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Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park

 

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park was a surprise for me - a pleasant one, I might add! I've driven by the park entrance on State Road 19 many, many times but had never stopped.

This time when I was in Homosassa Springs, I stopped to take a look.

Am I ever glad that I did! It was much more than I expected, even more than I had hoped for.

Let's take a look at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Flamingo at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State ParkFirst, a Little History

Since this park is quite different from any Florida state park I have visited thus far, I figured I had better find out a little bit about it, and how it came to be part state park and part attraction.

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park had originally been a "tourist trap", competing with nearby Weeki Wachee Springs for visitors.

Do you remember the tv animal stars "Gentle Ben" and "Clarence the Cross eyed Lion"? They made guest appearances at the park.

Animals from all over came to stay at the park. From hippos to bears to birds to gators, they were here.

But the attraction was falling on hard times, and that's when the State of Florida stepped in. You see, there was some good value in the wildlife, and in the springs themselves. Not to mention it was a way to protect the manatees that wandered in from the river.

Thus Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park was born on January 1, 1989.

What is There to Do at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park?

While naturally the wildlife is number one on the list, you can also do the following:

  • Boat tour
  • Picnic/Dining
  • Shopping
  • Nature Trail
  • Wildlife encounter programs
  • Visit the "fishbowl"
Float on Down

Pepper Creek, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State ParkThe most popular thing is to buy a ticket to float down approximately a mile down Pepper Creek. It's calm and quiet, and the guide tells you a little bit about the area.

Now here's the real reason for the boat ride -- there are two entrances to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, and the boat ride connects the two parts of the park!

The big (East) entrance and Visitor's Center is on State Road 19 in Homosassa Springs. It's on the west side of State Road 19 and extremely hard to miss. The smaller entrance is on Fishbowl Drive, and it's the entrance where all the action happens (so to speak).

When you enter the Visitor Center from State Road 19, here is what you get: a very large gift shop, a restaurant and lines for the boat rides! Go ahead, get in line -- it actually goes pretty fast, since the boats run continuously. And if you prefer to stay on dry land, there is a tram that can take you to the park's West entrance.

To Picnic or to Dine?

My vote is to dine, since there is a large restaurant and ice cream shop at the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park east entrance. It's casual and looks out on Pepper Creek. Actually "dining" is a little overstating it - foods that you would normally associate with a park are here. You know, hot dogs, pretzels, chips, sodas and the like. But if you are hungry, it's the best bet going inside the park.

There is a snack stand on the park's west side, but it's much smaller and less appealing (it overlooks the road).

Shopping

Shopping? In Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park? Yep, shopping.

The gift shop at the east entrance is very large and has a multitude of items. From hats and t-shirts to gold jewelry and Swarovski crystal, there is lots to browse.

Yes, they do have some high-end items -- they advertise a lay-away policy!

There is also artwork for sale, hanging on the wall outside the gift shop. It looks to be reasonably priced for original art. There were a few pieces that I would have loved to bring home, if they'd have matched my loving room colors.

Nature Trail

Once you get into the west entrance of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park there is a boardwalk around the springs and the wildlife area. Take a nice stroll down to the springs and you'll probably see manatees basking in the water. It's cool and shady down by the springs, and there are benches if you'd like to stay awhile.

When you are done with the springs, mosey on over to the wildlife area. All of the exhibits except one are animals native to Florida. The exception is Lucifer the Hippo, a retired animal actor. He's been on display since before the time that Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park was created (when it was just a roadside attraction). When the State of Florida took over the park in 1989, residents wrote thousands of letters to the Governor, asking that Lucifer stay at the park (so he did).

Outside of the African hippo and manatees, what other wildlife inhabits the park? I saw the following:

  • Bobcats
  • Florida Panther
  • Key Deer
  • Alligators
  • Glossy Ibis
  • Flamingoes
  • Roseate Spoonbills
  • Herons
  • Otters
  • Florida Black Bears
  • Hawks
  • Owls
  • Bald Eagles

I'm going from memory here -- I know there is more than just the animals I listed above, but these are just the ones that stick in my mind.

Hey, do you want to see more pictures of some of the wildlife on display at the park? Visit the photo gallery!

Encounter Programs

There are three encounter programs in the park. They are:

  • Wildlife Encounter - held at 10:30 AM and 2:30 PM
  • Manatee Program - held at 11:30 AM, 1:30 PM and 3:30 PM
  • Hippo and Alligator Program - Held at 12:30 PM

All are held in the west entrance side of Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.

Life in a Fishbowl

One thing my husband drooled over was the "Fishbowl".

At the south end of the springs, there is an underwater observatory, where you can see the fish and manatees from a new perspective. And there was plenty to see!

We saw at least a hundred snook, redfish, jacks, snappers and sheepshead for fish, and of course the two manatees. My husband was drooling because he is an avid fisherman and all of the fish we saw (except for the jacks) are good to eat! He was dying to find a fishing pole somewhere, but sadly (for him) fishing is not allowed.

Definitely visit the fishbowl -- everyone that was down there with us was awed at the amount and kinds of fish.

Time and Place

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is open every day from 9:00 AM to 5:30 PM. The entrance fee is $9.00 which includes the boat and/or tram ride.

The last tickets are sold at 4:00 PM at the west entrance -- the boats and trams stop around 4 PM as well.

Florida Pieces-Parts

Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is located in Homosassa Springs, on State Road 19 (the main north/south road through town). The nearest airports are Tampa and Orlando. The official park address is 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd., Homosassa, FL 34446. The park's phone number is (352) 628-5343.

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