Monday, April 13, 2015

Homosassa Springs State Park

Fred and I ignored the threat of Florida's afternoon thunderstorms yesterday to drive 40 miles west of Ocala to Homosassa Springs State Park.
Once a Zoo for exotic animals, since 1989 Homosassa Springs is a Florida State Park and celebrates Florida's natural inhabitants.

We parked at the Route 19 entrance and took a tram into the park.

We wanted to see the manatees first so walked over the bridge to the viewing platform. There is also and underwater viewing station in the Spring but yesterday they were happy to float in the warmer shallow waters near the bridge. They are such peaceful creatures. It was fun to see them nibbling at the vegetation and scratching their backs by rolling over and rubbing themselves on the rocks.

The Park is home to 4 resident manatees.
The spring water is so clear that you can see the manatees and fish clearly.

Turtles on the Pepper Creek
The spring at Homosassa have been a tourist attraction since the early 1900s, when trains stopped to let passengers off to walk the short trail to the first-magnitude spring.
It has been through several owners and name changes. The 1940's new it as a small tourist attraction.
1964 found it owned and operated by the Norris Development Company with an emphasis on wild animals and training them as actors for television shows and movies. Famous residents were on of the bears that played Gentle Ben and Lu the Hippopotamus that was featured in the movie and children's TV series Daktari.

Lu the Hippopotamus who likes to eat bananas with their peels still on.
Barn Owl
The park was eventually purchased by the state of Florida and all of the exotic animals except one were rehomed.  Lu is still a resident of the park.   He is so well loved by the local residents and visitors that by special decree Lu was made an honorary Florida citizen. The State has pledged to let the hippopotamus live out his days in a familiar environment.
Animal welfare is very important  at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.
Homosassa Springs is  home to 4 resident manatees. Dozens of others flock to the park in cold weather to enjoy the relatively warmer water of the 72 degree spring.

Blue Heron

A Wildlife Walk exhibits bobcats, cougars, otters, bears, turtles and hundreds of birds in a natural environment.
We enjoyed looking at the birds.  There were Flamingo, Pelican (both white and brown), Wood Stork, Swans, Anhinga, Owl, Bald Eagle and a variety of shore birds.
Great Blue Heron nested in the tall pines and noisy Sand Hill Cranes swooped overhead like Pterodactyl.

Flamingo feeding in the shallows
This curious creature was in the shorebird aviary.
The park also has a reptile house that exhibits snakes that are native to Florida.  I don't intend to run across any of them but it was helpful the learn their markings just in case.

American Alligators

Fred especially enjoyed watching the alligators.
He also spent a long time talking to the Florida Panther as it twitched it's tail and purred back at him lake a large housecat.

We returned to the parking area via a 20 minute boat ride along the Pepper Creek with a  friendly pilot named John. He pointed out a huge Osprey nest in one of the tallest trees and turtles basking on rocks and logs. We also caught a glimpse of a Pileated Woodpecker and a few colorful Wood Ducks. 

Wood Duck

John also told us stories of the old park when Gibbons ran wild on an island along the Pepper Creek and boarded the boats to steal snacks and personal items from unsuspecting tourists.   Thankfully the Gibbons were rehomed with the rest of the exotic non-native animals.
It was a pleasure to see butterfly's and dragonflies all over the park. The butterfly's seemed to particularly enjoy the Lantana that was growing everywhere.

Monarch Butterfly
 There were also many small lizard type creatures. Black ones and green ones were common. We especially enjoyed this red headed guy that we saw under a honeysuckle bush near the boat dock.
Broad Headed Skink

Homosassa Springs State Park was delightful. It is very family oriented and easily accessible to those using wheeled carriers for transportation.  There are Wildlife Encounter Programs and a Children's Education Center in addition to the Nature Walk that we enjoyed. To see more photos of this adventure visit our Flickr Photo Stream

Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
4150 South Suncoast Blvd.
Homosassa, Florida
(352) 628-5343


  1. Homosassa is one park we have been by, but never have gone to. We will have to check it out, Bonnie. We always say the traffic starts on 19 from that point southward. We want to spend some time in that area and really check it out. You've really shown some great finds in your recent posts! :)

    Diana's dad was the GC super on the Central Florida campus in Lecanto in the late 80's. Back then, Lecanto was a couple of houses and a gas station. My, oh has grown!


    1. We have been so pleasantly surprised by the Florida State Park system. We have decided that If we Winter in Florida again we will by a years Family Pass.