Birds and gators and manatees, oh my! - Wakulla Springs State Park
It has been way too long since we wrote our last blog, and I’ve been looking forward to writing about our trip to Wakulla Springs State Park. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to enjoy all the park has to offer, but we really enjoyed our trip, and we recommend that you check it out on one of your trips to St. George Island!
In our most recent trip to the island in September, we decided early on that we were going to go to Wakulla Springs on the way to SGI from the airport. This time we flew into Jacksonville and made the drive toward Wakulla Springs and SGI. I suggest you consider going to Wakulla Springs on your way to or home from the island because it is about an hour and 20 minute drive from the bridge on St. George Island (and farther if you’re coming from the Plantation or East End). It had already been a long day, but we arrived at the park about 3:00 pm. It was a warm, sunny day and very busy for a Saturday in the middle of September.
We immediately went to purchase our tickets for the river boat cruise. Unfortunately, we just missed catching the 3:00 tour, so we purchased tickets for the 4:00 tour (tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for kids 3-12). Tickets are always on a first-come, first-served basis. While we waited for the tour to begin, we explored the area starting with the visitors center where you can learn a lot about the history of the park.
Near the boat tour and visitors center, there is a large shaded beach where you can swim in the spring. There are two sunbathing decks as well as a 22 foot dive/observation tower. The water is a cool 69 degrees year round (i.e. colder than the Gulf of Mexico in December on St. George Island). That didn’t stop many people from swimming in the water and jumping off the platform. There was a long line to make the 22-foot jump, and if you’re feeling the need for a rush, make sure you don’t skip the platform!
We walked over to the lodge next to see “Old Joe,” an 11-foot stuffed alligator that roamed Wakulla Springs until 1966 when a poacher killed him.
The lobby of the lodge was an unexpected surprise. It’s actually very nice and not something that you’d expect in rural North Florida or inside of a state park.
There is also a gift shop that our kids enjoyed looking around in and an original soda fountain where you can get drinks, snacks or ice cream.
There are also hiking trails around the park, including a trail to Cherokee Sink, an 80-foot deep sinkhole lake. The trail is on the west side of the road opposite the main entrance to the park and is a 1.4 mile trail. The best time to hike the trail is in March when the crabapple and dogwoods are in bloom.
The real highlight of our visit to Wakulla Springs, though, was our river boat tour. Our guide was a younger park ranger, but it was apparent that she knew a lot about the springs. Unfortunately, we did not see any manatees on our boat tour (the best time of year to see the manatees is October – January), but we did see a lot of other wildlife. The park rangers around Wakulla Springs describe the area as a “birdwatchers paradise.” Our tour had many birdwatchers, and they were clearly impressed with all of the birds on the trip. We saw many cool birds and turtles as well.
Our family enjoyed finding the alligators the best though. We saw more than a dozen alligators on our tour. There were some big ones and small ones, and some came very close to the boat! We were really surprised to find out from our guide, though, that the alligators never enter the swimming area when it is open. They will leave the swimming area around 8:00 am before the park opens and return to swim around sunset after the park closes. Those gators are smart!
Overall, we had a great time at Wakulla Springs. We would recommend going in the peak season for viewing manatees (which is now!). Please check out their website to find out more details about the park and the activities in the area. Wakulla Springs State Park is a place that the whole family can enjoy. Go check it out! Have you been to Wakulla Springs? Did you get to see the manatees? Tell us about it in the comment section below.