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Posted by on Feb 21, 2010 in Featured Destinations | 3 comments

Ride to Blue Springs to Visit the Manatees

The freshwater springs that feed our rivers are among Florida’s better features. Aside from being beautiful, sparkling, blue-green ribbons of water in the forest, they run a consistent temperature year round. In summer, the 72° water is a human playground and refuge from the heat. In winter, it offers manatees refuge from the cold. This has been a brutal winter for Florida manatees.

Blue Springs State Park (Wikipedia) in Orange City is a winter home to hundreds of the friendly sea cows, and a major eco-attraction in Central Florida. The headspring dumps over a million gallons of water into a half-mile, crystal-clear run that feeds the St. Johns River.

We often ride up there in summer. It’s a fun destination for a distance ride because you can cool your core temp in the spring before heading home. From Orlando, it’s a little over 70 miles round trip. LisaB and I and our friend Cindy took advantage of the perfect weather and rode to Blue Springs State Park today. Here’s the route.

I actually took this one the way out, the line was just as long as when we arrived.

Because of the park’s popularity in manatee season, it fills up early and there is a long queue and wait for motorists to enter.

The rangers give each driver the option of waiting along the dirt road on the other side of the entrance (30 – 40 minutes) or turning around and returning another time.

Since the determination is not made by the number of people, but by the car parking spaces, we hoped they would let us in.

There’s no way to pass the queue since the lanes are very narrow, so we just waited in line and slowly advanced as each motorist was informed of the situation. As we were approaching the back of the queue, a car passed us (within about 30ft of the last car). Must pass the cyclists. Whatever, we didn’t get upset about it. But after several minutes of waiting, his conscience must have gotten the best of him. He stuck his head out the window and apologized for passing us. He didn’t realize that was the end of the line. He said, “I’m so sorry, that was really rude.”

It pays to go by bike

At the front of the line, we asked if there was bike parking available. The ranger asked his coworker, who said it was fine to let us in. Woohoo!

Ours were the only bikes at the racks.

The manatees didn’t disappoint. It’s been warm for a few days so there weren’t dozens of them huddled in the spring (I’ve been to the park when it was like that). But we saw about 10 while we were there. Most of them were on the move from one end of the spring run to the other.

The white marks are scars from boat propellers. Most adults have those.

This guy had a little buddy. The fish might have been eating algae off the manatee’s skin.

Unlike our summer rides, the return trip wasn’t a sweltering suffer-fest. It was a gorgeous day in the mid 70s. We used a slightly different route to take advantage of the Seminole Wekiva Trail. We also used Shell Rd. to skip a few miles of the highway. U.S. 17-92 isn’t a horrible road to ride on, but the traffic noise wears me out after a while. I’m very much looking forward to the completion of the Spring-to-Spring Trail as a peaceful option.

Bonus attractions

As we headed down International Parkway Blvd. We came upon the Lake Mary Criterium. I’d forgotten about that. We stopped and watched a few laps of the CAT 3 race. They were moving way too fast for my camera :-)

Not far beyond the race, we encountered a couple Sandhill cranes.

After a short visit with the cranes, we headed to Panera for a snack. The Panera on the Seminole Wekiva Trail sees a LOT of bike traffic. The bike racks are always overflowing. Dining destinations are a good motivator!

The trail was crowded, too, but we were in no rush.

Route stuff

Outbound on a Sunday morning, I tend to use the most direct route. Roads that are normally busy or intimidating have very little traffic on a Sunday morning. Coming back, the route ends up being a little longer because I detour to find quieter roads (and shade in the summer).

Click to enlarge.

Coming back through Altamonte, we explored a traffic-avoidance route that I’ve given to a few people, but never used myself. I’ve never much cared for Oranole Rd. It should be easy to ride on, but it’s a cut-thru so the motorists who use it can be jerks.

