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1/22/18 – 1/28/18 Manatee Springs State Park, Chiefland, FL.

Site 62 W/E;

Quiet campground with manatees, vultures, alligators, otters, herons, egrets, snakes, deer, wild hogs, turtles, and Rhesus monkeys. Two miles to easy public golf course. Cedar Key and many Suwanne River access points and wildlife sanctuaries nearby. Dirt and paved bike trails available.


Bath facilities are showing their age. Curtains only for showers, not much space and nary a spot to hang your clothes or towels. I'd rate them minimally acceptable. Camp hosts keep up on the cleaning though.

The road into our site loop is narrow, sand, and uneven, making for a slow and bumpy ride. Our site was wide, long for a “35 foot” site, and very flat. While setting up a small deer came right to the edge of our site, perhaps no more than 10 feet from Sandy. Looked to me that it was not only used to people, but perhaps looking for a hand out. All things considered, including the things to do at the campground and the wildlife opportunities, I'd still rate this campground high.

Our site.

Sandy instructed me to pose while I was setting up the site and a deer watched me.

My campground ratings (on a 1-10 scale):

Site: 8 – Flat and wide – average distance to neighbors – a shout away on either side but no one in front or behind.

General campground condition: 6 – camp loop road uneven and bumpy, one tight corner.

Facilities: 7 - Adequate, but showers don't have hooks for hanging clothes.

Wildlife: 10 – manatees!, deer, wild hogs, etc.

Attractions in and near the park: 9 – canoeing/kayaking and swimming at the spring in the park with access to the Suwanee River; Cedar Key and the coast nearby.

Wifi / cell coverage: 1 (no web access, spotty cell phone coverage)

Friendly staff greeted us at the park gate. They gave us many recommendations on things to do and gave us maps to help. Half way to the campground, a mile away, we encountered our first wild hog. He ran towards the road in front of us, saw us, did a 180, and headed back in the direction he came. Really cool! We were later told by camp neighbors that they saw a mother with seven babies in tow at their site.

The springs is a very worthwhile visit and is a short walk from the campground. There is a food concession and canoe, kayak, and even a pontoon rentals. They also rent snorkel gear. There is a boardwalk around the spring and two sets of steps leading right into the 72F degree water. The boardwalk follows the outflow of the spring to the Suwanee River and ends at a good sized platform. While there on our first day we saw too many turtles to count, an alligator mostly submerged near some weeds, a great blue heron, cormorants, anhingas, ducks, a hawk perched within 20 feet of us, a river snake sunning on a log, and many, many vultures. Deer walked in the woods and squirrels chirped at us on the boardwalk.

This is the the site of the spring. Crystal clear 72 degree water year round. There are stairs giving swimming access.

Another view of the spring.

The river that emanates from the spring (which is in the background.

Things to do:

At the park the main attraction of course is the first magnitude spring and the associated boardwalk out to the Suwanee river. Kayak and canoe rentals are available at the food concession building at the spring. There is a 1 mile hiking and biking trail at the park and a 31.7 mile rail trail bike trail called the Nature Coast State Trail.

Every day, mostly late afternoons, we walked the boardwalk along the spring and the river.

The boardwalk.

Cyprus offshoots (I think they're called knees).

Sandy with her binoculars.

This late afternoon we saw several deer in the forest from the boardwalk.

More sights along the boardwalk and the pier at the end of it:

Great Blue Heron on the hunt.

Being patient.

Manatees in view from the pier.

This was a baby.

Colorful grasses in the clear river.

The clarity was really evident in the sand next to this fallen cyprus tree.

An otter swimming upstream towards the spring.

The otter.

This guy (like others we heard) was making a crying sound - unlike the squirrels up north. Sad sounding.

My favorite photo on this post!

This guy was flaunting this nut as he let me take many photos of him.

Vultures were everywhere. These roosted right on the pier on night.

I don't know. I think he was checking me out, but I kept moving.

I wouldn't have notice this until someone pointed it out.

Warming up in the afternoon sun.

This is the view from the pier. Vultures filled the trees - and a few egrets - every afternoon.

This alligator sat just off the little island in the previous photo for a couple days without moving.

Belted kingfisher.

Golf. Within 2 miles of the park is an 18 hole public golf course. $25 got me 18 holes with a cart on a week day! Pay the fee and go to the first hole. No tee times required. Fairways are ample and mostly straight. One water hazard. The course has a 117 slope rating from the whites. There is very little to do in the nearest town of Chiefland. Restaurants are few and simple. Besides the park itself, it's proximity to Cedar Key and Wildlife Refuges mentioned here and with access to the River that offer recreation options.

Cedar Key

Small sea-side village with one foot in 1850's and the other trying to be a resort town. Quaint old buildings on the main street 2nd Street, including the oldest building that houses a hotel and what appears to be the only “fine dining” restaurant, the Island Hotel (originators of the Heart of Palm Salad). We opted for a casual lunch on the waterfront at Steamers. The soft shell crab sandwich was a mixed bag. Extremely small crab with nothing on it within the ciabatta roll. However, as much as I wanted to hate it, the crab was actually excellent and the sandwich was a fair $11. Three or more other restaurants lined the shore along with the marina and all of them were rustic casual. More like beach bars to me.

