Meet a manatee face-to-face without even getting wet at Florida’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Underwater viewing stations allow visitors to see the manatees—and fish they swim with—up close and personal at this showcase for Florida’s native wildlife.
Homosassa Springs was a popular train stop in the early 1900s, where people would take a much-needed rest while the trains reloaded. Passengers could swim and fish, and by all accounts, it was considered a beautiful spot to take a break.
In a natural setting of wetlands and woods, the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park hosts daily educational programs on alligators, Florida-based snakes, and more. The park houses black bears, river otters, cougars, foxes, bobcats, panthers, wolves, whooping cranes, and hundreds of birds. There is even a hippopotamus (behind his “Splatter Zone” warning signs). Homosassa Springs is home to “Lu,” the oldest living hippopotamus in North America. Born at the San Diego Zoo on January 26, 1960, Lu has been a resident of the Park since 1964. It’s just like a zoo, except the setting is much more natural, and all of the animals on display are native to the region – except, of course, for Lu.
It’s not just the design and animals that attract visitors, though. The park is also known for its well-informed volunteers who guide tourists through the entrance on a train or tram—your choice. A boat ride around the park is another opportunity to learn from the volunteers, who know their facts and figures so well that the park has twice won the National Recreation and Parks Association’s Gold Medal Award, which honors the best State Park service.
While the Park’s many occupants are a stunning sight at any point of the year, a favorite time for visitors is the holiday season when special themed lights enhance the experience.