The sun is shining yet the morning cool air is still hanging on when we arrive at Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. Now that’s a mouth full!
Is it a wildlife park or is it a state park? Come with us as we discover it’s a little bit of both.
We hear it is a local favorite in Citrus County and following an afternoon of nature boardwalks, beautiful springs, manatees, and North America’s oldest hippopotamus, it’s one of ours now too!
After purchasing our tickets from the Visitors Center, we hop on a pontoon boat along Pepper Creek.
The tour kicks off with an alligator sighting right out the gate. Although a common fixture of the creek, for us and the other passengers it is an exciting sight to see.
Florida wildlife welcomes us to the park the entire ride; we spot osprey nests, wood ducks, and turtles along the way.
As we slowly motor down the creek, we learn that the forested wetland before us looks similar to when the Native Indians called this land home.
Homosassa Wildlife Park Coupons: AAA and AARP discounts available or look for a 20% coupon in local flyers and Crystal River visitor guides.
The 15-minute voyage ends as we arrive at the main entrance. It’s time to find out more about this unique state park.
Meet Lovable Lu, Homosassa Wildlife Park Hippo
A paved nature trail takes us to our first up-close wildlife encounter of the day with the only non-native animal in the park, a hippopotamus.
The 6,000-pound lovable beast is the oldest hippo in North America. Lu – short for Lucifer – is his name and food is his game.
The park has been a tourist attraction since the early 1900s and was privately owned. When the state of Florida took it over for protection, all the exotic animals were transferred out. Every one except good ol’ Lu.
He had become a mascot of sorts to the locals and no one wanted to see him leave – and the public outcry ensued. The Governor listened to his people and made Lu an honorary Florida citizen allowing him to live out the rest of his days at Homosassa Wildlife State Park.
Do not miss the wildlife encounter that takes place every day at 12:30 pm. It was one of the highlights of our visit; I’ve never seen a hippo so close! You’ll learn a great deal about the history of the park and its most famous character.
Continue below to see other unique things to do in Homosassa Springs
Guaranteed to See a Manatee
The park has a unique setting nestled on the banks of Homosassa Springs, a second magnitude spring that provides a home for West Indian manatees and many saltwater and freshwater fish year-round.
With a few resident manatees and the warm water of the springs, you are guaranteed a manatee sighting. From the park’s boardwalks, you can stroll along overlooking the pristine water looking for the wild adorable animals or you can find the rehabilitated manatees in the enclosed part of the spring.
Tip: Although there’s always at least a few manatees, the best time of year is from November 15th – March 31st when they are escaping the cold water of the ocean.
Ever since we swam with manatees in Crystal River, we are big fans of the gentle giants.
Unfortunately, humans – unintentionally – are their biggest predator. You’ll rarely see a manatee without a scar on its back. Frequent injuries occur from boat propellers, but they receive expert care at the park through its manatee program.
Recently taken off the endangered list thanks to places like the Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park, manatees are making a come back.
If you have an affinity for manatees too, check out Save the Manatee Club
Let’s Go Under Water – I’m in a Giant Fish Bowl
A roadside attraction since the 1960s, the underwater fishbowl observatory is another great place to spot manatees at Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.
As we walk down the steps, it’s rather unnerving knowing it’s just a piece of glass between us and a 50-foot deep spring that has 6 million gallons of water gushing from it. As I see a school of fish swim by, I forget all about my qualms.
Explore Florida’s other roadside attraction turned state park: Silver Springs
Rescued and Rehabilitated Florida Wildlife
We continue on our way to see more of Florida’s native animals: a black bear, bobcats, alligators, red wolves, deer, eagles, flamingos, and many more.
Homosassa State Park not only provides a refuge for injured animals but also has a rehabilitation program. In some cases, the animals are cared for and once healed are released back into the wild.
As we step into the enclosed aviary, two birds fly right over my head; they are so close I can feel my hair move.
It’s a great opportunity for a few close-up photographs.
Showcasing many of the snakes you can find in Florida, the reptile house has me second-guessing why I am so eager to get hiking!
At least many of them are nonpoisonous or so the interpretive boards tell me. It is amazing to see animals out in the wild, but I would rather not run into any of these slithering friends out on the trails.
Located 70 miles north of Tampa and 90 miles northwest of Orlando, Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park is a jewel in central Florida. It is a great stop for nature and wildlife lovers; encouraging visitors to learn about the local habitat while enjoying a lovely landscape.
Other Things to Do in Homosassa Springs
Don’t stop there, the small area of Homosassa Springs has a few other unique experiences. On the Homosassa River, you’ll find Monkey Island, a small plot of land that houses a few wild spider monkeys. You can see them for free from the Homosassa Waterfront Restaurant or take a Backwater Boat Tour from Homosassa Riverside Resort.
All this sightseeing has probably made you ravenous. Search for The Freezer, an unassuming tiki hideaway that serves fresh seafood to die for. The steamed shrimp is our favorite.
Places to Stay near Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
- The Chassahowitzka Hotel ($$) – A Favorite
- The Plantation – Combine your visit to swim with manatees
- Bella Oasis ($)
- Nature’s RV Resort Campground ($)
- Covered Wagon Campground ($)
Plan your Visit
Where: Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park
Address: 4150 S. Suncoast Blvd. (US 19), Homosassa, FL 34446
Hours: 9am to 5:30pm, open daily
Directions to Homosassa State Park: Get Directions Here
Fees: $13 adults, $5 children 5-12, under 5 free
Alligator and Hippopotamus Talk: 12:30 pm
Manatee Program: 11:30 pm, 1:30 pm, and 3:30 pm. From April 1st – November 15th, the programs are held at the main spring bleachers by the Fish Bowl underwater observatory. From November 15th – March 31st, the programs are held near the in-ground manatee pool.
Wildlife Encounters: 10:30 am and 2:30 pm at the Wildlife Encounters pavilion.
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Have you ever been to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park? Or do you know about any other hidden gems in Florida? Tell us in the comments below!
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