The old route was Broadview to Mt Vernon to Oranole. The new route (shown right) is slightly longer, but much more peaceful. I always enjoy checking out new neighborhoods.

Once into Maitland, I feel like I’m almost home. The route from Maitland to Audubon park is one of my favorites. It’s just so simple and low key (even at peak traffic times).

My legs feel great! I’m pleased that I can get on a bike and ride 72 miles without pain and feeling strong at the end, even though I typically ride no more than 10 miles a day. I have a lot of years of regular distance riding in me, but I think the regular use of the bike for transportation really helps with that.

Blue Springs is a great bike destination if you’re looking for a place to go on a distance ride. I have few other variations on the route linked above that allow you to avoid more of U.S. 17-92. They all add a few more miles, but sometimes that’s worth it. If you want to try it, feel free to contact me for specifics.

3 Comments

  1. The family and I biked into Blue Springs State park a few weeks ago. We parked outside the park at Lake Beresford Park and rode the Spring to Spring Trail to the park entrance. The 3 mile section of the Spring to Spring Trail is a beautiful, gently rolling, peaceful delight. At the end of the trail the law enforcement was very friendly and waved us straight past the line of cars.

    Interestingly enough, I thought the accommodations for cyclists in Blue Springs State Park were terrible. From reading this and other blogs perhaps my expectations were too high. Still, this is a park. At the gate we paid the regular entrance fee plus the small penalty for not entering by motor vehicle. The transaction wasn’t very friendly and I got no help on the best route to take on the bikes but I suppose if I had to deal with grumpy drivers all day I might not be too friendly either.

    It is about a mile down to the manatees and we went slow with the kids. There is a long sweeping blind curve and the motorists were pretty aggressive after their long wait at the gate. All cars, trucks and even a tour bus made unsafe passes without slowing down. Had someone been coming the other way there would have been a choice between a head on or turning into us.

    The car park at the bottom was soup and not a fun place to be with kids on bikes. I asked a ranger where to put the bikes and he pointed us to walk down the path that said “no bikes”. Two steps past that sign another ranger started yelling at us about how we can’t read signs. I asked about bike racks and the response was “We had some but had to remove them”. We ended up being able to lock up on a light aluminum railing located behind a different “no bikes” sign. On the way out the drivers were much calmer than on the way in.

    Looking past the crowds the spring is amazing. In addition to the manatees we found the masses of large fish parked in the spring water quite fascinating. That said, I wish we had just stayed on the relaxing Spring to Spring Trail and skipped the whole rat race in the park.

    • Jayeson,

      I’ve had similar frustrations in the park. State Parks I’ve been to in other states don’t charge admission to cyclists. I’d like to see that change here, or at least not charge full admission.

      I’ve had a few run-ins over the bike parking situation. The only racks are in the upper lot. When we’ve gone there with group rides, the club cyclists don’t have locks, or have flimsy just-a-minute locks. Most aren’t comfortable leaving $3000 bikes in a parking lot full of pick-up trucks. A few times, we’ve taken the bikes down and locked them to the fence you described. I have a rack on my road bike and carry a u-lock, so the parking lot racks don’t bother me as much.

      We didn’t have any trouble on the road in or out, but coming in we were riding pretty fast since it was downhill. No one passed us. On the way out, motorists waited patiently until the sight-lines were sufficient to pass.

      I’m not sure where the southbound phase of the trail is going to go, but hopefully it will go through the park and bypass that road for families with kids.

      I haven’t had a chance to ride the new trail to Beresford yet. One of these days. Some friends used it as part of a route I helped plan for a pancake ride to DeLeon, but I couldn’t make that ride. They said it was really nice.

  2. Hmmm, I think this is very doable. Must.start.riding.regularly.again. I’ve been spinning several days a week since the first of the year. Hey, it’s a cardio workout and I feed off the energy of group exercise, LOL. But even better is that it’s helping me get my cycling legs back quickly after so much time off the bike (over a decade! gah!).