Restaurants line the shore near the marina.

Some of the buildings are quite old and interesting. This one on 2nd Street holds an artist colony.

The oldest building and fine dining at the Island Hotel.

One more restaurant worth noting. Tony's on 2nd Street has a 4 star rating on Yelp and promotes its clam chowder. While we were standing outside a local man walking his dog told us we had to try it too. A cute little place of about a dozen tables, the menu tells the story of the clam chowder – winning the Newport Clam Chowder competition three times, which gave them special recognition and forced them to retire the recipe from the competition. Because we had already eaten we bought a quart to go (they say that you can also get it in cans in supermarkets). I was not expecting much, New England Clam chowder from Florida, but it was as good as any I've had. Probably the tenderest clams in a chowder, the perfect texture of medium thickness, creamy, heavily seasoned with herbs, and just a hint of potato. The only negative to perfection was that I thought it was heavy on the salt. But, I feel that a lot lately as I rarely use salt. Bottom line is if you have the opportunity, get some or stop in. A factoid brochure on Cedar Key says that after gill nets were banned in 1995, fishermen were trained in the art of clam raising and now Cedar Key is one of the largest producers of farm raised clams in the country.

There is a nice little park next to the marina and several boat and fishing trip rentals available along the one pier. Kayak Cedar Keys offers kayak rentals with a little over 1 mile access to Atsena Otie Key, one of the keys of the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge and the only one within a viable reach of a kayak. The island was once home to a pencil factory and a train actually ran out to the island. Hard to believe looking at the island now. There is a sand beach and a cemetery there to explore.

A stop at a pleasant park next to the marina.

Lower Suwanee National Wildlife Refuge

A 9 mile side road from SR 347 between Cedar Key and Chiefland runs parallel to and has access to the Suwanee River. There are several trails and a few boat access points (with room for parking 2 cars). The river tail looks interesting – a 1 mile loop trail with boardwalks out to the Suwanee. We stopped at a viewing platform over a small pond at mm2.3 from the south entrance. Again, room for 2 cars to park. A few steps along a boardwalk led to a very pretty and serene pond with an alligator a couple of turtles and a few different birds. We saw one small bird dive sharply into the water for a fish. It was possibly a kingfisher as we just saw one earlier in the day and it was the same size.

This small pond was on a pull off with parking for 2-3 cars. Small but serene.

Alligator pretending to be a log on the same pond.

Zoomed out, the alligator is barely noticeable.

Silver Springs

I had tried to get a campground in Silver Springs for our return trip north, but there was nothing available. I thought it too far to travel from Chiefland, but our camping neighbors from Petersham Mass (Gerry and ?) told us that they had gone to the city of Ocala the day before. Turns out Rt 27 is a straight shot to Ocala from Chiefland with 65mph Speed limit much of the way so the 50 mile trip was done in just over an hour. Sliver Springs is on the east side of Ocala. Approaching it we saw the somewhat sad remains of a wooden water park teetering over the fence of the park grounds.

The campy entrance to Silver Springs.

The parking lot looked like it would hold hundreds of cars and the large entry gate looked looked more like an amusement park than a state park. I immediately thought of Wally World from National Lampoon's Vacation. There were a couple short walks on either side of the springs. One was an elevated boardwalk loop and the other went on the northern side of the springs to the site of the filming of Sea Hunt.

Lloyd Bridges was the man! Love the mask Lloyd.

Sea Hunt Redux.

We debated the cost of taking the glass-bottom boat tour over what we could see from the trail, but no other options before heading back, we spent the $21 for two of us and boarded the boat. Once again, glad we did! Besides getting a fish eye's view of the half dozen springs that make up headwaters of the Silver River (and eventually the St Johns), and seeing fish (including a 4' gar), turtles, cormorants, anhingas, and an alligator, the biggest thrill for me was seeing the 500 year-old indian dugout canoe and the equally old Spanish rowboat. The two boats were just tens of yards apart leaving one's imagination to how they sunk!

View from the glass bottom boat.

The other interesting part of the trip was the boat captains' informative talk about the television shows and movies shot in the different springs, including Creature of the Black Lagoon, Sea Hunt, and several James Bond movies with Sean Connery and Roger Moore such as Thunderball. The Captain asked a trivia question, asking what famous actor starred in the movie Legend, which was filmed there. Yours truly knew the answer, “Tom Cruise”. There are three statutes made for Mission Impossible at the main spring that were also used as backdrop for Thunderball. The main spring is the largest single vent artesian spring in the world.

Boardwalk on one of the loop trails at Crystal River.

We were surprised to see this! And of course we kept looking up when we walked the trails.

An unfortunate palm on the trail.

Thanks for visiting our site.

Saint George Island State Park is next!

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