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Guaranteed Florida manatee sightings

Manatee, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida (Scarborough photo)If you are anywhere near Florida or are planning to visit soon, you’re in luck.

November to March is the best time to see (in the wild) the large, gray aquatic mammal known as the manatee.

The “Save the Manatee” organization suggests several Florida spots for best viewing, but what if you plan to visit the state between April and October, maybe on summer vacation?

Try Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, located in the aptly-named Citrus County on Florida’s western coast, about 75 miles north of Tampa/St. Petersburg.

Weather permitting, a short boat tour along Pepper Creek takes you from the Visitor’s Center to the park entrance. A Ranger-led manatee education program three times a day introduces visitors to the rehabilitated manatees that live year-round in the park’s springs.

Bird trail flamingos at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, Florida (Scarborough photo)

A big winner with families is the Fish Bowl, a submerged viewing bubble.

Visitors can look out through large windows into the spring and watch the manatees and other wildlife swimming around.

Homosassa also has extensive birding trails (lots of lovely pink flamingos and owls) plus black bears, bobcats, white-tailed deer, Key deer, American alligators, American crocodiles and river otters.

A walking trail through the animal enclosures is stroller-friendly.

  • Wildlife Encounters: 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m.
  • Manatee Programs: 11:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
  • Alligator/Hippopotamus Program at 12:30 p.m.

Fruit stand bounty near Crystal River, Florida (Scarborough photo)

There are many special events in 2008, including birding walks, a birthday party for the popular local hippo, an Easter Egg Hunt and a spring gardening workshop.

An extensive Educator’s Guide to the Manatee helps with the details, if you and the kids want to brush up before you go.

Nearby is the Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge (accessible by boat) where you can see manatees in the wild.

If you’d like a guided tour there, check with Adventure Outpost based in pretty High Springs, FL, near Gainesville. They often run family-friendly manatee tours to the Crystal River area.

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