On a recent trip down to Tampa, I decided to take the more leisurely and scenic route along Highway 98 to visit some of the state parks along this stretch and made my first stop at Fanning Springs State Park. Temperatures were hovering near 70 degrees and skies were overcast when I pulled into the park a little after noon on a Saturday. There were only a couple of other cars in the parking lot so I felt like I had the whole place to myself.
The main spring is located just a few yards away from the parking lot so I headed down to survey the area and snap some photos. Several Live Oaks adorned with Spanish Moss reached out over the azure waters giving it a bit of an ethereal feel. This area is cordoned off as a swimming area complete with a diving platform near the deepest part of the pool. The clarity of the water was perfect today and you could see all the way to the bottom.
The spring was alive with fish, but no manatees on this visit. I left the swimming area and floating dock and headed along the 200′ boardwalk toward the Suwannee River overlook, passing several seep springs along the way and one boisterous Gray squirrel. Across the river is a public boat ramp that seemed to be quite popular with the locals and made me contemplate a future kayaking trip.
It’s worth nothing that the park offers primitive camping for a fee to kayakers, hikers and bicyclists. This park also boasts a .75 mile nature trail, but I skipped it so I could head on to another nearby state park, Manatee Springs, located about 14 miles south near Chiefland, Florida. After a few minutes of driving I turned off of Hwy 98 onto 115th St. and arrived shortly thereafter at Manatee Springs State Park.
Right away I knew I’d discovered something special. I stopped my truck in order to take photos of three deer that were crossing the road and had then stopped to graze, showing no fear of my presence. I snapped a few more pictures and started my truck up again to continue on. I passed two camping areas on my way to a spacious parking area nestled near the banks of Manatee Spring Run. The parking lot was bustling, but I didn’t have any problems finding a spot to park. I discovered a bit later that a scuba diving event was going on, hence the full parking lot.
The park itself is quite beautiful. A boardwalk stretches from the main spring, along the spring run and through a cypress swamp and terminates at a covered fishing dock on the Suwannee River. Again, it was my lucky day because I spotted a mother Manatee and calf relaxing at the entrance to the spring run. Luckily for them, they were in the protected sanctuary area and not on the river because a high speed boat sped past at about the same time I spotted them. I wish people would slow down.
As I headed back along the boardwalk to the spring head, a bald eagle soared past. I’m convinced they only do this after they see that I’ve put the lens cap back on my camera. I doglegged to a couple of overlooks along the boardwalk and observed a large bass swimming lazily behind a log looking to ambush prey. I briefly wished for my fishing pole, but the no fishing sign would’ve put a damper on that idea just the same.
I continued on, noticing epiphytes (air plants) hanging from several of the trees. Fall was in full swing here in Florida, but I couldn’t help wondering how rich and vibrant things would be in the spring. Perhaps a return trip would find its way onto my schedule. After a short walk I arrived at the head spring and noticed a large group of scuba divers in and around the water. For the first time I wished I’d brought my wetsuit with me. My snorkeling equipment was in the car, but alas, there would be no time for exploring the underwater realm on this trip. Too soon I was back in the car to complete the last leg of my journey but I definitely intend to give this park a second look in the future.