Manatee Springs is a first magnitude spring in Chiefland, FL that feeds into the Suwannee River. The park has about 8.5 miles of hiking trails, of which we hiked about 7, and afterwards rented a canoe and paddled out to the river. Unfortunately neither of us trusted ourselves with a camera on the river so regrettably I don’t have any pictures of that part even though it’s arguable that was where we saw the coolest stuff.
After checking out the main boardwalk that follows the spring down to the river, we located the trail head (which was weirdly difficult to find — there were no maps or anything until we had already stumbled upon the correct path) and started down the Scenic Trail.
The Scenic Trail is a self-guided tour with some numbered markers that match up with blurbs about nature in the pamphlet you pick up at the trail head, and eventually you have the option to split off from this trail onto a bigger loop. We decided to trek up to the northernmost point in the park and then come back and finish the Scenic Trail.
As it turned out, there really wasn’t much to see up there. The north trail takes you through the woods behind some houses (basically we were walking through people’s backyards), up to a swampy area and then stops at a fence by a road that leads to a boat slip where we stopped for lunch…and picked up like six ticks somehow, just sitting in the dirt by the river.
The way back was long and hot, and we couldn’t stop even for a second without being swarmed by gnats. So when we finally did make it back to the springs, it was an amazing relief to be able to go stick our feet in the cold water. We sat on the steps and relaxed for a while, and then figured we’d see what sort of rentals they had. A canoe for $20 seemed reasonable, so out on the water we went.
I hadn’t been in a canoe since I was in Girl Scouts like 15 years ago, so it took a little getting used to, but I’m happy to say that we only accidentally knocked into like two people and we did not flip the boat.
During our canoeing adventure, we saw 2 small gators lounging in the sun and one more hiding out in the water near the shore. We circled around this area two or three times, at one point narrowly avoiding running our boat directly into one of the logs that had a gator on it…that was exciting.
Apart from that, we saw at least a dozen turtles and a swimming bird that I couldn’t identify. The rental was $20 for a minimum of 2 hours, but after our hike we only had energy for like 30 minutes. Still, I feel like I got at least $20 worth of fun out of it and if you ever get up that way I would definitely recommend renting something and going out on the river.