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Natural Places

 Manatee Springs
& O'Leno State Parks

near Cedar Key and Chiefland

Florida Wildlife




Manatee Springs is one of the many warm springs which emerge from the ground near the Gulf Coast, and it is one of the largest, with a flow averaging 116.9 million gallons daily. The spring fills a pool and then runs through a swamp of cypress, gum trees, ashes, and maples, emptying into the Suwanee River, 23 miles from the gulf. The upland portion of the park features sandhill and hammock ecosystems. The park ranges across 2,075 acres.

Manatees are occasionally seen in the park, particularly during winter months. There is a campground, making this an excellent place to stay while exploring the nearby attractions of the Cedar Keys and Waccasassa Bay. Park facilities include picnic areas, canoeing, and fishing, and hiking (or biking) on 8.5 miles of trails. Manatee State Park is located at the end of State Route 320, off U.S. Highway 98, six miles west of Chiefland.

O'Leno State Park

The park (and a neighboring reserve) of 6,000 acres is located on the banks of the Santa Fe River, a tributary of the Suwanee, six miles north of the small town of High Springs. The river plays tricks on visitors, as it flows into the park and then disappears underground for three miles before it emerges to the surface. In addition to the riverside community, the park features hardwood hammock, river swamp, sandhill areas, and sinkholes. This varied landscape is typical of north-central Florida.

The park sits where a town was founded in the mid-1800s. The lumber community was first known as Keno (after the game of chance), and was later named Leno. The town was at the end of the original telegraph line which linked Florida with the outside world. Residents looked forward to the new cross-state railway and the business it would bring, but the railway bypassed Leno and its fate was set.

All that is left of the town today is the Old Wire Road and dams remaining from the lumber mills. Crossing the river is a picturesque suspension bridge, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s. It provides a fine view of the river and one of the mill dams. The park itself was developed by the CCC, after acquisition by the state in the early 1930s.

The park is a place for camping, swimming, picnicking, canoeing, fishing (sometimes, with luck), and horseback riding on a trail system. The Dogwood Magnolia Campground accommodates tents, RVs and trailers, with water and electrical hookups available. Primitive, hike-in, campsites are also available, as is a large group camping section complete with cabins, a dining hall, and meeting rooms. Rental canoes are available in the park for exploring the Santa Fe River, and the river provides fine swimming opportunities.

Two nature trails lead to prominent park features. The Santa Fe River Trail leads along the riverside to the "river sink," where the river flows out of sight. The Limestone Trail runs across a hardwood hammock, passing a limestone outcrop, and then into a pine forest. This is a more fully developed park than many Florida state parks, with a concessionaire operating the canoe rentals and other services.

To get there from the Gulf Coast highway (U.S. 19/98), drive north from Chiefland and turn north (right) onto State Route 26 just south of the community of Fanning Springs. After eight miles, turn onto State Route 47. This highway runs north for 23 miles, to the town of Fort White. Turn left onto U.S. Highway 27 and look for County Road 18 (it appears quickly). Turn left and drive six miles to U.S. 441. Look for park signs. For more information and alternate routes from different directions, call the park headquarters at 352-493-6072

Fraser Bridges



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The Lower Suwanee

Manatee Springs and O'leno State Parks

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