Of the 171 Florida state parks, Homosassa Springs is the only wildlife park in the state, and it is a favorite for our family. This park is a native wildlife rehabilitation haven that sits just off of highway U.S. 19. As you enter the Wildlife Visitor Center you are greeted with a small shop featuring baked goods, a gift store, and a lot of educational displays. Once you’ve perused the visitor center you have the choice of a 20 minute pontoon boat ride or a 10 minute tram ride over to the park. Our family always opts for the boat ride because of the beautiful scenery and for the park volunteers who operate the boats, they are extremely knowledgeable and lively. The boat and tram operators provide a lot of information about the park, the land, and the native species that reside there; they are also apt to throwing out some solid wildlife jokes as well. We have often spotted turtles, fish, and birds on the boat rides, which our son loves seeing in such a natural setting.
Once you have arrived at the park site you will find the Wildside Cafe and gift shop. This is also where you pay your entrance fee to go into the park and see the animals. By the time we’ve reached this point we feel that we have already had such an experience on the boat that the admission prices feel more than reasonable.
Homosassa Springs is a rehabilitation park, meaning all of the animals are there due to their inability to survive on their own in the wild. The 200 acre park is home to over 50 native species, and Lu the hippopotamus.
The most popular draw for the park is the manatees, which can be seen every day of the year in the main spring. The park features an underwater observatory for up close viewing and there are three manatee programs daily. During the programs the park volunteers will feed the manatees and give information about the seasonal habits of these interesting animals. This portion of the experience is a favorite for everyone in our family. If the manatees are not close to the underwater observatory they can been seen in several other areas throughout the park. It is a wonderful experience to see them clustered together in their natural habitat.
Lu, the 6,000 pound Nile Hippopotamus, is also a visitor favorite! He was a resident of the park prior to it becoming a state park and was the only non-native animal to stay at the park permanently. Lu is so loved that he has been named an honorary citizen of Florida. If you are around for the hippo encounter program you will have the opportunity to witness him being fed large amounts of fruit! But beware: Lu is known to shake his tail and splatter his poo on occasion, so don’t get too close! Kids and adults alike seem to get quite the giggle as they heed this warning. Lu is having his 56th birthday party at the park in 2015. You can check the park website, or Lu’s personal Facebook page for updated information. His Facebook name is: LuTheHippopotamus.
Aside from the manatees and Lu there are several animal encounters awaiting you throughout the park. Just across from the hippopotamus enclosure you can view the american alligators, then you’ll make your way onto the Wildlife Walk where you will get up-close views of many animals including: wolves, foxes, owls, eagles, black bears, river otters, and a Florida native panther named Yuma. One of the amazing things about this park is how close you can stand to the enclosures, and that some of them are open space pens. Not having to stare through a fence to see some of the animals makes for an unusually memorable experience. Along the Wildlife Walkway you’ll also come upon the Reptile Exhibit, inside this building you’ll see an assortment of native reptiles including turtles, snakes and frogs.
Overall this park does not feel overwhelming in size, even on a hot and humid Florida day. The up close encounters and the knowledge of the staff and volunteers leave you feeling as though you have truly experienced something great. We have visited several times and enjoy each visit as much as the first.
Highlights for children:
The park features a children’s education center, providing the opportunity for hands on activities and experiences related to Florida’s environment. This center has recently undergone a makeover and now features a small green house off to the side.
Highlights for adults:
If you are a nature lover, or looking for the opportunity to photograph animals in their native setting, then this park will not disappoint. The park staff and volunteers are extremely knowledgeable and seem eager to answer questions and educate those interested on the animals.
Tips for your visit:
The park is open 365 days a year.
The boat rides run every 20 minutes to and from the visitor center.
The tram rides run every 10 minutes to and from the visitor center.
Both modes of transportation are handicap accessible.
There are two gift shops, one at the Visitor Center and the other at the park entrance.
The Wildside Cafe’s menu has a number of options including fresh deli sandwiches, wraps, burgers, chicken entrees, hot dogs, pizza, and snacks. There is no posted policy on bringing your own food into the park, and often visitors are seen picnicking or eating their pre-packed lunches inside of the cafe.
Make it Brainy:
If native Florida plants and animals are on your educational agenda, there is a plethora of opportunity to make this visit a learning experience. Starting out in the Visitor Center you can view a short video on the history of the park and the native species. Throughout the park you’ll find descriptions of each animal species. You can also print off the simple animal scavenger hunt I created for our trips to the park. Grab the printable and a pencil, and you are set for a brainy experience!
Date of visit: 1/10/2015
Venue: Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs State Wildlife Park
Street address: 4150 S. Suncoast Boulevard Homosassa, Florida 34446
Phone number: (352) 628-5343
General admission price: $13.00 per adult, $5.00 per child (6-12)
Christina Cancel is a Florida native who resides in Central Florida with her husband and their child. She has a passion for turning fun experiences into educational opportunities. Christina is an educator with eight years of classroom experience and was voted the Teacher of the Year for the 2013-2014 school year. She currently homeschools her son and documents their journeys on her education blog at Classroom to Homeroom. Christina also continues to work as an independent educator and a description of her services can be found at at Central FL Home Education Services.