dolphins while visiting the refuge and if you stay into the late evening, the Indian River Lagoon is one of the top places in Florida to see bioluminescence.

Stop by the Manatee Cove Park where the shallow water and abundance of sea grasses makes it the perfect place to watch for manatees. Another great place for viewing is the Manatee Observation Deck that provides a good platform for viewing the water.


While spotting a manatee in the wild is an incredible experience, one of the most popular theme parks in Orlando Florida has a manatee exhibit.

The exhibit is part of their rehabilitation program that nurses injured or malnourished manatees back to health. As manatees keep starving from the lack of seagrass due to pollution and other factors, there are more and more manatees that need rehabilitation. Another way that manatees get injured is by getting hit with boat propellers that give them deep wounds.

So, while you view the manatee exhibit, you can learn more about the efforts being made to help these mammals and some actions we can all take to help.

Lee County Manatee Park

To view manatees at Lee County Manatee Park, visit from November to March. The manatees migrate to the warm waters of the park. With over 17 acres it is a wonderful place to spend a day trip as a family.

Parking costs $5 per day and once you enter the park, you will find viewing areas with telescopes, picnic shelters, and nature trail through plant and butterfly gardens. Rent some kayaks to explore on your own, or take a guided kayak tour to learn more about the area.

The Keys

Winter time is when manatee sightings in the Keys are more probable. Since the water in the Keys tends to be warmer, the manatees make their way south in the colder months.

While you won’t see them as much out in the open, if you are near canals, then be on a lookout. If you’re making the drive from Miami to Key West, then be sure to watch for them as you make your stops.

Some places in the Keys that have a higher chance of spotting this sea cow are the John Pennekamp State Park, Cow Key Marina, and the Dry Tortugas National Park.